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Book Review: "The Lovely Bones", by Alice Sebold

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence…and I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.”

From “The Lovely Bones” (Little, Brown and Company, 2002, Page 320), by Alice Sebold

To Susie Salmon, Heaven is both a park and a prison; she knows because she lives there, after being murdered at age fourteen. From Heaven, she enjoys the high school she otherwise would have went to, the company of passed friends, and the wanderings to many other heavens. She can come down to Earth and brush past still-living souls, and even interact with an old flame in another’s body. For the most part, though, she can only see behind a wall the search for her killer and the progression of grief for her family from denial to acceptance. As her grief process mirrors that of her family, and as her life is described after her death, we see Heaven as a border to cross as opposed to a paradise or a mirage.

The passage of time is painfully noted by both Susie and the world she left behind alike. The cornfield next to her house and the derelict house owned by Ruth’s father would be both average locations were it not for the events which take place there. The cornfield is where Susie died and her memorial is held every year, and the derelict house is where Samuel proposed to Lindsay, something Susie will never be able to do.

“The Lovely Bones” isn’t a fairy tale, but it does impart some useful lessons for all of us. Susie’s killer is never caught and brought to justice (although his death, captured in the last few pages of the book, is rather fitting). But everyone lives with the decisions they make, from the killer making the choice to take a life, to Susie’s mom abandoning her family and fleeing to California, to Ruth trying to convince the world that the dead “are the oxygen we breathe” (pg. 325). Susie’s visions of the world, and her efforts to come back into the lives of the people she misses so dearly, show us that Heaven in Susie’s world is what you wish it to be.


Like this book review? It was inspired by those of Sam Anderson of the New York Times.

The New York Times book review of “The Lovely Bones” can be found here.