Literature / The Lovely Bones

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"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.
I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

The Lovely Bones is a highly acclaimed, best-selling 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. Its heroine is Susie Salmon, who posthumously narrates the story of her family after her own rape and murder in December 1973. While she watches from her own private heaven, grief throws her family into disarray, and when the police investigation yields no clues, Susie's father and sister take matters into their own hands when clues lead them toward the actual murderer.

The book was adapted to film by Peter Jackson and released in 2009. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon.

Tropes specifically about the book go here. For the film See The Lovely Bones.

The Book Provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The premise is based on the worst possible outcome of the "Oh shit, my daughter was supposed to be home hours ago; what if she's dead?" fear.
  • Afterlife Antechamber: Susie's heaven.
  • Age Lift: Given the time shift, a lot of characters grow older as the story goes on.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Apparently this comes up for some about unguarded cornfields being ways for kids to walk home from school. It's either normal or really weird depending on area.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Jack after his daughter's murder.
    • Hal tries his hand in at least asking questions to people who come into his shop.
    • Mr. Harvey even throws out some ideas to the police to avert suspicions. Even saying the blueprint of his underground room was an amateur sleuth hobby.
  • Biker Babe: Lindsey seems to have a phase as one. Her husband's brother runs a repair shop and she and Samuel ride home from graduation on them and she has a short hair cut at the time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The story ends about 10-11 years after Susie's murder. By then Susie, her family, and her first love have accepted her death and moved on. Her family has also reconciled, deepened their bonds with each other and grown stronger as individuals. Minus some photographs, Susie's remaining possessions are donated, and her loved ones leave her in their memories, where Susie believes she was meant to be. Susie graduates to "wide wide Heaven", and only looks down at the Earth and her family sporadically. Lindsey and Samuel are married and have a child. Lindsey is a therapist, Ray is a doctor, and Ruth is trying to show everyone that the dead talk to the living. However, the safe containing Susie's body remains undiscovered in its sinkhole, and with the city considering filling it in, there is a chance it never will be. This means that Susie's family and friends may never receive full closure, or know (at least while they live) what befell her in that underground den. Though her murderer is killed after falling into a ravine (an outcome which might have been caused by Susie), preventing him from creating more victims, he also never receives true justice for his crimes and can no longer reveal where he buried his victims. Also, since it takes several weeks for his body to be found in the snowdrift and Susie ascends to "wide wide Heaven" a few pages later (thus ending the story), we never learn if his body was positively identified. Though the cold may help preserve the body, Susie's loved ones may never know that her murderer is dead, and thus believe that he is still out there creating new victims and escaping justice. In real life cases like this, it is the unknown that causes the most pain, even for those who have long since moved on. However, the reader is left with the (unspoken) knowledge that despite this tragedy, hopefully a long time after the book has ended, they will all be together again.
  • Book Ends: Susie on life. The book opens with her introduction telling us about when she died and then ends by wishing everyone a happy life.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Hardly anyone ever believes Jack. At all.
    • Averted by Holiday the Evil-Detecting Dog that growls when they get to Harvey's house.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the book it is the mention of the icicle. If Susie is narrating the story as we read it post her going to the bigger heaven then her mentioning of it as her perfect weapon is her foreshadowing that will be the cause of death for her murderer
    • Subverted in the case of Susie's charm bracelet. It's brought up enough times to feel significant, and Mr. Harvey left a charm from it with the body of another victim... but the people who find it in the landfill have no way of knowing its significance or who it belonged to. It's just something that was thrown away.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Successful for Lindsey and Samuel. And possibly for Susie and Ray in that one would never live past childhood, but they did find a way.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Played with by having the main character die first.
    • To a lesser extent we get to see along with Susie the growing into an adult of her younger sister. Sex experiences and all.
  • Cool Old Lady: Grandma Lynn. Although as she would say "35 is not old! You've been sniffing too much of that nail polish!"
  • Dead Guy Junior: A partial example. Lindsey's daughter is named Abigail Suzanne.
  • Dead Person Conversation: This happens with Susie and Ray, more so in the novel.
    • Also with Buckley, who claims to be able to see Susie when he's younger. Susie herself isn't entirely sure if he does, or if he is just making it up to comfort himself.
  • Dead to Begin With: The story is partly set in and fully told from Susie's afterlife.
  • Death by Irony: The eventual fate of Susie's killer? Killed by an icicle that drops on him. There's an incident earlier in the book where Susie refers to the "perfect murder" game played in heaven. The weapon she always picks? An icicle, because it melts away. Also consider that Susie might be narrating from the future to make that line a foreshadowing or later she mentions the ability to affect some things on Earth, (like Buckley's garden).
  • The Determinator: Jack.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Notwithstanding the possibility that he likely would have been sighted at some point while building his "clubhouse" (or, after the murder, while destroying it), Mr. Harvey engages in lots of very suspicious behavior that should have at the very least led the police to consider him as a suspect earlier in the investigation than they do. Jack is no better, naming just about every person he can think of who had any contact with Susie to the police before he starts suspecting Harvey.
    • Justified Trope: The story takes place in the '70s, before people really believed this stuff could happen to anyone. As Susie notes early in the book.
    • Another justification can come from the setting, unpatrolled cornfields can vary in structure but it's quite easy for humans and other animals to be able to sneak around in them unnoticed. In later chapters while it's Clarissa's light and Jack's yelling that give them away, Harvey is very much perfectly hidden.
  • Disney Villain Death: Mr. Harvey dies by falling off a cliff when an icicle hits him.
  • Died Happily Ever After: When Susie moves out of the in-between and into heaven where she spends most of the time with her grandfather.
  • Disposing of a Body: Mr. Harvey gets rid of Susie's body by putting it in a safe and dropping it in the local sinkhole The final scene is of Susie's charm bracelet being found later by someone with absolutely no idea whose it is, He merely comments "The little girl this belonged to is all grown up now," to which Susie responds, "Not quite."
  • Distant Finale: In the novel; see immediately above.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A level of it appears as the book's concept of Heaven. Susie has to accept her death and move on to get into bigger Heaven, even though apparently that doesn't mean completely giving up on watching the living. But until the dead do that, they are just going to stay in the little bubble of simple desires.
    • It happens to Susie's family and friends on Earth as well, who suffer through years of grief and trauma over her disappearance before they finally start to heal by the end of the book.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Ray, as stated by Susie's narration in the novel, after the Time Skip.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The Salmons' dog barks angrily at the sight of George Harvey's house.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Susie mentions that if she had been more attentive to her surroundings, she would have noticed Mr. Harvey watching her implying that she could have avoided her death.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Susie narrates the novel from Heaven, witnessing the events on earth and experiencing hopes and longings for the things she no longer can do.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Grandma.
  • The Hero Dies: Susie herself at the beginning.
  • His Heart Will Go On: Ray.
  • Housewife: Susie's mother, Abigail, is a reluctant one. She seems to have planned to go back to work once Susie and Lindsey were old enough to take care of themselves, but then Buckley was born.
  • Idiot Ball: Susie herself post death sort have realizes she dropped the ball, but Franny seems to know that happens a lot with the dead.
    • That said, the way Susie is lured to her death is realistic and could have happened to anyone regardless of smarts. Especially given this is set in the 70's, before "stranger danger" was a real concept. A skeevy adult can get really far by exploiting a child's innate trust in adults and their fear of being impolite. Hell, the latter is an effective manipulating tool even with adults.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: As Susie died at 14, she ends up misinterpreting some of the things that happen after her death.
  • I See Dead People: Ruth after Susie touches her shoulder on her way to heaven.
    • She also has a vision of the dead victims and animals following Mr. Harvey's car.
    • And spies one during her time in New York.
  • Karmic Death: Literally. After attempting and failing to ensnare another victim in an icy parking lot, Mr. Harvey is struck by a falling icicle and slips on the ice, plunging off a cliff to his death.
    • Possibly more of a Chekhov's Gun in the book. Susie's narration in text form is more than likely coming post her knowing about the death. So her mentioning of the weapon that kills him earlier in the book as her pick for the perfect murder weapon may be more a foreshadow then it is indication she was involved.
  • Lady Drunk: Grandma Lynn.
  • Late for School: Susie runs late to school, and has to sneak in through the auditorium. This allows her the chance to spend time with Ray and get a chance to understand Ruth a little better.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: To the book as a whole, sex happens in some strange choices. Susie's rape is in a dug out room under a cornfield (Clarissa and Brian were going to do it just in the cornfield), the first Lindsey/Samuel is under a boat at Summercamp and the second is in a broken down house in the middle of the woods they later buy. Abigail/Len is inside a interstructure room at the mall. Ray/Susie in Ruth's body at least use a bed, but it's also Hal's bed that they kinda broke into his shop to get to.
  • Married to the Job: Len Fenerman has become this as he has problems separating his job from his personal life, as he's also trying to "solve" the mystery of his wife's suicide alongside the missing kids.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Buckley says things that make it seem like he knows more about the afterlife, but Susie isn't sure if this is an actual clairvoyance or just his imagination.
  • Mundane Afterlife: Susie's heaven is mostly just nice things from her life.
    • Subverted at the end of the novel when she learns to accept her death along with the rest of her family and she moves on to the next tier of heaven that is described as very beautiful, more so than she can describe.
  • Near Death Clairvoyance: Susie does this.
  • Nostalgia Heaven: It's stated that each person's version of heaven is what they would have found most appealing in life; Susie's (in the book, at least) includes a high school and a duplex (because she wanted one while she was alive).
  • Not Growing Up Sucks: Since Susie died young, she is envious of things her friends and sister experience as they grow up that she never will, which later motivates her to have sex with Ray when she's in Ruth's body.
  • Our Ghosts are Different: In addition to below, the book has the dead able to see and "hover" over the living as Susie says but at times they can break through and the living can see them in form or their image. Why or how it does sometimes and not others is not ever really addressed.
    • Susie herself sees Harvey's other victims taking up space when she watches her sister break in, implying they too are hovering watching, but Susie doesn't seem to actually "meet" them until a later scene in Heaven at a tree.
  • Our Souls Are Different : A soul possessing someone psychic is pretty common, the person whose body is being used getting to go up to Heaven in that moment, that's pretty much all Ruth.
  • Obviously Evil: Possibly justified in the 1970s setting, but for any Genre Savvy viewer, Mr. Harvey may as well have "serial killer" written on his forehead.
  • Parental Abandonment: When Susie's mom leaves her family and goes to the other side of the country for several years.
  • Parental Substitute: Due to the above-mentioned Parental Abandonment and his father's fragile condition, Lynn and Hal help raise Buckley.
    • Hal is very involved in Samuel's life, and is the only Heckler relative present at his major life events; because of this, readers can be forgiven for forgetting that the Heckler boys even have living parents.
  • Pastimes Prove Personality
  • Phone Call from the Dead: Susie attempts this in Ruth's body.
  • Posthumous Character: Susie, obviously, but also Holly and the other girls she meets in the In Between, who are implied to be Harvey's previous victims.
  • Posthumous Narration: Susie narrates from the point of being dead.
    • While Susie is young, it is worth remembering that sometimes she jumps around and comes back to smaller memories outside of the linear narration following her death. This doesn't really present her as a Unreliable Narrator, but is important to remember.
  • Put on a Bus: Many, many characters in the book that you think are major are actually minor and, once their part is served, you don't see them again. Chief Case: Susie's best friend, Clarissa. Seems like a main, but is never spoken of again after the incident that put Susie's dad in the hospital.
  • Rape as Drama: In the novel, Susie is raped before she is murdered, and it's described in graphic detail.
  • Rear Window Investigation: What Lindsey ends up doing at George Harvey's house.
  • Resurrected Romance: Susie and Ray experience this, but only briefly.
  • Revenge: Jack's goal going into the cornfield it doesn't work, and he ends up needing a new knee
  • Serial Killer: Mr. Harvey.
  • The '70s: The setting.
  • Shout-Out: Holly, Susie's roommate in Heaven doesn't reveal her real name but Holly she uses as a reference to Breakfast at Tiffany's
    • Also Ray enjoys using Othello as a reference after it is assigned as reading in the story. He even calls himself "The Moor" in his love note to Susie.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Western Version- Susie's room originally is this to the family, Susie even describes it as such. This is later altered as Grandma Lynn moves in.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Susie's sister, when she sneaks into the killer's house to find proof.
  • Summer Campy: One chapter takes place at the "Gifted Camp" where the smartest kids go for a few weeks. Lindsey, Samuel and Ruth are all attendees at that year's event.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Looking into Mr. Harvey's life, Susie sees him more for what he is - a man still traumatized by Parental Abandonment, who seems unable to repress the urge to rape and murder young girls like her. Even while hating him, she can't help pity him to a certain degree.
  • Teen Genius: Lindsey and Ruth.
  • This Is My Story: Susie narrated the story of her life, death, and the life of her family and friends after she dies.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Heaven has Frannie the intake counselor, whose tasks include dispensing Kool-Aid and urging the girls to accept their deaths and move on. That said, she quite cruelly reminds Susie how easily her murderer lured her into a trap ("Like taking candy from a baby") mere moments after dispensing this advice. So it's not quite clear how effective a therapist she is.
    • In the book, Lindsey mentions that she decided to become a therapist while at college, probably so that she can help people going through what she went through.
  • Time Skip: An interlude chapter in the novel appropriately titled "Snapshots" illustrates this.
  • Title Drop: Before the epilogue.
  • Together in Death: We get two literal pairs. Susie gets quite heartwarming reunions with her grandfather and dog Holiday within her narration.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: Justified; sounds kind of weird to say The '70s were a more innocent time, but nowadays even a kid would know not to go in that hole. Speaking more broadly, the Alphabet Murders and the Freeway Phantom killings took place just a year or two before Susie's death. These were the subjects of huge national headlines and discussion. Warnings against "perverts" or "sex maniacs" were rife. What everyone at the time might not have caught onto was the fact that often the "pervert" is a neighbor or relative - which we still haven't today, as only a very small percentage of child abductions are committed by actual strangers, but try convincing people of this even now.
  • Word Salad Title: Just what are the lovely bones? Susie refers to them as the bonds formed between people that were affected by her death.
  • You Are Dead To Me: Unstated, but Susie applies this to her best friend Clarissa after she: 1) Grieves relatively little over her best friend's death, and except for an unspoken Pet the Dog moment with Lindsey at Susie's memorial service, does not help her family cope with her death or maintain a relationship with them. 2) Is partially responsible for putting Susie's father in the hospital with serious injuries, and allowing damaging rumors to circulate that leave him emotionally crippled for months. And 3) When Susie realizes (unconsciously) that the best friend she looked up to is not as great a person as she thought. Shortly after Susie's father ends up in the hospital, Clarissa is not seen or mentioned again for the rest of book.

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