I was introduced to this novel by watching its film adaptation. The story and the characters are heartbreaking in both forms, but the novel takes the brutality and aftermath of the plot to much deeper levels. Regardless, I ended both of the experiences in tears.
The Lovely Bones, written in 2002, is one of author Alice Sebold’s earliest works, coming out on the heels of her memoir, “Lucky,” in which the author divulges the details of her rape and assault as a young woman. Though these books are independent works, many readers should know that The Lovely Bones is a part of this same, greater story that many women, including Alice Sebold, can relate to. The Lovely Bones is a story about a young girl who was raped and murdered and now watches the rest of her would-be life as a spirit. This character, 14-year-old Susie Salmon, is a representation of all the women who are assaulted in their youth and then go through the rest of their lives feeling like ghosts themselves. So many girls find themselves watching things happen around them but never feeling like a part of it. I believe it is important to read this novel with the understanding that, though her story is unique, Susie Salmon could be any girl.
One of the reasons I rate this novel so highly is because of its unique perspective. The main character is dead from the first sentence of the first page, and it is almost impossible, I think, to not instantly fall in love with this character and her family, her journey and her youthful and selfless wisdom. The bulk of the story, however, is about her family and loved ones and it is told as Susie sees and interprets it. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel; each moment is bittersweet when it is viewed through a dead girl’s eyes.Though Susie’s personal journey takes her from a place of vengeance to a state of acceptance, her voice and her being never age. I actually think this is a good thing. Despite her incredible insight and her magical thinking, Susie is first and foremost a girl who never grow up. Very rarely do we see the opinions of young people about such important life issues.
Another strength of this novel is how thoroughly and expansively it explores grief. Mourning is not something that goes away in a few months, or even years. Some people carry it through their entire lives, and yet so few works of literature seem to follow the effects of loss through an entire lifetime. The Lovely Bones follows loss through many lifetimes, allowing the reader to see how different people’s lives are shaped by tragedy. Some people crumple and then find themselves while others seem to walk the earth as someone altered by sadness forever. The Lovely Bones follows a cast of people who are all deeply touched by Susie and her tragedy. This cast includes her rapist, her family, locals and police, her friends and even complete strangers. This novel also tells the stories of other victims unable to do so themselves.
Ultimately, The Lovely Bones is a heartwarming and bittersweet account of the butterfly effect of a young girl’s death. It is an incredibly deep yet charming novel that made me think sincerely about things I’ve never had to consider before. The Lovely Bones is a quick and fairly simple read, but it is by no means easy. I will certainly be picking up more of Sebold’s work in the future.