Synopses & Reviews
When we first meet Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. As she looks down from this strange new place, she tells us, in the fresh and spirited voice of a fourteen-year-old girl, a tale that is both haunting and full of hope.
In the weeks following her death, Susie watches life on Earth continuing without her her school friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her family holding out hope that she'll be found, her killer trying to cover his tracks. As months pass without leads, Susie sees her parents' marriage being contorted by loss, her sister hardening herself in an effort to stay strong, and her little brother trying to grasp the meaning of the word gone.
And she explores the place called heaven. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. There are counselors to help newcomers adjust and friends to room with. Everything she ever wanted appears as soon as she thinks of it except the thing she most wants: to be back with the people she loved on Earth.
With compassion, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie sees her loved ones pass through grief and begin to mend. Her father embarks on a risky quest to ensnare her killer. Her sister undertakes a feat of remarkable daring. And the boy Susie cared for moves on, only to find himself at the center of a miraculous event.
The Lovely Bones is luminous and astonishing, a novel that builds out of grief the most hopeful of stories. In the hands of a brilliant new writer, this story of the worst thing a family can face is transformed into a suspenseful and even funny novel about love, memory, joy, heaven, and healing.
"[A] small but far from minor miracle....[A] story that is both tragic and full of light and grace....Sebold maintains [a] delicate balance between homely and horrid....[F]ull of suspense and written in lithe, resilient prose that by itself delights." Publishers Weekly
"Intensely wise and gorgeously written, The Lovely Bones is a heart-breaking page-turner..." Aimee Bender, author of An Invisible Sign of My Own
"Sebold has given us a fantasy-fable of great authority, charm, and daring. She's a one-of-a-kind writer." Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections
"Few novels, debut or otherwise, are as masterful or as compelling as Sebold's....[A] beautiful novel....[Sebold] challenges us to re-imagine happy endings, as she brings the novel to a conclusion that is unfalteringly magnificent. And she paints, with an artist's precision, a portrait of a world where the terrible and the miraculous can and do co-exist." Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"An extraordinary, almost-successful debut that treats sensational material with literary grace....[A] thoroughly engaging voice....Works beautifully for so long as Susie simply tells the truth, then falters when the author goes for bigger truths about Love and Life. Still, mostly mesmerizing and deserving of the attention it's sure to receive." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] keenly observed portrait of familial love....[A] deeply affecting meditation on the ways in which terrible pain and loss can be redeemed through love and acceptance." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[P]ainfully funny, terribly sad, it is a feat of imagination and a tribute to the healing power of grief." Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
"[A] powerful first novel....Sebold's compelling and sometimes poetic prose style and unsparing vision transform Susie's tragedy into an ultimately rewarding novel. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Almost everything that makes The Lovely Bones the breakout fiction debut of the year the sweetness, the humor, the kicky rhythm, the deadpan suburban gothic is...packed into [the] first two lines, under pressure and waiting to explode....Sebold...imagines the unimaginable and in doing so reminds us that...missing girls aren't just tabloid icons or martyred innocents but real human beings..." Lev Grossman, Time magazine
"If you only have time to read one book this summer, it's The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold." Anna Quindlen, author of One True Thing and Black and Blue
"Don't start Lovely Bones
unless you can finish it. The book begins with more horror than you could imagine, but closes with more beauty than you could hope for....But emotionally, it's faultless. Sebold never slips as she follows this family. The risks she walks are enough to give you vertigo. A victim of rape herself when she was in college, she includes some deadly satire of the shallow advice people offer in the face of great loss. There is no "moving on," and time alone won't bring relief either. That only comes through the hard work of learning to care for the living while cradling the memory of this loved one. As her father eventually realizes, 'You live in the face of it.'" Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire CSM review
Now in paperback: Alice Sebold's luminous first novel--one of the most celebrated literary debuts of recent seasons--that builds out of a family's grief the most hopeful and joyful of stories.
When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn't happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.
About the Author
Alice Sebold is the author of the memoir Lucky. She has been chosen by the Village Voice as a Writer on the Verge and has written for the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. She lives in California with her husband, Glen David Gold.
Reading Group Guide
1. In Susie's Heaven, she is surrounded by things that bring her peace. What would your Heaven be like? Is it surprising that in Susie's inward, personal version of the hereafter there is no God or larger being that presides?
2. Why does Ruth become Susie's main connection to Earth? Was it accidental that Susie touched Ruth on her way up to Heaven, or was Ruth actually chosen to be Susie's emotional conduit?
3. Rape is one of the most alienating experiences imaginable. Susie's rape ends in murder and changes her family and friends forever. Alienation is transferred, in a sense, to Susie's parents and siblings. How do they each experience loneliness and solitude after Susie's death?
4. Why does the author include details about Mr. Harvey's childhood and his memories of his mother? By giving him a human side, does Sebold get us closer to understanding his motivation? Sebold explained in an interview about the novel that murderers "are not animals but men," and that is what makes them so frightening. Do you agree?
5. Discuss the way in which guilt manifests itself in the various characters - Jack, Abigail, Lindsay, Mr. Harvey, Len Fenerman.
6. "Pushing on the inbetween" is how Susie describes her efforts to connect with those she has left behind on Earth. Have you ever felt as though someone was trying to communicate with you from "the inbetween"?
7. Does Buckley really see Susie, or does he make up a version of his sister as a way of understanding, and not being too emotionally damaged by, her death? How do you explain tragedy to a child? Do you think Susie's parents do a good job of helping Buckley comprehend the loss of his sister?
8. Susie is killed just as she was beginning to see her mother and father as real people, not just as parents. Watching her parents' relationship change in the wake of her death, she begins to understand how they react to the world and to each other. How does this newfound understanding affect Susie?
9. Can Abigail's choice to leave her family be justified?
10. Why does Abigail leave her dead daughter's photo outside the Chicago Airport on her way back to her family?
11. Susie observes that "The living deserve attention, too." She watches her sister, Lindsay, being neglected as those around her focus all their attention on grieving for Susie. Jack refuses to allow Buckley to use Susie's clothes in his garden. When is it time to let go?
12. Susie's Heaven seems to have different stages, and climbing to the next stage of Heaven requires her to remove herself from what happens on Earth. What is this process like for Susie?
13. In The Lovely Bones , adult relationships (Abigail and Jack, Ray's parents) are dysfunctional and troubled, whereas the young relationships (Lindsay and Samuel, Ray and Susie, Ray and Ruth) all seem to have depth, maturity, and potential. What is the author saying about young love? About the trials and tribulations of married life?
14. Is Jack Salmon allowing himself to be swallowed up by his grief? Is there a point where he should have let go? How does his grief process affect his family? Is there something admirable about holding on so tightly to Susie's memory and not denying his profound sadness?
15. Ray and Susie's final physical experience (via Ruth's body) seems to act almost as an exorcism that sweeps away, if only temporarily, Susie's memory of her rape. What is the significance of this act for Susie, and does it serve to counterbalance the violent act that ended Susie's life?
16. Alice Sebold seems to be saying that out of tragedy comes healing. Susie's family fractures and comes back together, a town learns to find strength in each other. Do you agree that good can come of great trauma?
This is a guide developed especially for teachers using The Lovely Bones
in their classrooms. For additional discussion questions, please see the reading group guide and the guide for Lucky
1. In Susie's Heaven, she is surrounded by things that bring her peace. What would your Heaven be like? Is it significant that there is no God or larger being that presides in Susie's Heaven?
2. Why does Ruth become Susie's main connection to the Earth? Was it accidental that Susie touched Ruth on her way up to Heaven or was Ruth chosen to be Susie's emotional conduit? If she was chosen, by whom and why?
3. How do Susie's family and friends experience and deal with their feelings of grief, loneliness and solitude after Susie's death? Why do you think each of the characters acts in the way that he or she does?
4. Alice Sebold once said in an article that murderers "are not animals but men" and that is what makes them so frightening. What did she mean? Do you agree? How is Sebold's view of murderers revealed in her descriptions of Mr. Harvey? How does this affect her telling of the overall story?
5. Discuss the way in which guilt manifests itself in the various characters - Jack, Abigail, Lindsay, Mr. Harvey, and Len Fenerman.
6. "Pushing on the inbetween" is how Susie describes her efforts to connect with those she has left behind on Earth. Have you ever felt as though someone was trying to communicate with you from the "inbetween"?
7. Does Buckley really see Susie, or does he only pretend to in order to understand and cope with her death? Do you think Susie's parents do a good job helping Buckley comprehend the loss of his sister?
8. Susie is killed just as she is beginning to see her mother and father as real people, not just as parents. Watching her parents' relationship change in the wake of her death, she begins to understand how they react to world and to each other. What does Susie learn about her parents? How does this newfound understanding affect her?
9. Why does Susie's mother, Abigail, leave her family behind?
10. Why does Abigail leave Susie's photo outside the Chicago airport on her way back to her family? Why does Jack retain such a tight hold on Susie's clothes and other possessions? What is the significance of physical reminders of Susie to the people she loves?
11. Susie observes that "the living deserve attention, too" as she watches her sister, Lindsay, being neglected as those around her focus all their attention on grieving for Susie. How does this affect Susie's siblings? When is it time to let go of a loved one? Do people have any obligation to a loved one after his or her death?
12. Compare and contrast Abigail and Jack Salmon's responses to Susie's death. How would you characterize them - Appropriate? Selfish? Realistic? Unbelievable?
13. How would you characterize the adult relationships in the book (Abigail and Jack; Ray's parents; Abigail and Len)? What about the relationships between young people (Lindsay and Samuel; Ray and Susie, Ray and Ruth)? What do you think the author is saying about age and love? Age and grief?
14. Consider the book's final chapters. What do you think the author is saying about tragedy? Can good come out of something bad? Does it matter that Mr. Harvey was never caught?
15. The author, Alice Sebold, was raped at the age of 18 and wrote about the experience in her first book Lucky. What do you think is the role of personal experience in the writing of fiction? Is all fiction autobiographical?