I read The Lovely Bones almost 14 years ago and it remains one of my favorite books to this day, however, I really struggled to decide whether or not to review it. As you may know, it was made into a film in 2009 and let’s just say – I did not enjoy it. The whole “movie ruins the book thing” really did a number on me with this one.
The Lovely Bones is masterfully written by author Alice Sebold (Lucky). She does something very rare. She dives into a story about death and darkness while allowing the reader to feel as though they are reading towards perpetual light.
It’s a tricky thing to maneuver. When you write about some of the most horrific things that can happen to a person, you obviously risk losing a lot of your readership. But she wrote with a sensitivity that lead millions of readers to The Lovely Bones.
The story begins with Susie Salmon, a 14 year old, who is kidnapped, raped and murdered. It’s a morbid start to a book I know but the writing kept me reading. Susie addresses the reader and tells the story directly to them. This blurs the lines between narrator, characters, and reader, and beautifully intertwines everyone together.
As Susie watches from heaven, she follows her parents and siblings as they deal with the tragedy of her disappearance. Each one of her family members navigates their grief differently as they seek to be healed in different ways. But as Susie watches their lives unfold without her, she also watches the man who murdered her. She watches as he tries to cover up his horrific act.
When I talk to people about The Lovely Bones, it often invokes one of two responses – “Urgh I hated it” or “OMG one of my favorite books ever”. There seems to be no in-between, no gray area. Maybe this is because some are drawn to the dark subjects of death and rape while others are repelled by them. Those who are drawn to them may desire to learn about and feel the breadth of this human experience. While those who are repelled, may not desire to experience the pain of such horror.
Out of all the heartbreaking passages in the book, there was one that I have never forgotten. It is in the opening setup.
“Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white scarf…..the two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, ‘Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped in a perfect world.”
It was a precursor to the theme of the novel. Trapped inside a bubble we are safe, but while safe, we aren’t able to experience the world. Being present in the world opens us up to both wonder and terror.
I danced with The Lovely Bones. There were moments when I wanted to pull back and moments when I wanted to lean in. It was wrought with both heartbreak and healing. I adored every single bit of it.
Now that I have written about The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold’s words have returned to me – and I have fallen in love again.