329 of 359 people found the following review helpful
Alice Sebold has written a remarkable debut novel. The narrator, Susie Salmon, was raped and murdered in 1973 and now resides in her heaven; yet, her voice contains none of the bitterness one would expect. She is able to see into the lives of those who touched her in life and death. At times wistful - for she will never be able to experience growing up - and others matter-of-fact, Susie witnesses the changes and growth within her family and small circle of friends. Her story is not one about death, but about loss and affirming life in its face, about moving on not only for those she left behind but for herself. The reader won't be able to escape the sadness in these pages - I came close to crying several times - but the overall tone is hardly grim. Because Susie is secure and happy in her heaven, she keeps the story full of light and optimism.
This novel is not flawless, nor should it expected to be. The narrative loses some of its momentum near the end. In addition, Sebold makes the mistake of adding a scene (which I won't describe here) seemingly designed to lessen the reader's regret about Susie's missed coming-of-age, but instead the scene falls flat. Susie's loss is as much a part of this book as her family's is, and to pretend it can be reversed, even if only temporarily, defeats the story. Still, given the first two-thirds of the book, this misstep and others can be forgiven.
The Lovely Bones is one of those books you can pick up and not want to put down again until you finish. At roughly 325 pages, this novel demands to be read on a plane, or on the beach, or when you have good chunks of time available to sit with it. Don't frustrate yourself by allowing a half hour here and there.
This is one book that deserves its spot on the bestseller list.
372 of 409 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2002
Less than 2 years ago, our 13-year-old son Daniel died - very unexpectedly, of a massive asthma attack while on a school retreat. I purchased "The Lovely Bones", knowing the book's premise, for our 17-year old daughter to read. Not sure if the content of the book would be too close to our actual experience for Julia to handle, I decided to read it first (this is the first time I have done any pre-reading, as Julia is perfectly able to decide on her own whether or not to read a book, but still. . . ). I was very surprised to find myself riveted to the book, and unable to stop reading it until finished. While I, like many earlier reviewers, found the end a little too contrived, I certainly feel that the book's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
About 6 months after Daniel's death, I had a dream that portrayed a visit by my husband, daughter, and myself to Daniel in what was clearly "his heaven" - also containing a school in a residential neighborhood, a "foster family" which apparently served as his "home away from home", and - most positively - a large number of new friends. This was the best aspect of his Heaven, as far as I was concerned, as Daniel had been troubled for his entire life by an inability to make many friends, and here he was almost too busy to visit with his family because of wanting to get on with his activities with his buddies!
I have often offered the circumstances of Daniel's death - fast and probably painless (as a friend remarked, "Daniel doesn't know he's dead yet"), and that he was able to donate many of his organs - as probable explanations to those who find me so "upbeat" since he died. I contrast this situation with other, well-publicized child kidnappings, murders, and (worst, in my opinion) those events which are never resolved.
Nonetheless - some aspects of the narrative hit home, and I found myself tearing up more over this fictional account than our own all-too-real loss! I was forced to wonder what would Daniel think if he is able to follow our lives, as Susie followed those of her family and friends. Does he still pine for the girl he had a crush on? Is he sorry that he can't see the sequal to his beloved MIB movie? Is he able to eat his fill of cheese pizzas, now that he doesn't have to take at least one bite of his mother's sometimes too-exotic vegetarian experiments? Does he find it annoying that, after years of refusing to allow pets, we now have 3 crazy cats, as a result of Julia "needing" them? Is he bemused by the grief-stricken responses to his death by those same classmates he had sought as friends for so many years?
I am awaiting Julia's response to the book. In particular, I want to know how "genuine" the characterizations of Susie and Lindsay appear to her. I will suggest that she submit a review herself, so we will all know the answer.
92 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2002
The booklap promises a novel that is "luminous and astonishing." Guess what? That's not hyperbole. It IS.
By now, you must know that, at the outset, we meet Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who -- on a cold, snowy December late afternoon -- is raped and murdered by a neighbor in a corn field on her way home from eighth grade. She goes to heaven. And from heaven -- which is Susie's own personal heaven -- she watches life on Earth unfold for her family and friends -- and murderer.
Initally, that did not sound like a story I wanted to read. Too dark, possibly too sentimental for this middle-aged, male reader. Plus, I thought, we know who did it right at the top, so how interesting could this story be? Regardless, I bought the book because (1) of the unanimously strong reviews I had read, and (2) I was delayed at an airport and was desperate for a book to read.
Well, surprise. From the first page, I couldn't put the book down. An absolute page-turner. It's a winning mixture of true crime, coming-of-age story, fantasy, family drama and ghost story. And, for me, it was spiritually provocative, giving me pause regarding my notions of life, death and afterlife.
And all exquisitely told by Sebold. One reviewer called this a "miraculous" book. I agree. Another reviewer advised that, "if you read only one book this summer, this is the one to read." I agree heartily with that, too. Buy it, read it, savor every word.
52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2002
Narrated by a very intelligent fourteen-year-old, Susie Salmon, this story opens with her violent death in a cornfield at the hands of a quietly deranged man, George Harvey. She narrates the story from heaven, a place that continually changes as she matures and watches her family's struggles and accomplishments on earth. Reeling from the grisly crime and not having closure to their daughter's death, Susie's parents have a difficult time coming to terms with this situation, and as a result, their marriage and relationships with their other two children suffer.
This story is compassionately told, and the reader quickly feels close to Susie and her family. All of the characters in this small town are interesting and add their own flavor to this intriguing story. Although there's a sad undertone throughout, there are also hints of humor, hope, and love. At times, this was a difficult book to stomach, because of the gruesome nature of George Harvey's life. But overall, it was an excellent book with memorable characters and a masterful plot. It's a quick, mesmerizing read, that leaves you wanting to learn more about Susie's life in her heaven--a mysterious and very interesting place. I'd recommend this book for its unique perspective and its honest look at the effect death has on the people a deceased person leaves behind on earth.
149 of 175 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2003
I've heard this book mentioned a lot in press and conversation and everything I'd heard about it was good. The concept of a murdered girl watching her family on earth deal with her death intrigued me. When I finally got to reading it, it was an incredible disappointment. The writer handles death by skipping lightly from subject to subject, going off on tangents in the form of flashbacks as events in the grieving family's life reminds the dead narration character of something from her childhood.
Susie Salmon, the narrator, is murdered by a neighborhood serial killer, and that's where her story begins. The book starts off well enough, with realistic reactions of friends and family. The characters are depicted in varying degrees of detail. Those characters outside the immediate family are largely variations on stock characters, such as the grizzled veteran cop, the playgirl grandma, even the reclusive serial killer. In life, misfit Ruth barely knew the girl, but becomes Susie's best friend after death, which I found a bit odd. The fact that Susie's mother is developed as a character only by minor hints and glances is probably the most artful thing the writer attempted to do in this short novel, and a good effort, but in the end, we still don't know her as well as we ought to. Susie's father is the most graphic representation of grief as he holds on to Susie's memory long after everyone else has moved on. The characters in what Susie calls "my Heaven" are barely described at all. But details that seem meaningful are handed out, such as Holly, her roommate, taking her name from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - we're never told why or what her real name was.
The flow of time is difficult to follow in this novel, because while Susie is observing life on earth after her death, she frequently gets sidetracked in flashbacks of her early childhood. While this could be a constructive method of telling her life story in a series of flashbacks, they are instead delivered in no particular order and with no unifying theme. The only thing they all have in common is the saccharine-sweet heart-yank that comes from a kid story. Perhaps this is how the author wished to show sentimentality, but all it left me with was a brief description of a family photo album. These scenes went by too fast and randomly for the reader to get attached to any of them. In non-flashback flow, the author lingers too long in the immediate aftermath of Susie's murder. It seems we're shown every day until a certain point, and then we're rushed about 10 years down the road.
The Deus Ex Machina ending for the killer was a bit of a laugh. The plotline was given all along of the tightrope he walked between discovery and concealment. After all the near misses and the evidence being grabbed by Lindsey, all of it came to nothing as the other characters kept just missing him, and none of it was ever resolved. I realize that a major theme of the book was that evil isn't always punished, but in such a case, why let the reader know who did it? Why construe events so that everyone but the cops know who did it? The recurrence of the killer as a character allowed some building of suspense, but with no payoff, the suspense is wasted.
Oh, and the bit about the elbow. Her chopped her up and put her in a bag. But a neighborhood dog found Susie's elbow. I'm wondering how he chopped her so that there was an ELBOW just ready to drop off the bag. Was it a flap of skin from her elbow? The lower part of the humerus with the upper parts of the ulna and radius attached? Why would he make that a separate part? And say it out loud. Elbow. There's something intrinsically silly about it. How are we supposed to feel any of the gravity of the situation when the dog finds an ELBOW? Another thing that rang false was that after so many times Susie tried to contact the world of the living, she is through some unexplained means able to take over the body of her friend-after-death Ruth. And rather than call the police, and tell them where her body is, tell them the story of the murder, she just uses this opportunity to have sex, and nothing more.
Though this isn't truly awful, I can't understand what makes it a bestseller. The writing is mediocre, the story is sappy and too sugar-sweet to be belived at times. In the end, I felt that the book could have been good, and parts of it were fairly decent. But what could have been an interesting study in grief and resolution ended up being a cursory flight down memory lane.
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
They say that a ghost remains tied to the world of the living either to avenge its death or to comfort those left behind. The heroine of Alice Sebold's haunting, sweet novel "The Lovely Bones" isn't out for revenge, but her ties to the living family and friends make debut an amazing, uplifting story.
Susie Salmon is dead. On a day like any other, she was raped and brutally murdered by a seemingly harmless neighbor, who hacked up her body and buried it. Now she exists in a surprisingly simple and pleasant heaven, watching her family and friends after she vanished, and watching their lives unfold even after hers has ended.
Her parents cling to hope that even though a lot of blood and part of an arm has been found, that Susie is still alive. But eventually, they must give up hope. Susie watches the police investigate her death, while her father pokes around to find out whodunnit. And just as importantly her family and friends stumble through the various stages of grief, trying to deal with a horrible, senseless crime that has touched each of them.
When someone is kidnapped and/or murdered, the news usually focuses on the criminals and the gory details. Not much attention is given to the victims and the lives they once led, or how their loves ones are dealing with the tragedy. Other books would be self-conscious or miserable dealing with that kind of story, but "Lovely Bones" is something very different.
Instead, this book possesses a quiet, comforting tone and a poetic style, which sometimes gets bogged in its own detail, but is beautiful nonetheless. Sebold's writing has an innocent charm; one enchanting scene has Susie trying to make a flower bloom for her father, and filling a celestial room with flower petals instead.
The only really gritty scene is the rape-and-murder, which is all the more shocking when you realize that things like this happen in real life. And Sebold paints the characters' grief and shock with a light hand, so that it never feels sentimental. It has the hollow ache of real grief, transcribed with more skill than more authors can manage.
Susie herself is a truly unique character, a narrator completely removed from the events she describes, and yet so wrapped up in the people she loves, and has left behind. And Sebold explores the many characters as they go through the grieving process, with different thoughts and actions as they try to deal with it. The parents, the siblings, the teachers, and even the kid who was enamored of Susie.
Alice Sebold's "Lovely Bones" shocks you at the beginning, and spends the rest of the book drying your tears. Beautiful, enchanting, disturbing and very unique.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2002
I LOVED this book! Unlike the previous reviewer, I didn't really pay attention to the pre-release publicity so I had no expectations going in. I thought this was one of the most cleverly written books I'd read in a very long time. I loved the narrator's perspective of her family and friends and the all-too-human characters, but I was truly blown away by Sebold's ability to convey the essence of a 14 year old girl. It was perfectly imperfect - at times whining, at others introspective, occasionally self-centered. The story is at once horrific and sad and humorous and tense; Susie's perspective of her parents' marriage, her sister's relationships and her own killer made me feel like I truly knew these people as she had. The fact that she is forever 14, physically and emotionally is emphasized so subtly by her voyer's view of those she left behind. The Lovely Bones is a winner.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2006
While I appreciate the way Sebold uses literary elements in her writing (and uses them well), I simply did not like the story. The characters are dark and the plot is depressing. The book is advertised as a story of hope, yet I felt as if the story was hopeless. What kind of hope lies in going to a heaven where you are consumed with the past and with watching the world you left? Where is the hope in a family that is ripped apart by death and cannot seem to let go of the pain, even 10 years later? Do not read this book if you want to feel uplifted or inspired... It's darkness and pain carries from the first page to the last.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2002
Susie Salmon, a 14 year old victim of a serial killer narrates her tale from heaven in one of the most imaginative tales I ever read. She spends much of her time exploring the nature of heaven, though paradoxically, her true idea of heaven is just to be alive with her family and be able to grow up.
The dead girl is constantly trying to communicate with her family and friends and to monitor their progress through life. She also wants to lead them to her killer. Interestingly, only those who are outsiders in life are able to understand Susie's missives, which is perhaps not surprising, since Susie herself is the ultimate outsider.
To me, the most poignant chapter in the book describes a meeting of all the little girls currently in heaven who were murdered by this man, trying to heal themselves and each other. Ultimately they succeed, and the book ends Susie's invective to those on earth: "I wish you a long and happy life."
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2007
I suppose that all books that get a lot of critical attention experience some kind of backlash, but I felt that the 1-star reviews were a bit harsh. I did not think this was mind-blowing but it was better than it was bad.
The good points were that I liked the author's take on heaven/pre-heaven. Criticism that it is not the Biblical Heaven seems overreaching since the book makes no attempt at all to be religious or even overtly spiritual;
it's apples and oranges.
The adolescent characters are the best and are reasonably interesting. There are a variety of them and not all of them are completely obvious (an older brother who dropped out of high school to open a motorcycle shop turns out to be a good friend rather than the thug he might have been in another novel).
The weakest points were the rather pat ending and Susie's parents, who never really came together as "whole" people. Her father, in particular, seemed to be pieced together from exterior stressors rather than a self-sustaining character.
In answer to some of the other criticisms I've read here:
1) I did not think Susie Salmon's name was that funny. My mother's maiden name was Salmon and one of the reasons she changed her name upon marriage in the Feminist Seventies was that she was sick to death of being called "Fish". Furthermore, had she been a boy, she and her brothers would have been Tom, Dick, and Harry.
2) I did not think that Holly's decision not have an accent in heaven was racist. She had already renamed herself for Holly Golightly, borrowing a new Americanized identity to make herself less conspicuous; the neighborhood's initial suspicion of the Indian immigrant Ray Singh supports this. I interpreted the loss of her accent as an adolescent's wish to fit in rather than the author's attempt to "improve" a minority character. One could speculate that, since Susie grows as a person through the book, Holly will as well and might someday take her accent back.
3) Yes, the stereotype of the serial killer is the middle-aged white male. That's because, statistically, most serial killers are middle-aged white males. Look it up.