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Connecting the Bones

  • Jul 7, 2010
In 2002, Alice Sebold published The Lovely Bones.  And when she did it didn't actually take off immediately.  It was a book that slowly grew to have a large audience.  The book didn't actually take off and become ridiculously popular until a year or two (if even that) after it's publication.  The Lovely Bones has a reputation for being one of the most shocking books out there.  It begins tragically and terribly but ends on a fairly uplifting and happy note.  Provided you get there.  We'll explain what I mean in a bit.  So far, as I write this, The Lovely Bones has been a commercial success, selling well over ten million copies worldwide... and still selling. 

The Lovely Bones, as I said, begins tragically.  Susie Salmon (like the fish) is on her way home one night when she's brutally raped and murdered by her neighbor, George Harvey.  Afterwards he dismembers her body.  As the novel begins, Susie Salmon is already dead and is watching from heaven as things happen around her.  From her spot she watches as her friends and family deal with her death and move on throughout their lives.  At first they're concerned, curious and worried.  But she also watches as her family begins to drift apart... and as her friends move on and just about forget about her.  Even worse, it doesn't look like George Harvey is being brought to justice.

The first half of The Lovely Bones is very intoxicating and absorbing.  As we learn about who Susie was before her murder and we learn about her family and some of her friends.  This is all fun stuff and very interesting.  Even George Harvey becomes an interesting character and he's the psychotic one.  It's the characterization and watching how Susie's family and friends cope with her murder that becomes very interesting to witness.  If anything, Alice Sebold seems to drown us out in some of it, though.  I'd love to tell you that the book keeps going at the same stride throughout, but it doesn't.  At some point it just feels like Sebold is killing time as she brings us to the books conclusion and overall message.  I only say this because there's a point where the book feels like it flatlines.  We begin to learn less about her family and simply observe them through the years, sometimes hardly commenting on Susie's death. 

What's even worse is that after a while the book also ignore George Harvey.  On the other hand this may not be such a bad thing.  Although those expecting for there to be some depth to the mystery will be disappointed.  Sebold makes it very clear that whether or not George Harvey is brought to justice isn't exactly important to Susie.  Perfectly demonstrated by the fact that Susie seems less and less interested in watching him as the story goes on.  His story ends, of course in a very literary like twist, but some readers will probably be disappointed that not much more is done with it.  But if Susie Salmon doesn't much care what happens to her killer... are we really that inclined to care?

Except that's part of what adds to the flat-lining.  It isn't that Sebold is a bad writer at all.  It's actually more that she went into so much depth with the characters so early that somewhere in the middle the characters cease to be interesting.  In short, you sort of feel like nothing is happening for a bit of the middle.  All this builds up to a very heartfelt conclusion, but it may be a wonder if some readers will make it that far.  In fact, the first time I read The Lovely Bones I set it aside because I was tired of hearing about the family's very uninteresting lives.  Wondering if Sebold would ever get to the point.  She does, it just takes forever to get there.  This just might be a turn off for some people.  When it feels like a book is dragging with no purpose.  There is a purpose with The Lovely Bones doing its padding... it's just that you actually have to make it to those final pages.  In short, without finishing the book, you're not apt to get something from it.

The Lovely Bones is a well written book with some very in depth descriptions.  But it has even more vivid language.  It's very colorful.  Although sometimes Alice Sebold can get a little too overexcited about her beautiful language.  Some extended metaphors seem to be taking up space.  The Lovely Bones isn't a difficult book by any means, but some of her extended metaphors can make some parts painful to get through because she's so busy getting caught up in her own metaphors.  At least she keeps pressing the story forward and concludes with a very rich and detailed message.  It can actually be uplifting... if that message gets through.  There are a good number of readers who did not exactly grasp it.  Either because it flew over their heads or because Sebold dragged out the characterization for so long that they got bored.  And it can happen. 

If, on the other hand, you really grasp The Lovely Bones... you may find the book liberating.  Even a fantastic read.  I put it down in the midst of my first read, but the second time around I was able to appreciate it more.  It's got some beautiful language.  And while I am a little bothered by the flat-lining midway through, the book still managed to leave a very lasting impression, brought on primarily by one of the most important passages.  When Sebold explains just what The Lovely Bones are, it's hard not to be moved.  It's pretty much your last chance to truly grasp what the story means. 

Luckily, for those who buy the paperback edition (trade paperback not the mass market one) there are discussion questions, a reading group guide and an interview with Alice Sebold to really get you to understand the book a little more.  Or to spark some thought provocation and interest.  If you want to know more about the book, I'd highly recommend the version which includes a readers group guide.  It may tell you more about the story than you know. 

The Lovely Bones was made into a movie in 2009 and was directed by Peter Jackson.  And while Peter Jackson seemed to do a good job working with his actors, the movie never really hit it off with audiences... and it received mixed results from critics.  Some books are better off remaining books.  The Lovely Bones probably falls into that category.  Had Jackson done the movie exactly as the book was done, I'm sure it would've probably bored some movie-going audiences to death and come off as a crappy lifetime movie (not that Jackson made a good movie out of it, mind you).  The Lovely Bones is actually somewhat complex, but one thing is for sure... the book has a moment where it feels like it's flat-lining... and in a movie you don't want to flat-line. 

Alice Sebold wrote one hell of a book.  The likes of which she may not actually write again.  In spite of its slow moments in the second half, the book is worthwhile for the good majority of themes the book presents, but especially for the ending which brings it all together and connects everything.  It's not one of those reads that's, "For everyone," but then again... what book is?

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July 28, 2010
Another great review - I'm in the middle of reading this one so you have helped me understand what I'll be running into as I get further into it. Thanks Sean.
July 11, 2010
Despite the fact that I didn't read the book, I still thought that the movie was mediocre. One of these days I'll have to make time to read this. Thanks, Sean!
More The Lovely Bones (book) reviews
review by . July 14, 2010
The Lovely Bones, by author Alice Sebold, came out in 2002 but it wasn’t until this past winter that I picked up a copy to read. I knew that a movie version of the book was due out in January 2010, and call me masochist if you will, but I am big on comparing a best-selling novel to its over-hyped theatrical offspring. This book is one of obvious discomfort, from its very first few pages with the grisly murder of young Susie Salmon, a teenager living in a small Pennsylvania town. The …
Quick Tip by . June 18, 2011
This is a book that I've been wanting to re-read for a long time. From what I recall, it was haunting, moving, and engaging. I read it quickly, and to some degree, I regret that fact because there are many details that I can't remember. I recommend people pass on the film and read the book instead. It's guaranteed to be 100x better.
review by . August 05, 2010
   I read this when it was fairly new and didn't know much about it. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite novels. In my opinion, the film did not do the beautiful writing or the story line justice.      You know right away that the protagonist, Susie Salmon, is dead and telling the story from Heaven. You quickly learn that she was molested and killed, snatched on her way home from school. The book evolves with two sub-plots: One, her father's search …
review by . July 14, 2010
I admit I was hesitant to read this book as it clearly states teh death of the main character from the start. The book kept my interest throughout and I was unable at some points to put it down. The emotional factor of the book was up and down. It left me depressed in places and happy in others. I did especially love Susie's interpretation of heaven.     I would recommend this book to anyone that was interested in a thought provoking short novel. It is not a large …
review by . July 02, 2010
           My emotions were crazy reading this book! I went from Happy to sad to mad to happy to scared for my own daughters! I hate that there really are sick people out there like this.      I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone. Especially girls. It's scary but I think it's important young girls know how easily these things can happen. I made my older daughter read this book, then when the movie came out I watched it …
review by . July 09, 2010
Absolutely Artistic
This is a story told by a 14 year old girl named Susie who was murdered during her short life. She speaks about how her Heaven looks to her and how she can still look down on earth at her family. She sees how everyone deals with her loss, and how her murderer's thought out plan to kill her wasn't his first. She sees that he has killed many young girls. Her father becomes obsessed with finding her killer, and her mother ends up dealing with Su …
review by . August 29, 2010
When the movie came out for The Lovely Bones, I started hearing about how good it was. I bought the book and once I began carrying it around, many more people told me how good it was. Half way through I stated it was one of the worst books I'd read recently. After finishing it, my statement remains true.      This book portrays Susie Salmon and her heaven as depressing. For years she stays up there watching her family fall apart, her friends grow up, and dreams of a boy's …
review by . July 02, 2010
For years my friends have been telling me to read this book, but the way they described it never seemed to entice me: "It's about this girl, who gets murdered, but she can still see her family and she's telling you about them." However, from the very first line, Alice Sebold had me reading. I couldn't stop, and I found myself trying to shout and warn Suzie or Lindsey every time something bad was about to happen. When we find out the horrible crimes that George Harvey commits, …
review by . June 16, 2010
A story about a young girl with so much left that she hasn't yet experienced whose life is ended suddenly and tragically by the desire and mania of one misunderstood man in her neighborhood and the family she leaves behind trying to grapple with their loss and inability to solve her murder / disappearance. When I first started reading I thought it might be another story about teenage heartbreak and school woes. Until the major incident that the whole story revolves around happened. The characters …
review by . August 03, 2010
I really enjoyed this book--- much more so than the movie.  The author does a good job of pulling you in, but it was tremendously difficult to read the chapter where Susie is murdered.  The character development is rich and full, which is more than I can say about the movie.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book


The Lovely Bones is a 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. It is the story of a teenage girl who, after being murdered, watches from heaven as her family and friends go on with their lives, while she herself comes to terms with her own death. The novel received a great deal of critical praise and became an instant bestseller. A film adaptation of the novel, directed by Peter Jackson who personally purchased the rights, was released in American theatres on January 15, 2010.

On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon ("like the fish") is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer--the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey.

Alice Sebold's haunting and heartbreaking debut novel, The Lovely Bones, unfolds from heaven, where "life is a perpetual yesterday" and where Susie narrates and keeps watch over her grieving family and friends, as well as her brazen killer and the sad detective working on her case. As Sebold fashions it, everyone has his or her own version of heaven. Susie's resembles the athletic fields and landscape of a suburban high school: a heaven of her "simplest dreams," where "there were no teachers.... We never had to go inside except for art class.... The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue."

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ISBN-10: 0316666343
ISBN-13: 978-0316666343
Author: Alice Sebold
Genre: Drama, Light Horror, Supernatural Fiction, Life After Death
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (June 2002)
Date Published: (June 2002)
Format: Hardcover: 328 pages, Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
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