Friday, February 19, 2010

Book 13: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

So I thought I posted this months ago, but it turns out that it's been sitting in my "drafts" folder since November. Oops.

Seeing as this book has been made into a soon-to-be-released film, I figure should review it.
The Lovely Bones is Alice Sebold's second novel, with the first being Lucky--Sebold's memoir about her experience and survival of a brutal rape in 1980, and how she came to bring her attacker to justice. Riffing off of that theme, The Lovely Bones is the story of a young girl named Suzie Salmon who is violently raped, murdered, and dismembered by her neighbor. After her death, Suzie narrates the rest of the novel from her own personal Heaven, observing as her friends, family, and her killer deal with their experience and move on with their lives. It also functions as something of a murder mystery thriller, because while we know the identity of the killer from the get-go, the process of the family developing their inklings and their interactions with the investigators is another thing entirely.

There isn't much to this book in the way of plot summary, since anything I say will only adulterate the experience of the book. The main strength of The Lovely Bones is the style of the narrative, which is both humorous and tremendously sad at the same time. The writing is strong and convincing, as is the host of characters. Sebold's use of sensory writing and imagery is fantastic; I adore her take on Heaven, which she describes as a perfect place created from the things one loved while alive.

At the end of the day, The Lovely Bones is really a coming-of-age story. Suzie is killed during that awkward place in life between childhood and adulthood, and spends many years trying to cope with her murder while at the same time holding on to life and the living by watching her family as they work through their grief. Her life continues through the proxy of the lives of her family members (especially her younger sister), but she remains very much a child in many aspects. Without the experiences that propel the living into maturity her soul, and therefore her narrative, remains quite childlike through much the novel. Her outlook on her situation, however, is surprisingly mature and becomes more so as she spends more time in Heaven. She reminds me oddly of Anne Frank in this way--a young person in a terrible situation who still manages to not become jaded by their experiences. It was a pleasant parallel.

Though The Lovely Bones is fundamentally a book about tragedy and loss, it deals with these themes gracefully and, in the end, is a celebration of life and faith. While the ending was a little confusing, and perhaps a bit too perfect, it gave a satisfying conclusion to Susie's story.

Grade: A-
Rating: 14+ for violence, language, suspense

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