The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Alice Sebold

Alice Sebold was born in Wisconsin and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. In her freshman year at Syracuse University in New York State, she was assaulted while walking off-campus, and spent years attempting to ensure that her rapist—whom she did not know—was eventually put behind bars. The experience shaped many of Sebold’s interests and obsessions as a writer, and her 1999 memoir Lucky, her 2002 debut novel The Lovely Bones, and her 2007 follow-up The Almost Moon all reflect themes of violence, darkness, injustice, and the banality of evil. Sebold holds an MFA in fiction from the University of California Irvine, and lives in San Francisco with her husband, Glen David Gold, who is also a writer and whom she met in the writing program at UC Irvine.
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Historical Context of The Lovely Bones

Susie Salmon is murdered in December of 1973—the year the United States discontinued their involvement in the Vietnam War, the year the Watergate Scandal unfolded before the eyes of the American Public, and the year of the Yom Kippur War. The world of Susie Salmon’s youth was changing rapidly, and as violence ebbed and flowed in various conflicts the world over, the falsely idyllic veneer of life on the American home front had begun to deteriorate. In her hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Susie Salmon was aware of the counterculture raging through the country and longed to take part in it. The novel deals with the destruction of a marriage, the deficiencies in the assigned duties, roles, and expectations of fathers and mothers, the ineffectiveness of the American justice system, and the reluctance to believe that idyllic suburban life was struck through with an undercurrent of darkness. All of these issues, themes, and motifs are, if not unique to the moment of the early 1970s, at least things which had, in many parts of the country, been swept under the rug and ignored for decades.

Other Books Related to The Lovely Bones

Sebold’s 1999 memoir Lucky, which details her brutal assault and rape at the hands of a complete stranger during her freshman year at Syracuse University, reflects many of the same themes as The Lovely Bones. Sebold recounts watching herself “change” in the eyes of her friends and family whenever she tells someone new about the violent incident—just as Susie, from heaven, watches helplessly as her friends and family struggle to understand what has happened to her and what she must have endured in the grisly final moments of her young life. What it takes to recover from trauma is explored in both texts, though in wildly different ways. Whereas Sebold was forced to cope day after day on Earth, Susie has the advantage of a vast, cosmic, and heavenly perspective—yet both women learned what it takes to save themselves and secure justice on their own behalf. Novels that tackle similar themes and problems include Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which also offers a vision of heaven that complicates the notion of eternal bliss, and instead focuses on heaven as a place of reflection, understanding, and coping with one’s life and losses; Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, which also focuses on the brutal murder of a child, and that child’s sibling’s journey to reveal their loved one’s killer; and Mystic River, a novel by Dennis Lehane, which charts the lives of a group of men who together, as children, bore witness to the kidnapping of one of their friends, and whose lives are still marked by tragedy, loss, and violence.
Key Facts about The Lovely Bones
  • Full Title: The Lovely Bones
  • When Written: Mid-to-late 1990s
  • Where Written: California, USA
  • When Published: 2002
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fiction; thriller; literary fiction
  • Setting: Norristown, PA
  • Climax: Susie Salmon, after nearly a decade of longingly watching her friends’ and family’s lives on Earth go on without her, switches places—and bodies—with her high school classmate Ruth Connors, whom she had previously “passed by” on her way up to heaven directly after her murder. Ruth ascends to heaven, where her dedication to honoring the deaths of murdered women is lauded and appreciated at last, while Susie, in possession of Ruth’s body, reconnects with and makes love to her high school sweetheart Ray Singh.
  • Antagonist: George Harvey
  • Point of View: First-person; third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Lovely Bones

Bones at the Box Office. In 2009, visionary New Zealand director Peter Jackson—best known for his film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit—brought Susie Salmon’s story to the big screen. Jackson assembled an all-star cast including Saorsie Ronan as Susie, Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, and Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Jack and Abigail. Jackson’s first major feature film, Heavenly Creatures, dealt with similar themes and motifs—everyday violence, the concerns of teenage girls, and perceptions of the afterlife—and featured Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet in her first film role ever.