Alice Sebold,
The Lovely Bones
(Little Brown, 2002)

From the violence that unexpectedly opens this novel to the discovery of her "wide, wide heaven" at the end, the story of Susie Salmon is unique in its delivery as it maintains the viewpoint of a young girl watching, from Heaven, as her family struggles to cope with her death.

Heaven is not what you'd expect. There are gazebos, pets and friends that come and go, even an intake counselor. Susie may have anything her heart desires, anything except what she wants most -- to be back on Earth with the people she loves. From this strange place, she watches her family and friends move through their grief, while the villain maddeningly will not, in any concrete form, give away proof of his guilt.

Susie's death brings together two unique characters: Ruth, a high school acquaintance, and Ray, the boy who loved Susie from afar -- both outcasts and loners at school, who discover a common ground in Susie's death. Ruth and Ray eventually move on in life, Ray to medical school, and Ruth, forever transformed by a brief brush with Susie's spirit, to live out her unique destiny in New York City. But Ruth eventually enables a last meeting between Susie and Ray, and Susie reclaims a little bit of the growing up that she was robbed of so long ago.

"When the dead are done with the living, the living can go on to other things," Frannie, the intake counselor, advises Susie. We follow Susie along this path of self-discovery as she learns to accept this reality. Her character was very real to me. This poignant, heartwarming story of loss, discovery, and love that endures is a rare gem, an unexpected pleasure from beginning to end, that will leave you smiling, crying and comforted all at the same time.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

31 March 2012

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