Book Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The first thing I have to say about The Lovely Bones (Horror 328 pages) by Alice Sebold is WOW. This book starts out with a gruesome and extremely unpleasant rape and murder of a young teenage girl and becomes one of the more emotional reads I’ve gone through in a very, very long time. Possibly the most emotional read I’ve ever experienced.

Even though this is a book for my Readings In the Genre The Haunted, I was absolutely blown away by the power of this book. And extremely lucky to be part of such an amazing program where this kind of reading is my homework.

There are so many pages I marked in this book that I’m not really sure I’m going to take the time to go through all of them here, but this is definitely the most I’ve marked anything I’ve ever read or seen. It looks like I marked twelve sections and I remember there were several sections that I didn’t mark just because I’d already marked so very many.

Probably the most moving section for me was on page 280, “I realized how much I wished I could be where my mother was. His love for my mother wasn’t about looking back and loving something that would never change. It was about loving my mother for everything – for her brokenness and her fleeing, for her being there right then in that moment before the sun rose and the hospital staff came in. It was about touching that hair with the side of his fingertip, and knowing yet plumbing fearlessly the depths of her ocean eyes.” This probably hit me the hardest because that’s what real love is – it’s not just loving the memories or the good times, but of accepting and loving a person for everything they are, including the times they hurt you or you hurt them. It’s about loving who they were, who they are, and who they will be. It’s knowing that you may never understand or act the same way they do, but that you will love them anyway. That’s what real love is. And even though I have now finished this book, while I type here, this section still has tremendous power over me.

Another passage relating to the loss of someone you love was on page 261, “But as we danced and spun – none of the herky-jerky awkwardness of Earth – what I remembered was how I’d found him crying to this music and asked him why. ‘Sometimes you cry, Suzie, even when someone you love has been gone a long time.’ He had held me against him then, just briefly, and then I had run outside to play again with Lindsey in what seemed like my grandfather’s huge backyard.” This also struck a chord with me, mostly just because of how true it is that no length of time lessens the amount you can miss someone you love. Months, years, decades, you can never know when you will miss someone you love. And in all that time, the ache never really goes away, you just learn to deal with it and bear the pain. That same undercurrent occupied most of the book – how Suzie’s family and friends still thought of her and missed her and how everything in their lives was connected, not just to her death, but to her life as well.

Another related passage that also hit me along the same lines and very hard was on page 310, “Instead, I saw how hope was what I had traded on in heaven and on Earth. Dreams of being a wildlife photographer, dreams of winning an Oscar in junior year, dreams of kissing Ray Singh once more. Look what happens when you dream.” I think this was maybe harder for me because I have been living on my dreams for a very long time now and it feels some days like my will to see and live my dreams is the only thing keeping my head above water some days. Sometimes, I argue with myself about how healthy or safe it might be or not be for me to put so much stock into unachievable day dreams. I wonder if I should let go and move somewhere else. I wonder how much of my heart I should continue to invest into things that feel so far away and so out of reach. But here, in this work of well-written fiction, comes the power of believing and hoping in your dreams.

This book is different than the other books I’ve read for this class so far because this was more a story of life, love, and hope, for all that the premise was something rather grim and unsettling. I mean, really, the book starts with the rape and murder of Suzie. These days, I tend to not read the backs of the books I’m reading before I actually read the books themselves because I’ve found that a lot of the summaries are giving away key information that I’d rather not know before I read the story itself. So I wasn’t exactly expecting the book to start the way it did. I’m glad I didn’t know, though, because it made the story a real and unexpected journey for me.

For all that it starts in a rather graphic and unpleasant place, the story is really interesting. What kept pulling me along was the hope that some little clue would lead to justice being served and George Harvey getting the punishment he deserved for being a monster. I think there were times in the book where I might have felt sorry for him, where the tiny bits of his past were revealed and it showed what kind of environment he came from, but that didn’t really make me feel any less hostile towards him. We are who we choose to be and he chose to be a monster.

In all my travels, I sometimes feel as though the worst monster I’ve encountered, and will likely continue to encounter, is the human monster. Those who are either compelled beyond their ability to control or those who receive joy and pleasure from inflicting pain upon their fellow humans and fellow living creatures. Those who torture animals or people, rape, and get satisfaction out of seeing others in pain. And, yes, George Harvey had some unpleasant situations to deal with as a child, but people coming out of bad situations don’t always turn out to be bad people. Sometimes, the exact opposite happens, where they become the most amazing people who care about the world around them because they made the conscious choice to make the world better than the one they knew.

Overall, this book is easily a four on my rating scale. I don’t know that I have very many books that have rated so high on the scale at this juncture, but this one definitely hit me in a very emotionally memorable way. I think I’ll have to wait a bit and read it again at some point in the future to see if my view of this book changes as my life progresses.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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