Susie Salmon was a typical fourteen-year-old girl in December of 1973 when she was raped and murdered by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey, on her way home from school. The novel, narrated by Susie from her heaven, follows her family’s life after the murder and how each of them attempts to deal with losing her. Throughout the book Susie’s father, mother, sister Lindsey and brother Buckley all cope in various ways with Susie’s loss and the fact the her murderer never was found by the police. Though the road is very rocky and long, her death ultimately brings the family closer by the end of the novel. The best description of The Lovely Bones is from the New York Times saying the book is “a keenly observed portrait of familial love and how it endures and changes over time.”
Throughout the book, Susie watches her smart, strong younger sister, Lindsey, grow up. Lindsey constantly faces the looks and whispers about her, and becomes known as “the dead girl’s sister” throughout high school. She makes the boy’s varsity soccer team and graduates as valedictorian of her class. She and her boyfriend Samuel go to college together, and eventually get married and have a child by the end of the novel. Throughout the book, Lindsey also becomes a sort of cornerstone for the family. She is the strong one, and is always watching out for her little brother Buckley and her father. She deals with her loss of her sister and her best friend by taking care of the family, and often shutting her own feelings out.
For Susie’s mother, her death changes the way that she felt about the family and her role in it. She feels responsible for Susie’s death because she feels that it is punishment for never really wanting children. She realizes that all her life she compromised her own dreams for her family and she cannot deal with that. Susie says, “It was my father who grew toward us as the years went by; it was my mother who grew away” (153). She seeks to end her pain by escape. She has an affair with a police officer covering Susie’s murder case, and eventually abandons her family and goes to
In many ways, Susie’s father is the hero of the novel. He and Susie had a very special bond, and for a while he sees her everywhere, especially in Lindsey. But he is strong for his family, and basically raises Lindsey and Buckley after his wife leaves. He struggles with himself because he feels that he is the reason she left, and that he could really never make her happy. But when she returns they both find renewed hope that they could rebuild their lives together, and he forgives her for leaving almost immediately.
As Susie watches all of this from her heaven she must deal with the fact that she can never see her family on earth again. She must let go of them, and go on into heaven, instead of being constantly attached to earth. As her family grows stronger throughout the novel and copes with her death, she in turn begins to be able o let go of them as well. Susie finally moves on to a place called “wide heaven” and leaves her family behind to live their lives. Still, at the end of the book, she says, “If I’m to be honest with you, I still sneak away to watch my family sometimes. I can’t help it, and sometimes they still think of me. They can’t help it,” (323).
1) Do you think Susie's mother is justified in abandoning her family and going to California because she had to cope with herself and her loss?
2) In the book Susie constantly watches her family and is very connected to life on earth. Do you personally believe that this life and whatever comes after death are connected, or totally separate? Do you think the dead are connected with life on earth?