Book Review: The Lovely Bones

I’ve received many recommendations on Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, so I finally picked it up and met the challenge of finishing it before Peter Jackson’s film adaptation comes out this week.

The novel tells the story of 15 year old Susie Salmon.  She’s the oldest of 3 children and is an average teenager in 1973 Pennsylvania.  That is, until her murder.  There’s no mystery to the reader regarding who the killer is.  It’s addressed directly from the moment the act begins.  Instead, the mysteries in the story revolve around the actions of her family and friends in their grief, the police investigation, and the experiences Susie has in her afterlife.

Much is written to describe the relationships between Susie, her mother and father, and her younger sister and brother, both before her death and after.  Susie watches over her family from her heaven, realizing that her mother gave up many dreams when she had a family, that her sister would struggle to be seen in her own identity, and that her father’s grief and anger would not allow him to rest until Susie’s murder was solved.

As the police investigation begins, Sebold paints colorful descriptions of the neighbors in the town. Ruana Singh, wife and mother of an Indian family on the Salmon’s street, is exotic and mysterious. The traits follow in her son, Ray, who becomes a suspect before a solid alibi clears him. Classmate Ruth Connors, an outcast due to her intelligence and lack of social skills,  is touched by Susie’s spirit and becomes fascinated with her experience.

This brings me to George Harvey.  Harvey is the villain in the story who robs the town of Susie. Harvey is described in creepy detail, and from the moment you start reading about him, you can’t help but picture an amalgamation of every creepy weirdo you’ve ever known.  It’s appalling when you discover the things Harvey has gotten away with.  It’s painful when Susie’s father knows Harvey is the murderer and is unable to prove it.

Sebold does a great job of delivering the story.  She never tiptoes around painful, dark, or awkward moments, and the murder and investigation is described in grisly detail. It’s interesting to see the trials the Salmon family faces as they grieve for the child they lost.  No one in the family is perfect, and as expected, everyone has moments where they nearly go off the deep end.  It’s admirable when sister Lindsay manages to stop being the sister of the girl who died, and grows into a strong woman determined to support herself and her family.  It’s disappointing when mother Abigail goes to drastic measures to escape her suffering.  Young brother Buckley grows up knowing the pain of losing his sister better than he ever knew her living.  All of this is told through Susie’s eyes, and she watches them from Heaven.

While I’m not wild about some of the casting, I’m anxious to see the movie adaptation.  Peter Jackson has done some amazing work (Lord of the Rings, Beautiful Creatures) and it will be interesting to see how he translates the novel.

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