When this book was first published in 2002, I read about the subject matter and knew then and there this was not a book for me. I am an avid reader (to say the least) and do not shy away from much...I'm willing to try any genre and work tirelessly not to be a snooty English teacher who tells her students which books are worthwhile and which ones are just trash or fluff reading...I happen to wholeheartedly believe that if students are reading, PLEASE PLEASE LET THEM READ!!
But I have to draw the line somewhere to keep my own sanity, and a book that deals with the violent death of a 13 year old girl and how her family deals with their loss is where I draw the line.
My firstborn, one of the three reasons I chose not to read this book in the first place, was younger than the main character, Susie, at the time of the book's publication. How ironic is it that my firstborn is the one who read this book 8 years after its original publication and suggested that I read it as well?
My firstborn and I have conversations about books...we love books on our shelves (we're currently arguing about who gets to keep this one on her shelf), and we see no problem spending our last dime of the month on a good book. We were in BooksAMillion one day when she picked up The Lovely Bones and put it in her pile (All 3 of my children learned long ago that I am physically unable to say "no" when any of them asks to buy books). My firstborn also likes to read a book before she sees the movie. The movie The Lovely Bones was released Jan. 15, so I assumed she was planning on seeing it. Not me.
While my firstborn was reading The Lovely Bones, I walked through the rooms where she was reading and saw her crying. Not me.
Once I even got worried about her because she refused to put the book down even though her face was all puffy and she was obviously experiencing great emotional upheaval. Not me.
Then, she finished the book...in less than 2 days. Not me.
Then, she said, "Mama, you've GOT to read this book!" Here we go.
As parents, we know the importance of reading...we read our kids board books when they're babies, storybooks at bedtime and encourage them to read other texts as they get older (sorry about the word "text" since this blog is supposed to non-academic...the PhD thing is a disease).
So, when my kid says, "Mama, you've GOT to read this book" guess what I've GOT to do. Yep, read the book.
Susie is the main character, and as is evident from all the book reviews and now the movie previews, she is raped and murdered by a neighbor who unbeknownst to the neighborhood is a serial rapist and murderer. The entire book is written from Susie's perspective from "her heaven" as she keeps watch on her killer, her family members and friends as they deal with her death and the violent crime that caused her death.
Now, let me just say this...I did NOT read this book in 2 days. I could not. I could not because I had to recover every couple of chapters from the emotional turmoil. But, I could not stop reading it either.
Susie's murder, even from her own perspective, is horrific to read. But, it is only a very small part of the book...In hindsight, I think it would have been very hard for Alice Sebold to leave out this scene...but thankfully the evil scene that would tear out anyone's heart, whether that person is a parent or not, is not the focus of this book. The crime is certainly the impetus that sets the book events into motion, but unlike other books about violence and its effects, the crime was not replayed again and again and again.
The Lovely Bones is not really even about the crime.
Wait, didn't I just tell you it was? Ok, I lied.
It's more complicated than that...complicated may actually be too strong of a word because the word has a negative connotation (more academic stuff, sorry)...multi-layered is probably a better word to describe this story. I've never been one for remembering detail....I'm more of a big picture kind of gal. If a story has too many characters, I have trouble remembering them by name. However, in this story, not only do I remember these characters, Susie, her father Jack, her mother Abigail, her sister Lindsey, Samuel, Lindsey's boyfriend and eventually husband, her brother Buckley "Buck, Grandma Lyn, Ruth, the girl inadvertantly "touched" as she left Earth for Heaven, Ray, Susie's first "love," Detective Len, and of course Mr. Harvey, Susie's killer, but I feel like I know them...and know them well.
The book begins with the crime and spans a lifetime...Susie's death has, as expected, incredible impact on the lives of those who knew her well but in very different ways. The "bones" in the title are not referring to something gruesome but the bones that literally hold this group of people who share the same grief together. All is not beautiful, sunny and happy at the end of this story...Susie is dead and nothing can change that. This book is also not about chasing and capturing Mr. Harvey...as he is eventually suspected but never found out. So, don't read it for that kind of closure.
My firstborn and I connected with different characters. Duh, right?
She with Susie and Susie's friends...I with Susie's parents. Duh again, right?
I was surprised, however, by my connection to Susie's father, not her mother.
Both of Susie's parents are devastated by her death. Their relationship suffers, as expected, as do their relationships with their surviving 2 children. But, Susie's mother leaves. I could not forgive her for that. Even in the end when she comes back, I could not forgive her. I understood that the depth of her grief was so intense that she was looking for a way to dull it, a way to make it go away, a way to take her next breath and put one foot in front of the other...because as a mother, I cannot imagine losing one of my children...but to leave?? I also understand that it might have been necessary for her to leave in order for some of the other "bones" to grow, particularly the bones associated with Grandma Lyn. I still just could not forgive her. I guess I'm just mean and heartless like that.
Susie's father Jack was the one who opened his eyes every morning and year after year faced another day without Susie. He was the one who held onto his own grief but also chose to keep going despite losing one of his daughters and then being abandoned by his wife.
The following excerpt is the point of the story where I absolutely lost all control of my emotions. This scene takes place more than 10 years after Susie's death. Buck has decided to use some of Susie's clothes in the garden he is planting. Jack, who cannot comprehend why an increasingly agitated Buck doesn't understand why he can't use Susie's clothes, suffers a heart attack.
"Calm down, Buck," my father said. He was being as generous as he could as the air from his lungs evaporated out into his chest. Then a little voice in him said, Let go, let go, let go. "What?" my father said.
"I didn't say anything."
Let go. Let go. Let go.
"I'm sorry," my father said. "I'm not feeling very well." His feet had grown unbelievably cold in the damp grass. His chest felt hollow, bugs flying around an excavated cavity. There was an echo in there, and it drummed up into his ears. Let go.
My father dropped down to his knees. His arm began to tingle on and off as if it had fallen asleep. Pins and needles up and down. My brother rushed to him.
"Son." There was a quaver in his voice and a grasping ontward toward my brother.
"I'll get Grandma." And Buckley ran.
My father whispered faintly as he lay on his side with his face twisted in the direction of my old clothes: "You can never choose. I've loved all three of you."
I was sobbing uncontrollably as I tried to read. The head of the household was eyeing me with funny looks...he's not big on understanding feelings, remember? My youngest even approached me and said angrily, "Kendal shouldn't have made you read this book, Mommy!" Once I reached this portion of the book, I couldn't stop reading...emotions or not.
Am I glad I read this book? Yes.
Do I wish I'd read it in 2002? No. I think the experience of reading this book was even richer given that I could share it with my firstborn and listen to her different reactions and perspectives in the very same story.
Are we going to see the movie? No. The Lovely Bones is a rare find. Alice Sebold's writing and the depth of her description is unlike any I've read in a long time. You FEEL her characters...even as Susie swaps back and forth watching the characters, you easily make the switch with her. I think those seamless segues are intentional by Sebold; in some figurative way the reader becomes a part of the bones of the story. This is a book that I was completely involved in, heart and soul. That may sound corny but so be it. I can't imagine a movie being able to portray that same depth and emotion and multi-layeredness...so I'm not going to see it...for now.