Book Review: The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold’s debut novel sold like, well, every writer wants the debut novel to sell. Peter Jackson’s film adaptation opens this weekend. Both tell the tale of a young victim of a murder-rape who follows the threads of lives that unravel after her death, from her problematic place in the afterworld.

We welcome comments on the book and film here.

Title: The Lovely Bones

Author: Alice Sebold
ISBN: 0316666343, 978-0316666343
First published: 2002.,


The brutal (and graphically depicted) rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl sends shockwaves through the lives of people who knew her. From her position in the afterlife, she mourns a life not lived, but also sees possibilities unfold in her friends and family.

High Point:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

The book features a compelling (though disturbing) opening and I found myself wanting to read until the end. The early chapters, dealing with the immediate effects of Susie’s death, felt eerily real.

Low Point:

Susie as a narrative trick works well. Susie as a literal ghost made me wince.

The novel’s narratives begin to unravel in the final third, which I found unsatisfying and somewhat contrived. The final fate of the murderer, in particular, demonstrates a curious ambivalence on Sebold’s part. She seemingly wants to both demonstrate that justice does not always get served, and yet see it served anyway. I found the result in this particular instance ludicrous. Give us harsh reality or give us nemesis.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. Sebold’s prose and handling bring originality to some overused subjects.

Imagery: 5/6: Sebold has a great sense of places and events.

Story: 4/6. The story begins well, but meanders and finally dissembles.

Characterization: 4/6. I believed (mostly) in Susie, despite her detachment and elevated narrative style. The other characters varied in their believability. I never entirely grasped the mother’s motives; the chief investigator proved even more of a cipher. The father I found a little more interesting, if not always likeable. Childhood has been depicted plausibly. Like many writers, Sebold has an affection for eccentrics. Ruth Connors I credible enough as a character that I was willing to accept her empathy to the supernatural. Grandma Lynn reads like she was written to be played for laughs by an aging actress.

Emotional Response: 4/6. Strong in the first third, wavering in the middle, and weak in the last.

Editing: 5/6. When Sebold gets her worlds and moments right, she is a wonder to read.

Overall score: 5/6. Despite my criticisms of the book, it proves highly readable and explores the possibilities of life in an interesting and unusual way.

In total, The Lovely Bones receives 31/42

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