Rape is difficult for me to read, and it's even more awful to me in this book because of Susie's young age and the gruesome way in which she dies afterward. Sebold treats this delicate subject matter well, though; perhaps because she herself was a victim of rape. The scene isn't drawn out, and we get only those details which are vital to the understanding of the story. So to anyone wary of picking this up because of this topic, I would at least give it a go, because the reading of it isn't as bad as I anticipated. Of course, you may end up not being able to get through it, but trust me - at least try, because it's really an extraordinary book.
Now, when I say the book is extraordinary, I don't mean to say that it's my new favorite book of all time and I will recommend it to everyone I meet and sing its praises from the rooftops. No. It is not my new favorite book, and I don't know if I'd re-read it. But it was very, very good. I fell in love with Susie - my heart ached for her, and I admired that even though what happened to her was unspeakably horrible, she doesn't dwell on this and she isn't full of anger and bitterness as a spirit. She feels the love of the people who cared about her, and she has a lot of love left in her as well. The way her parents and her siblings dealt with their loss of her seemed very real to me - they never really get over it, they just each move forward the best they can, and Susie watches over them all. I don't particularly care for the way her mother deals with her grief, but I can't bring myself to really dislike her for the choices she made. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child so tragically, but it's probably not something anyone would be able to foresee their own reaction to, and most of her family seemed to take kind of an "every man for himself" approach, at least for a while. Her father, rather than trying to move on, becomes obsessed with trying to find evidence enough against the man who he believes killed his oldest daughter.
I enjoyed following Susie as she follows her classmates, Ruth and Ray Singh - two people who were both sort of on the fringe, but end up connected because of each of their connections to Susie: for Ray, a love note and a kiss. For Ruth, a brief and unremarkable conversation at school and then a brief but (for Ruth) life-changing encounter in a parking lot. Her brother Buckley was too young at the time to truly understand the situation, but grew up with the after-effects, in a home that was broken by grief, with broken people who were doing the best that they could. Her sister, Lindsey, I think I admired the most. The least broken, but perhaps with the most going on as she continues at school after losing her identity as Lindsey and gaining an identity as the sister of the girl who was murdered - knowing that as her sister, the people who knew her see her every time they look at you. I also liked the silly and potentially alcoholic but well-meaning grandmother. She seems like the true rock of the family after Susie's death, and even though there's not much to her, she endeared herself to me in the way she steps up when the family needs her.
As for the scenes of Susie's heaven and the entire afterlife aspect of the novel, I thought Sebold dealt with them wonderfully. They're lovely, but as she doesn't go into anything on a religious level, it seems to me that whatever you believe or don't believe, there isn't really anything about the life-after-death parts of The Lovely Bones that should offend.
To me, this is a story of trying to pick up all the pieces you can and moving forward, one step at a time. Not just for the people Susie left behind, but for Susie herself as well. It's a very good book, quite sad, though, so if you're a cryer, maybe keep a box of tissues handy, just in case.
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