I like to let books choose me, instead of me choosing them. So when The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold came out in 2002 and people couldn’t be quiet about it, I tried to ignore everyone telling me, “You’ve absolutely got to read this book!” About a year later, I snagged a copy at my family’s used bookstore. I took the hard cover book without a dust jacket home, but I still didn’t feel like the book was ready for me to read it. A week ago I walked by my bookshelf, ready for something new to read, and this blue book seemed to be calling my name. It was time to pick it up. And once I started the story of Susie Salmon, there was no putting this book down.
Susie’s Story: Looking Down From Heaven
Susie begins telling her story from heaven and keeps no secrets from her readers. Instead she tells her heartbreaking story and makes her life before her death, the details of her murder, and what happens to her devastated family after her murder unfold before the reader’s eyes. Along with Susie, the reader floats with her between the life she left on earth and her new life in her own heaven.
At fourteen, Susie was far from ready to leave her life behind her. After her murder, she constantly worries about her father, mother, sister, brother, and even her dog from heaven. She cannot leave them behind, so she watches them daily. But Susie isn’t only worried about her family. She worries if her murderer will attack someone else. She’s desperate to try and help her family and Detective Len discover the neighbor who murdered her.
Susie also misses Ray, a boy who had a crush on her. And then there is Ruth, a strange girl that Susie didn’t really know when she lived but connected briefly with when her soul collided with Ruth after her death. In turn, Ruth holds onto Susie’s death, and the two share a strange bond to one another until Susie and Ruth finally find peace.
I’ve only touched the surface of this novel. There is so much more to uncover. Alice Sebold does a wonderful job not only developing Susie, but all the other characters as well. Because Susie can read the thoughts of everyone she watches on earth, the reader gets to play around in the minds her murderer, Lindsey (her younger sister), her mother, her father, and the list goes on.
Flashbacks also play important roles in the development of the characters. The reader not only gets sucked into the pain of Susie’s death and the after affects, but Susie also mixes in a few stories about the good times she had on earth with her family and the start of her junior high romance with Ray. These happy stories made the story very bittersweet.
Susie’s own piece of heaven is also an amazing part of this novel. While everything else is uncovered in the novel, what happens in Susie’s heaven is what carries the plot along and makes the story unpredictable. I never knew what was going to happen next. The best part is that the reader experiences Susie’s unpredictable afterlife right along with her while she makes new discoveries of how her own personal heaven works. I applaud Sebold’s ability to dump the “Hallmark” heaven and spin some fresh ideas with what could happen in the afterlife.
This book is really like no other book I’ve ever read. If you enjoy reading true crime, you might enjoy this novel. If you are a person who doesn’t like reading grisly murder details, this book isn’t for you. As a writer, I’d also recommend this book to other writers because of its uniqueness. Due to the graphic scenes of Susie’s rape and murder, I recommend this book for ages 16 and up. There is also some light swearing here and there.
I put this book off for two years because of the hype that surrounded it. I did the same thing with the Harry Potter books and to this day I’m still on the third book because I’m taking my time and enjoying them. If you are like me and haven’t read The Lovely Bones because of the buzz, don’t wait much longer. The story is sad; but Susie Salmon’s story is urgent. Alice Sebold does a wonderful job of telling a heartbreaking story not only of a death but also about a young life that touched many others.