Lovely Bones (Review)


The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold, 2003
368 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
July 2008

Someone gave me this book when it came out in 2003. It's been five years, but I'm only now getting around to it.

The reason (I suspect for others, too) is that the subject was just too gruesome: the murder of a 14-year-old girl. Also, in 2003 my daughter was the very age as the murdered Suzie. I just couldn't get past the opening lines.

But finally I did. If you're like me, just take a deep breath and plow through the opening chapter—you'll find you can't put the book down.

At its most basic level, The Lovely Bones is about how family and friends cope with every parent's worst nightmare. For the next 8 1/2 years, Suzie looks down from heaven as her father and police attempt to find her murderer. As our narrator, Suzie is omniscient, with the ability to see into the hearts and minds of all, tracing their descent into grief and back out again.

On another level, the story is a retelling of the Persephone / Demeter myth (see Edith Hamilton's Mythology). For those unfamiliar: Hades, god of the underground, reaches up out of the earth to snatch and rape young Persephone. Her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture, wanders the earth in sorrow, searching for her daughter.

As Demeter grieves, all plant life on earth withers and dies, until Zeus steps in to bargain a deal whereby Hades agrees to release Persephone for 6 months every year. Her return to earth and to her mother heralds regrowth: thus the eternal cycle of spring and winter. The myth provides the novel's framework, and the motifs of the seasons, corn fields, flowers, gardens, growing, sink holes . . . permeate The Lovely Bones. It's wonderully done.

Sebold's concerns have to do with acceptance, loving and letting go, and with the permeable barrier between the spiritual and physical worlds. There is much in this book that will make for wonderful discussions.

You might want to play clips of the 2009 film at a book club about how the film's portrayal compares with your vision of the book.

Also, be sure to check out our Reading Guide for The Lovely Bones.

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