The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a very strange, yet powerful book. It touches on subjects that many more established writers know to leave alone, but does so with an amount of grace and respect that makes it all worth while.
The book tells the story of the young teenager Suzanne Salmon - or Suzy, as she is known. Within the first ten pages of the book, we discover that little miss Salmon has been murdered. Before the first chapter is over, we learn how she was murdered, when, why, and by whom. Which makes it a rubbish detective story, of course, but that isn't the point.
Suzy is telling her own story in the book - the story of her death, and then of her story of her own Heaven. How she keeps tabs on her friends and family, and how she struggles with the unsettled business in her life. Her desires for her first love. Her love and care for her sister. Her observations of how her family all take different ways in tackling her death.
Not hindered by the limitations of regular narration, Sebold lets her main character move between the worlds, instantly seeing anything she wants to - for good and for bad. In a charmingly half-nonchalant half-whimsical way, the story is told in the words and ideas of a teenage girl: Badly structured, strangely paced, and overall unusual. I can say that - I've never been a teenage girl.
The Lovely Bones has its flaws, of course: the editor ought to be fired for letting Sebold draw the book to a conclusion, then add another several mock-endings that add nothing to the book. But one thing can be said for the novel - It is one of the very few books that has made me cry. It carries much of the same hope, poise and ambition as Philip Pullman's work, but told in a very different way.
I really hope my sister isn't reading this, because I know what I'm getting her for christmas: It's one of those books that I think nobody should ever be without.