The Lovely Bones is a 2002 novel by Alice Sebold that deals with people rebuilding their lives after a teenage girl in a suburban neighborhood is raped and murdered. Thus, the general plot of this book touches closely on the real-life events of the books author: Alice Sebold was raped, beaten, and left for dead during her college years, which is detailed in her memoir, Lucky. The Lovely Bones clocks in (in hardback) at 328 pages (ISBN: 0-316-66634-3) and is published by Time-Warner.
The novel centers around the character of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old girl who in the first chapter is brutally raped and murdered by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. The rest of the novel is told from her perspective, as she watches the lives of those she loves go on from her place in heaven. Heaven is basically described as being one's own ideal place, and each person has their own heaven that overlaps with many others.
As with many novels, the plot is largely character-driven.
The characters are the elements that really drive this book. Below are mentioned some of the most notable characters, but there are other minor characters that are best left in the words of Alice Sebold.
Susie Salmon, as mentioned above, is the central character in the book. She's a normal suburban fourteen year old girl who, in the first chapter, is raped and murdered by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. She then ascends to heaven, where she watches the lives of those below her go on.
Lindsey Salmon starts as a thirteen year old girl, the younger sister of Susie. Lindsey is probably the most filled-out character in the book, as the novel follows her as she grows up, goes to college, and gets engaged.
Buckley Salmon is a four year old boy at the novel's beginning, the younger brother of Susie, who grows up into a teenager as the book goes on.
Jack Salmon is Susie's father and he seems, throughout much of the book, to be the one that has the hardest time dealing with Susie's death. He's also the person that figures out that it is Mr. Harvey that committed the crime.
Abigail Salmon is Susie's mother, who eventually leaves Jack in the aftermath of Susie's death to work in a California vineyard.
Grandma Lynn is Jack's mother and probably the strongest and (to me) most interesting character in the whole book. She seems to be the rock upon which most of the other characters in the Salmon family rely, whether they realize it or not.
Ruth Connors is the last person that Susie touched as she left earth. This fact embeds itself in Ruth's mind and leads to some changes in direction in Ruth's life.
Ray Singh is the first and only boy that Susie ever kissed, so she watches as he grows up. His path becomes intermingled at several points with the other characters in the novel.
There are other characters of note, but they are largely minor ones.
This book is strong in many respects. It has a largely strong plot, an interesting perspective, and well-written narrative. The book flows extremely well, and you find yourself reading through it quite quickly. Perhaps most importantly, through almost the entire book, Sebold seems to be in firm control of the story. Aside from the weak elements, mentioned below, this novel is strong in most aspects.
This book suffers from two main weaknesses, in my opinion. The first and most damaging weakness is the fact that the author seemed to have great difficulty deciding how exactly to end this book. The chapter that deals with the "reconciliation" (for lack of a better term without spoiling events) of Susie and Ray feels extremely disjointed, and once that episode is passed, the book finishes up without a tight conclusion at all.
The second issue is that there are almost too many significant characters for the length of the novel. Many of the characters are quite interesting and would serve greatly if additional "flesh" were put on them. In fact, I would say that all of the characters above except for perhaps Susie and Lindsay could use additional fleshing out.
If You Liked This Book...
If you enjoyed The Lovely Bones, here are several novels with similar style and quality:
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee provides a similar view from childhood of the conflicting ups and downs of the pains of life and the joys of youth. If you've not read this book... read this book.
Lucky by Alice Sebold is in many ways a nonfiction version of this book; it's about Alice's rape and how things changed for her after the event.
The Giver by Lois Lowry has some subtle connections to this novel as well.
Does tes Recommend It?
Yes, but the ending is frustrating enough that I would recommend waiting for the paperback edition.