The Lovely Bones Summary

Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones

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The Lovely Bones Summary

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The Lovely Bones is a 2002 novel written by Alice Sebold. It tells the story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who is brutally raped and murdered by her next-door neighbor one snowy evening in December. A tale about familial love and the relationships that form in the wake of tragedy, the novel is narrated by Susie and alternates between her experiences in heaven and the lives of her family and friends who are left behind on Earth. The novel was released to great critical acclaim and as adapted into a 2009 motion picture starring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Saoirse Ronan.

The novel begins in a Pennsylvania suburb on December 6, 1973. While walking home from school through a cornfield, Susie is lured into an underground shelter by her neighbor, George Harvey. There, Harvey rapes and kills Susie, then dismembers her body with a knife. He places her remains into a safe, which he later throws into a landfill. He removes the Pennsylvania keystone charm from Susie’s charm bracelet to keep as a souvenir of his crime and throws the bracelet into a manmade lake.

After her death, Susie travels to her own personal heaven, which is filled with buildings resembling suburban high schools like the one she never got to attend. She learns that everyone who has died is in a different heaven, each containing the things that made that person happy when he or she was alive. Susie occasionally meets other people whose heavens overlap with hers in some way. She befriends a Vietnamese girl named Holly and is briefly reunited with her grandfather who passed away many years ago.

While Susie watches from heaven, the police investigate her disappearance on Earth. They initially suspect Ray Singh, Susie’s classmate and romantic interest with whom she shared her first kiss, but are forced to look elsewhere due to Ray having an airtight alibi. Three days after the murder, the police find Susie’s elbow in the cornfield along with a large amount of blood in the soil. Still, Susie’s mother, Abigail, refuses to believe her daughter is dead until Len Fenerman, the detective in charge of Susie’s case, brings her the jingly pom-pom hat Susie was wearing the day she disappeared. Upon seeing the hat, Abigail realizes the truth and breaks down.

As the years go on, Susie watches her family struggle to cope with her absence and move on with their lives. In her grief, Abigail has an affair with Fenerman and abandons the family to move to California, where she finally pursues the dreams that motherhood had forced her to put on hold. Susie also watches her younger siblings, Lindsey and Buckley, grow into adults. Lindsey begins a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, Samuel Heckler, at a gifted and talented camp. Eventually she marries him and has a child, whom she names after Susie.

Susie’s father, Jack, suspects Harvey of killing his daughter and becomes obsessed with him, calling the police frequently to voice his suspicions. Jack’s obsession grows to the point where he encourages Lindsey to break into Harvey’s home to look for evidence, and attacks a pair of teenagers in the cornfield after mistaking them for Harvey. Abigail returns to the family years later when Jack has a heart attack and is hospitalized.

Although the police eventually find evidence in the cornfield that confirms Harvey’s guilt, it is too late to arrest him as he had left town by then. It is revealed over the course of the novel that Susie was not Harvey’s first victim; he had killed numerous women and girls before and after her. The keystone charm he took from Susie’s bracelet is later discovered next to the grave of another girl he murdered. It is implied that Harvey’s violent actions stem from his troubled childhood. Towards the end of the book, he is killed when a falling icicle causes him to slip and fall into a snow-covered ravine.

While in heaven, Susie also follows the lives of Ray, her old love interest, and of her friend Ruth Connors, an artsy poet who dresses all in black and befriends Ray after Susie’s death. Ruth is inspired by Susie’s murder to document other violent crimes against women and girls. She has a clairvoyant connection to the victims of the crimes, as well as to Susie in heaven. In a tender moment in the novel, Ruth lets Susie “borrow” her body so she can make love to Ray on Earth while Ruth temporarily takes Susie’s place in heaven. This experience means a lot to Susie, since she never consummated her relationship with Ray while she was alive.

The novel ends with a man finding Susie’s charm bracelet and showing it to his wife, who remarks that the little girl who once owned the bracelet must be all grown up. Susie then wishes the reader a long and happy life.

The Lovely Bones accomplishes many things, from shining a light on the missing child cases of the last few decades to exploring the idea of the afterlife and of cosmic justice. At its heart, the novel is about tragedy and how it impacts the lives of those left in its wake. While some bonds are irrevocably broken in the aftermath of Susie’s death, her absence is also the impetus for many new relationships to form. In narrating the entire story from her omnipresent view in heaven, Susie describes how something beautiful ultimately came out of a very dark and horrific event. To Susie, the human connections that form as a result of her death are the “lovely bones” that rebuild a structure demolished by tragedy.