Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Part of a Series?: No
One of the great things about going to graduate school was the chance to look at books in a new way. In some cases, I would be reading a brand new (to me) book. At other times, I would be rereading a book I had already visited at least once, looking at it through the eyes of a writer rather than simply reading it. This review came out of one such assignment: a second read through of the first “straight” (non-fantasy and science fiction) fiction book I had read and enjoyed. I chose The Lovely Bones due to its rich setting, the fact that it covered a large span of years, and because I wanted to see how the book looked to me after having had children of my own. Of course, I was also wanting to see what elements of craft stuck out at me.
One of the first things that I noticed was the way Sebold started and ended her chapters. It is something that had been bothering me about my own writing. Ending a chapter on a cliff hanger or big reveal is one of my strengths under normal circumstances. However, my stories usually have a heavy dose of action, fighting, and mystery. That makes it relatively easy to end chapters in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading. But in my effort to expand my range I had chosen to try a piece more inspired by family history, and things were much more calm. I was instead focusing on the exploration of emotions, dreams, and relationships.
In The Lovely Bones, however, I noticed very quickly that I always wanted to read more. I began writing down the opening sentence and closing sentence of each chapter. and what I discovered was that Ms. Sebold had a pattern: most chapters opened with a statement of an oddity (Susie talking about how something wasn’t like it normally would be) and most chapters ended with a revelation of what Susie had learned (almost like a summation of the chapter’s theme). It is encouraging to know that there are other ways to grab a reader’s attention. And not only was it attention grabbing, but it helped make the story more personal and emotional.
As I was taking my notes on beginning and ending chapters, I also noticed that The Lovely Bones was told in first person. Not only was it told in first person, from Susie’s point of view, but it turned out that it was also an omniscient point of view. Although Susie is telling the story, she is literally able to tell what her family and friends are thinking when she is watching them. I found this extremely unusual, to the point that I haven’t even heard of “First Person Omniscient” as a category that is recognized as a choice for writers.
However, once I noticed that all characters’ thoughts came through Susie, I began to wonder if she truly knew what they were thinking or not. Did dying grant her the ability to see inside other peoples’ minds or did she just assume she knew what they were thinking and then state it as fact? Once the question occurred to me, I began looking for clues that would provide me with an answer and was unable to find any. This in itself was unusual, since the majority of Susie’s personal growth occurs as she learns more about her heaven. Although it is woven throughout the length of the novel, heaven becomes a rather well-defined setting.
Continuing through with my investigation of the first-person omniscient point of view, I then began to wonder whether it even mattered to the story if Susie was accurately hearing the thoughts of her family and friends. My final decision was that it didn’t matter. This book is about people–including the deceased–coping with death. Susie’s ability to cope with her death is based on her ability to watch her family, seeing their actions, listening to their conversation, and hearing their thoughts. It doesn’t really matter if she is hearing the truth; what matters is that she hears what she needs in order to grow and come to terms with her death.
Goodreads Rating: 3.74 (32,610 Reviews)
Amazon Rating: 3.9 (3,877 Reviews)
My Rating: 5 Stars
On the surface, this book is lovely and heart-wrenching. And when you look closer, this book is a marvel of creative, unique approaches to writing technique being used to deepen the reader’s connection to the characters and the situation. This book is a difficult story to follow, but it is worth the read. Whether it was when I read this book as a young adult marveling at all the opportunities Susie wouldn’t get to experience, or as a young mother choking on the sorrow of loosing your child…this book sank into my soul. This book became a part of my personal library. This book became a part of me.