When a book has attracted as much attention as The Lovely Bones, there's a lot of pressure for it to live up to the hype. Fortunately, Alice Sebold's gripping tale of a young girl's death is equal to the task.
The book's narrator is 14-year-old murder victim Susie Salmon. Raped and killed by her neighbor, Susie ascends to heaven, where she observes how her death has affected those around her.
>Her father, who suspects the killer's identity, goes crazy with grief over the loss of his first-born, and his inability to do anything about it.
Her mother, who never wanted children, withdraws from her family and into an affair.
Susie's sister, Lindsey, fears the kids at school will forever define her by Susie's death, and their little brother, Buckley, struggles to understand the meaning of death.
The book is strongest in its first half, when it is part mystery and part ghost story. Susie's dad knows that their strange neighbor Mr. Harvey killed Susie, but has no proof. His obsession causes his wife to drift away, but draws him closer to his surviving daughter, who becomes similarly preoccupied. Meanwhile, Susie lives in her version of heaven, with cool swingsets and a duplex that she shares with another little girl, named Holly.
In its second half, the book becomes pure ghost story - a less moralizing version of Our Town, as Susie watches her loved ones grow older and observes the turns their lives take. Though still absorbing, this section doesn't measure up to the creepy, unsettling beauty of the first half, with Susie replaying her own murder in her mind, trying to puzzle out why it happened.
Without sounding cold, it seems that the dead's interest in the living would wane after a time. After all, Susie would have all of heaven at her disposal -- how concerned could she really be about her sister's graduation from college and engagement? Still, there's poignancy in Susie's reluctance to let her family go, which Sebold's delicately beautiful writing makes the most of. This is her first published novel. Her only other published book is the memoir Lucky, about her own rape as a college student.
That book received relatively little fanfare, but Bones is a breakout success, topping bestseller lists and garnering glowing reviews. It's not just hype. Sebold and her lovely, disturbing book are the real deal.