Susie Salmon (like the fish) is fourteen-years-old in 1973. She has “mousey brown hair,” a family she loves (including a great dog) and a junior high school that she goes to. She is also dead, and this story is Susie telling the reader about her life, her death, and what happened after that.
This is a sad, heartbreaking kind of story. Susie watches from heaven as her family deals with her absence. Susie aches to be with them, but is mostly unable to be. So much is lost! Susie was just at that age where she was starting to have crushes on boys, and then, when she starts dating someone wonderful, she dies before the relationship gets a chance to go anywhere.
She never gets to grow up. She never even gets to attend high school. Her sister and baby brother are shocked and stunted for years and years, and her parents fall apart in completely different ways from each other. What once was a happy family is soon one that is in pieces, and the reader watches along with Susie as those pieces fall and shatter.
Innocence is lost for everyone. Susie is raped and murdered by a man from her neighborhood. (The reader is told this on the second page of the story, so I don’t think I am giving away a “spoiler” here.) It was her first sexual experience.
The town she lived in was previously considered to be “safe”. After Susie dies, every person in town has to stop feeling safe, and start considering the implications of what happened. It happened in their town, and Susie’s killer is still out there, somewhere.
Sebold captures perfectly what it feels like to be fourteen-years-old. That mix of feeling both too old and too young at the same time, the awkwardness, the insecurity, the passionate emotions, and the bright and shiny hope of what the future will bring in the years ahead. It is all there. Susie stays this way as her family on Earth ages and grows up. It intensifies the entire story.
Sebold has painted an accurate picture of grief and loss. She makes it real.
I liked the way Sebold described heaven. It doesn’t match completely to the way any particular religion defines it, but is definitely a “heaven”. It’s comfortable and magical and timeless. I found it to be quite interesting.
The Lovely Bones is a beautiful, and horrible, story – all at the same time. It is very well written. But, for me, it was just to sad, I decided to read this book because it is one of those books that so many people tell me I should read, and a book that people rave about. I am glad that I did read it, and I did like it. But, it is to sad for me to want to read again anytime soon.