Today's review concerns The Lovely Bones, a novel by Alice Sebold, first published in 2002. It is set in the early 1970s in Norristown, PA. The book is narrated by teenager Susie Salmon, who, as the novel opens, is murdered on the way home from school one night. Her spirit watches from Heaven as her family tries to cope with the loss. Susie's Heaven is not the white clouded, angelic haven we expect, but a place very personal to her. In many ways, it appears to be a way station to the "next level."
Susie's family consists of her parents, Abigail & Jack, and two younger siblings, her sister Lindsey and brother Buckley. Abigail's mother Lynn comes to live with the family and help them as they deal with the aftermath of Susie's disappearance. We know she is dead, but the family goes through an agonizing period where she is believed to be missing, but no proof of her death can be found. The investigation continues as we (& Susie) observe the family, their neighbors and even Susie's killer. The grief and pain of their situation deepens, as everyone deals with the loss in their own way.
Susie watches all this from above, telling the story and interspersing it with her own memories of growing up as part of the Salmon family. Sebold's prose & descriptions are first rate, and the characterizations are excellent. Even supporting characters are well-defined, including Ray Singh (a boy who had feelings for Susie) and Ruth Connors, another teen who feels Susie's presence in a unique way. As fate & circumstances draw the characters together & apart, Susie & her family both come to their own peace regarding her fate. What's nice about the novel is that it's got a spiritual tone without being overtly religious. It's a unique story told from a different perspective, and is a great read.
The novel was made into a film in 2009 by director Peter Jackson (the Lord of The Rings films, King Kong) and stars Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci and Saorise Ronan (in a fine performance) as Susie. It's a visually interesting & well-acted adaptation of the novel. In either medium, The Lovely Bones is a compelling, emotional story of how grief & loss can ultimately lead to faith & hope for the future.