Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I only recently started reading the mystery genre – and the Lovely Bones was one of the biggest books of the 2000s, let alone in the mystery space. I never saw the movie, and before reading this I had no real idea what the book was about. I went into it with fairly high expectations due to its popularity. Unfortunately, this one really fell short for me.

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder — a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family’s need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

Sebold creates a heaven that’s calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive — and then some. But Susie isn’t ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part. To her great credit, Sebold has shaped one of the most loving and sympathetic fathers in contemporary literature.

The way this story was told just didn’t vibe well with me – it’s told from Susie’s point of view as she recalls the events leading to her murder, and from her point of view while she’s in heaven and watching down on her family. That’s one thing I really didn’t enjoy – the concept of Susie’s heaven wasn’t well explained and it really prevented me from getting immersed in the story. The heaven setting was very loosely defined – there were other characters were established as being there but then never actually used in the story. Also, there were mirrored settings from earth that were mentioned but then never really used. The whole concept was half baked at best and really slowed the story down. Also, there was a weird scene where she could apparently

The plot on this one is weird. Early on, you find our Susie is murdered and who did and how he did it – effectively eliminating any mystery. The author then used this as a launching point to focus the story on how Susie’s family was coping with her death and to follow her father’s journey to uncover the truth. While this story line was semi-entertaining, the ending really fell flat for me. I was waiting for everything to catch up with the murderer in the end and for Susie’s family to get some closure, but that doesn’t happening. It was deeply dissatisfying and if I had known the book would end this way I would have put it down much sooner.

None of the characters were really well characterized – we see them going through the different stages of grief in their own ways, but they all lack any background character building so it’s hard to know if what they’re doing to cope is in or out of character. Even Susie, who narrates the book, is a relative unknown. This overall lack of character definition really made it hard for me to be any kind of invested in the book.

Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped this book. It’s got bizarre pacing, lacks any real mystery, and has a very dissatisfying ending. If you’re looking for a good mystery book, check out Sadie by Courtney Summers. 2/5

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4 Comments

  1. This is why I never finished this book. I couldn’t connect with the characters and ended up losing interest in them. Now that I know there’s not even closure for the family I might just not pick it up again.

  2. I also didn’t like it. I got about halfway through, and then gave up trying. It had such good reviews, and I really wanted to like it. If it had the mystery aspect, the who-done-it, I think I might have gotten through the whole thing.

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