Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones deals with death from a different angle — with a dead 14-year-old girl telling her story from heaven.
One would think a book dealing with the after life would offer more insight into the meaning of life, or a critical analyzing of existence itself. In that area, this book fails.
Susie Salmon is raped and murdered by a neighbor, and then, from heaven, she watches her family and friends deal with the event. For seven years, she follows their lives, and watches them as they move on and try to capture her killer.
The concept of heaven in Sebold’s novel is different than most are familiar with. For each person, it’s different. Susie heaven looks like a small town, much like the one she lived once lived in. She spends most of the time in the high school, because she never lived long enough to go there while on earth. Susie’s heaven isn’t perfect because she’s never able to grow up. That point does strike a few responses in the reader’s mind, such as whether heaven is a better place, because they give up so much on earth.
The Lovely Bones is Sebold’s first novel. In 1999, she published a memoir called Lucky. It deals with her rape while she was a freshman in college. The police told Sebold she was lucky, because someone else had been raped and killed by that same person.
Because of her first-hand experience, the beginning chapters in The Lovely Bones where Susie’s rape and murder take place are quite realistic and graphic. This book takes place in 1973, when rapes of young girls weren’t as common as they are today. When it was released in 2002, many reports of kidnapped and murdered girls were in the media. Maybe that’s what propelled this book onto the bestseller charts, but it’s a mystery why it is still popular.
Besides a unique perspective, this book offers nothing new. What Susie observes from heaven — her parents separating, her sister falling in love and her friends growing up — are every day occurrences. Her vantage point and omniscience offer nothing new in suggesting why people make decisions or why things turn out the way they do.
As a story documenting several years in a group of people’s lives, The Lovely Bones will do. However, don’t be misled by the book cover’s promise of heavenly insight, because this book offers none. Beyond that, it deals with no new plots and doesn’t have a discernable theme.
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