Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold ISBN: 978-0316066457, Little, Brown & Company; First Edition edition (2002).

Plot Summary:

After fourteen year old Susie Salmon is raped and then murdered, she goes to her own personal heaven. There she spends her time watching her family as they first search for her then come to the realization that she is dead. The police investigate her killer, but can find no evidence that links him to the crime. Years go by and she is forced to watch her family fall apart, unable to affect the outcome of events. Her sister Lindsey becomes convinced of the identity of the killer and puts herself in harm’s way when the killer becomes aware of her. 

Critical Evaluation: 

Lovely Bones is novel about the slow process of letting go. After her death, Susie refuses to let her family go. Instead she spends her time watching them from her own personal heaven. They can, at times, sense her presence, and that makes it even harder for them to let her go and move on with their lives. Susie’s father is weighed down with guilt over not having been able to protect her and is obsessed with finding her killer. This obsession also consumes Susie’s sister. Unable to cope, Susie’s mother flees her family to pursue a new life in California. Susie’s brother was very young when she was killed and, although he is willing to move on, is bitter that the memory of Susie will never let them have a normal life. Susie suffers also and is urged by others to put her earthly life behind her, but Susie regrets that she was killed so young, before she had gotten to experience love. It is not until this longing is fulfilled that Susie is finally able to put the past behind her and move on and let her family do the same.

Information about the author:

Born in the early 1960s, Sebold spent her formative years in suburban Philadelphia. Her mother was a journalist for a local paper, while her father was a professor of Spanish at the Ivy-League University of Pennsylvania. She had an older sister who excelled in school, and while Sebold was also a good student, she was the self-admitted joker in her family. It was a way of coping with the stress inside the household, which she dissected years later in her memoir, Lucky. Her parents were undemonstrative, and her mother suffered from panic attacks and endured a secret drinking problem for a number of years. Because her parents were more intellectual than their neighbors in their upper-middle-class world, Sebold recalled that they were considered somewhat “weird,” a tag that followed her into college.

Sebold chose to attend Syracuse University—in part to distance herself from her family—and it was there, near the end of her freshman year, that she was attacked while walking back to her dormitory on the evening of the last day of school for the year. She struggled with her assailant, but was badly beaten and bloodied. After sexually assaulting her in a tunnel that was once the stage entrance to a now-closed amphitheater, he let her go. She managed to make it back to her dorm, and was taken from there to a local hospital. When she gave the police her account of the rape, one cop told her that the tunnel had been the site of where a young woman was once murdered and dismembered, and made the offhand remark that Sebold was “lucky” to have walked away.

Sebold’s rapist was caught, convicted, and given a maximum prison sentence, but the ordeal was far from over. She recounts in Lucky, her 1999 memoir centered around the experience, that she lost friends over it, and that even her father was disdainful that she had not put up more enough of a struggle. Somewhat surprisingly, Sebold returned to school in Syracuse, and after graduating headed to the University of Houston for a brief attempt at graduate school. She eventually settled in New York City, where she planned to become a writer. For years, she lived in the East Village—during its rattiest period, before it was an acceptable post-college, bar-and-restaurant-filled enclave—while working as a research analyst and teaching English as an adjunct instructor at Hunter College on the side. She wrote fiction and poetry, but her submissions were met with rejection. It took her several years to emerge from her post-assault experience, she admitted, and recalled her 20s as a period in which she dated the wrong men, drank too much, snorted heroin for three years, and took part in daring stunts like climbing to the top of the Manhattan Bridge.

Sebold applied to graduate school in California, but was determined to relocate no matter what. “If I didn’t get in I was going to buy a dozen nude-colored panty hose and get an office job in Temecula, California,” she said in the interview with Valby. Accepted into the master of fine arts writing program at the University of California’s Irvine campus, she took out a student loan, and met her future husband on the first day of school. She earned her M.F.A. in 1998, and a year later Lucky was published by Scribner. Its title, of course, was the word that the police officer had used in an attempt to console her. The work earned good reviews, with Publishers Weeklydescribing it as a “fiercely observed memoir about how an incident of such profound violence can change the course of one’s life,” but failed to catch on with readers. After disappointing sales of about 14,000 in hardcover, it was not even released in paperback.

Yet Sebold had already started the manuscript that would become her first published novel, The Lovely Bones. She felt compelled to chronicle her own traumatic experience first, she told Christina Patterson in an interview that appeared in London’s Independent. “When I felt a sense of polemic entering the novel, I realised that I had to get myself out of there,” she admitted. Finally, she finished The Lovely Bones manuscript, and it netted her a two-book deal with Little, Brown. As advance copies began circulating in the months prior to its June of 2002 publication date, a publishing-industry and bookseller buzz began to attach to it.

Reader’s Annotation:

At fourteen, Susie Salmon wasn’t ready to die, there were so many things that she had not yet experienced. Susie watches from her personalized heaven as her family falls apart in the wake of her death.

Genre:

Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

This book is different because it is told from the perspective of the dead.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

N/A

Challenge Issues:

Murder. Rape. Controversial view of Heaven.

I would make sure that all material was purchased in accordance with my library’s collection development policy and make sure to keep a file containing positive reviews for books that I thought might be challenged. In the event of a challenge, I would actively listen to the parent’s concern and ask if they had read the book. I would then explain why the book had been added to the collection and provide with the reviews and a copy of the collection development policy. I would affirm that they are within their rights to limit what their children read, but that other parents also have the right to determine what their children can read. If all else failed, I would provide the parent with a reconsideration form.

Reasons for inclusion:

Great crossover story

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