Lovely Bones, The by Alice Sebold

Sebold, A. (2002). The Lovely Bones. London, England: Little, Brown and Company.

ISBN-13: 978-0316044936

Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Suspense, Thriller

Reading level/ interest age: 16+

Plot summary:

While walking home from school one day, Susie is hailed by a neighbor, George Harvey, to check out a room he dug in a nearby cornfield. Curious, Susie follows George underground to see the small dugout for herself. Once there, she quickly realizes something is wrong but is too slow to react. George rapes and then murders Susie where no one can hear her scream. He dumps her body later into a sink hole while her disembodied spirit watches on nearby. 

Incensed, Susie restlessly floats around an area she has been told is her Heaven. Her guide keeps telling Susie to move on but Susie cannot let go of her past and is torn apart seeing the destruction her death has caused her family. She raptly follows her case with the police and is disgusted when it looks like George will get away clean. Her father has his own suspicions but with no proof, will Susie’s case ever be solved?

Reader’s annotation:

Susie is violently killed but instead of moving on, she is unable to let go of her past as her murderer is still on the loose. Susie decides to watch over her family and try any way she can to help them find peace.

Information about the author:

“Born Alice Sebold on September 6, 1963, in Madison, Wisconsin. The daughter of two academic parents, Sebold grew up in a household dominated by dysfunction. Her mother, Jane, was an alcoholic, who suffered severe bouts of panic and anxiety, often leaving Sebold and her older sister Mary to take care of her.

“After high school, Sebold, in an attempt to distance herself from her family, enrolled at Syracuse University in upstate New York in the fall of 1980. But during her first year at the school, Sebold suffered a horrific event that would change her life. While walking back to her dorm one evening, she was brutally attacked and raped in a tunnel. Sebold eventually made it back to her room where friends took her to the hospital. After reporting her case to the police, one of the officers said she was ‘lucky’ to be alive. Not long before, another rape had occurred in the same tunnel where Sebold had been attacked, that had resulted in a woman's death and dismemberment.

The story of Sebold's life and rape became the subject of her first book, a memoir called Lucky. Its name was inspired by the policeman who'd remarked that she was fortunate to be alive following her attack.

“Broader fame came in 2002 when The Lovely Bones, a revised and edited incarnation of Sebold's earlier novel about the rape and murder of a young girl, was published. The book, whose narrator tells her story from beyond the grave, shot to the top of most ‘best’ lists in 2002, earning ebullient praise from critics and outpacing the sales from works from more established authors, like Tom Clancy and Stephen King. Some even dared to call it the most successful debut novel since Gone with the Wind.

“In addition, the book earned Sebold the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel in 2002 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction the following year. In 2009, a film version of The Lovely Bones, starring Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon, was released” (, 2014).

Curriculum ties: N/A

Booktalking ideas:

1.       Would you have followed George into the field?
2.       Would you choose to move on or stay vigilantly watching over your family?
3.       Do you think you would find peace after something like that happening to you?

Critical evaluation:

The Lovely Bones is a very violent book filled with rape, murder, and death. Revenge is another prominent theme as well as grieving. There are so many different genre vying for attention that to place the book into any one is simply not broad enough nor is placing the book into all of them accurate. Parts of The Lovely Bones fall into different categories because of the scenes contained within yet there is no unifying theme to unite them all. Suzie’s parents struggle with need for revenge and grief while Suzie herself deals with her opinions of the afterlife and moving on. There was simply too much going on with this book at once to keep it prominent in teen fiction and is has since slipped from the top charts of best sellers to the top charts of weed lists. 

If anyone is like me, finding something to connect to in this book was extremely hard to do. I suppose it could appeal to rape victims but as Suzie’s rapist is never caught or tried, I doubt that this element would leave a reader satisfied. I think that the book just tried to cover too much. I liked that it was different from so many other teen novels at the time and I can see that it could be interesting for some, but there were too many tangents to focus on. 

Suzie’s inner thoughts are just drab as her character, nothing of significance really happens during the story, and she does not develop at all. I got a sense of aimlessness although the actual writing was pretty well done. In all, The Lovely Bones is a confusing read but still worth a person’s time.

Challenge issues:

·         Rape
·         Murder

Defensive Maneuvers:

·         Have the library’s collection development policy memorized and on hand in case a situation arises.
·         Keep positive reviews on hand to refer to or hand out when needed.
·         If the book has won any awards, mention them to the patron and briefly explain the award.
·         Listen to the patron and practice good customer service skills when communicating. Let the customer know where or if he/she can escalate his/her complaint.
·         When necessary, cite sections of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights or refer to the ALA's Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials.

Why included:

I wanted to include The Lovely Bones because it is a deviant from the traditional focus on romance in the Young Adult genera. The actual more specific genera of the book is difficult to determine as it is not truly horror, suspense, or thriller. Elements of these crop up during the story line but placing this book entirely into one category does not do it justice.

Reference: (2014). Alice Sebold. Retrieved August 23, 2014, from

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