Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones

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  • Features 23 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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The Lovely Bones Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 23 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Coming of Age and Sexuality and Grieving Traumatic Loss.

Plot Summary

The Lovely Bones, written by American author Alice Sebold and published in 2002, tells the tragic story of Susie Salmon. Susie is 14-year-old girl from suburban Norristown, Pennsylvania, whom her neighbor, George Harvey, rapes and murders. After her death, Susie narrates the novel in the first person from heaven as she uses her omniscience to observe her friends and family. The novel focuses on how those who knew Susie react to her death and attempt to move forward with their lives. While Susie’s family members struggle with her absence in their own ways, they eventually come to terms with the tragedy. Meanwhile, Susie’s sister and classmates experience their comings-of-age and negotiate their entrances into adulthood.

The novel begins in December 1973, as Susie Salmon—an average suburban teen—walks home through a cornfield. Her neighbor, George Harvey, lures her into a secret room he built beneath the field. Harvey rapes and kills her, then dismembers her body, which he then throws into a local sinkhole. Detective Len Fenerman leads the investigation into Susie’s disappearance, which is quickly ruled a murder after Susie’s blood is found in the cornfield. The police investigate Harvey but rule him out as a suspect. The Salmon parents, Jack and Abigail, take conflicting positions: Jack becomes suspicious of Harvey, while Abigail puts her faith in Detective Fenerman.

Meanwhile, Susie ascends to heaven, which she perceives as an idealized version of a suburban high school, and she spends much of her time in a gazebo watching her friends and family on earth. As Susie’s soul ascends to heaven, she passes a classmate, Ruth Connors, who develops a psychic connection with her. Ruth begins spending time in the cornfield, where Ray Singh joins her. Ray had a mutual crush on Susie and was her first kiss.

As the investigation stalls, Jack becomes increasingly convinced that Harvey is the murderer, which widens the growing rift between him and Abigail. One evening, Jack sees a flashlight coming from the cornfield. Thinking it is Harvey returning to the scene of the crime, Jack goes out to confront him with a baseball bat. However, it is only Susie’s best friend, Clarissa, meeting her boyfriend, Brian. Brian, thinking Jack was attacking Clarissa, beats him badly, breaking his knee. As Jack recovers from his injuries, Abigail begins an affair with Fenerman.

Susie’s younger sister, Lindsey, has come to share Jack’s suspicions about Harvey and decides to break into his house while he is away. She finds evidence suggesting that Harvey killed Susie, including a diagram of the room under the cornfield. However, Harvey returns early and sees Lindsey as she flees. Fenerman misses the call about the evidence and the break-in as he is with Abigail, so Harvey is able to flee town. Susie sees the spirits of Harvey’s other victims and sees his tragic and abusive childhood.

Abigail leaves the family, traveling to California where she works at a winery. Abigail’s mother, Grandma Lynn, moves into Susie’s room to help Jack take care of the household and raise his youngest child, Buckley. Fenerman is later able to connect Harvey to Susie’s murder, as well as the murder of several other women, but Harvey is never caught. Susie’s friends and classmates leave town and move on with their lives: Lindsey and her boyfriend Samuel graduate from high school and go off to university together; Ray attends university where he studies to be a doctor; and Ruth moves to NYC where she walks the city and sees the spirits of dead women and children, writing down her visions in her journal.

Several years later, Lindsey and Samuel are returning from their university graduation when a storm drives them into an old abandoned house outside of town. Inside, they become engaged and decide to buy and fix up the house. At home, Jack has a heart attack during an argument with Buckley and is hospitalized, prompting Abigail’s return. Although Jack still loves Abigail, Buckley hates her for abandoning the family. Meanwhile, Ruth and Ray, who have kept in touch over the years, return to Norristown in order to see the sinkhole before it is closed up due to the ongoing residential development. Harvey also returns to Norristown, where he watches Lindsey, but a police officer runs him off before he can do anything.

As Ruth and Ray explore the sinkhole, Harvey drives past, which causes Ruth and Susie’s souls to switch places. Susie, now in Ruth’s body, kisses Ray, which she has always longed to do again. Ray realizes what has happened, and the two have sex several times before Susie and Ruth switch back.

Susie is finally able to accept her death and move on to the true Heaven, but she still occasionally observes her family and friends. Abigail reconciles with her family and decides to stay in Norristown. Samuel restores the old house with the help of Ruth’s father, and Lindsey attends graduate school to become a therapist. They later have a daughter of her own, which they name Abigail Suzanne. Ray becomes a doctor but retains an openness to the supernatural and life after death. Ruth stays in NYC, using her psychic gifts to document the lives of murdered women and children. Harvey is killed while stalking a girl at a bus station after an icicle causes him to fall down a ravine. The novel ends with Susie reflecting on “the lovely bones”—the connections that grew around her absence. She concludes by wishing the reader a long and happy life.

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Chapters 1-5