The Lovely Bones


Title: The Lovely Bones

Author: Alice Sebold

ISBN: 0316168815

Publisher: Back Bay Books

Copyright Date: 2002

Plot Summary:

Susie Salmon is fourteen years old when she is brutally raped and murdered. Looking down from Heaven, she helplessly watches as her family begins to tear apart at the seams. Unable to cope with the death of their daughter, Susie’s parents become increasingly distant from each other. Susie’s father, Jack, begins to suspect a man in the neighborhood as Susie’s murderer, but the lack of physical evidence allows the man to go free. Susie’s sister, Lindsay, also suspects the man, and makes some attempts to gather evidence against him. She is ultimately unsuccessful, and the murderer is able to leave town without any repercussions for his crime.

Susie’s mother begins having an affair and eventually leaves her family. Lindsay becomes close with her boyfriend, whom she eventually marries. Susie’s brother, Buckley, takes his mother’s abandonment very hard and his relationship with his parents becomes quite tumultuous. Susie, meanwhile, is watching all of this occur, and having trouble coming to terms with her traumatic death. She is able to reach into the world of the living through a girl named Ruth Conners, who develops a close relationship with Susie’s crush Ray Singh. Unfortunately for Susie, these interactions are fleeting, and she is unable to aid her loved ones.

Eventually, Susie must make the difficult choice of whether to stay locked in her personal Heaven watching earthbound events, or let go and move on.

Critical Evaluation:

The Lovely Bones is a rather difficult read. The story starts with the rape and murder of Susie, and her character is developed as she watches her loved ones from her vantage point in Heaven. The book covers the many stages of grief as is experienced by different people. We see Susie’s own grief at having her life cut tragically short, and we see how her family deals with her untimely loss.

Much of the rich emotion portrayed in this novel clearly comes from the personal experiences of the author. Sebold was a victim of rape, and it is considered a small miracle that she survived the incident. Her own pain and frustration comes through her writing, making the pain experienced by the characters feel raw and real. One feels a small satisfaction when the murderer is killed in an accident towards the end of the novel, but at the same time, the reader wishes that he was caught and punished for his actions and the suffering he caused so many people.

Reader’s Annotation: The lines between the living and the dead can be blurred. Especially when the dead have so much to live for.

About the Author:

“Alice Sebold was born on September 6, 1963, in Madison, Wisconsin. Sebold was brutally raped while a college undergraduate. Her account of the incident became the subject of her memoir, Lucky. Sebold’s first novel, The Lovely Bones, debuted in 2002, and proved to be a commercial and critical success. The author’s second novel, The Almost Moon, was published in 2007.

Sebold enrolled at University of Irvine for graduate school, where she met her husband, writer Glen David Gold. She graduated with an MFA in 1998.

Alice Sebold lives with her husband in San Francisco.”

Genre: Young adult, Mystery and Suspense, Psychological Fiction

Curriculum Ties: English/Language Arts

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Describe Susie’s brush with Ruth as she ascends into the afterlife.
  • Read an excerpt of Susie watching her sister.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Grades 9-12, Ages, 13-18

Challenge Issues: violence, rape, murder, teen sex, adultery

Defense File:

Violence in the Media: A Joint Statement: 2000-2001 CD #19.3

Chapter 5 of Youth, Pornography, and the Internet (2002)

Justification of Selection: This book has difficult content, but it demonstrates how to cope with tragedy and move past it.

References: (2015). Alice Sebold. Bio. Retrieved from

The Lovely Bones

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