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"The Lovely Bones" (by Alice Sebold) is an all too painful reminder of the world in which we live

  • Jul 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 feeling of dread as you follow Susie walking home from school turns quickly to revulsion as you “witness” her killing at the hands of a pedophile.

The book’s narrative is that of the young teen girl as she follows her family’s life in the aftermath of her death. Susie’s “heaven” is one of her own making - - a combination of technicolor imaginative scenes, vignettes of things that bring joy, and being ghostly present as her family members move through their day-to-day lives.

In the years following Susie’s tragic death, we see how her younger sister and brother grow up under the caption of being the dead girl’s siblings, how her father obsesses over catching Susie’s killer, and how her mother becomes distant and estranged from the family, even to the point of moving to California for a period. All the main characters are wonderfully deep and move through their existences just how you might imagine in the wake of this family trauma. Even the peripheral characters, such as Susie’s schoolmates, neighbors and her grandmother, who comes to stay with the family, are deftly created so that you really get to know each of them and feel their pain. It’s like watching a character study focus on not the primary victim – Susie – but the secondary victims and their personal torture following Susie’s death. It very much felt real. In happens countless times in countless corners throughout the world. I don’t know how families and loved ones deal with murder, but The Lovely Bones gives an enlightening, although depressing, view of the grieving process and what it might be like. Somehow the description of both the afterlife and aftermath for the characters of the story brings some peace to the heinous act in those first few pages.

Of course, I did go see the movie version. I’m usually a thumbs-down kind of person because no film ever seems to live up to the original book and my own imagination. I would call this a “draw” though. The movie starring Saoirse Ronan as Susie was surprisingly good – not an A+, but not an F either. Maybe that can be chalked up to the star presence of director Peter Jackson, worthy actors Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon. And then there was Stanley Tucci who was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the 2010 Academy Awards for his portrayal of George Harvey. The hairs stood up on the back of your neck when you saw the window into his character’s predilection for preying on females.

After reading the book and being the mother of two teenage girls, I couldn’t help but go through the cautionary signs and warnings yet again with them about who to stay away from and what to avoid. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare that harm will come their child’s way. The Lovely Bones is an all too painful reminder of the world in which we live.

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July 28, 2010
I started reading this one a couple weeks ago and am almost half way through it. I appreciate your insights on this - so far I have enjoyed it though it is quite unsettling for her to watch what's going on with all that's happening to her family. Great review!
July 15, 2010
Great review, K. I really need to pick up this book because I've heard nothing but good things. Thanks for sharing!
July 18, 2010
I really don't get why people like this book so much but this was a good review.
July 19, 2010
I don't think that the murder is treated "like it is no big deal." I think that examining the actual crime in more minute detail wouldn't have served any greater purpose. It is the pain from the aftermath of the crime inflicted on the surviviors that is the essence of the story.
More The Lovely Bones (book) reviews
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 07, 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.  …
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.
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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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