In all honesty, the only reason I decided to read The Lovely Bones was because my high school banned it. I was still in middle school when it happened, but basically my school chose it as the school-wide summer read until an army of conservative, suburban moms rallied against it. This, of course, bumped it up to the top of my reading list.
That being said, there are unquestionably triggering elements in this story. However, I don’t think that merits a school-wide ban. Like most banned book cases in the world, this book is infinitely more complex than dissenters believe.
In the beginning of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, the narrator, Susie Salmon, is raped and murdered by her neighbor, George Harvey. Susie ascends to heaven, where she watches the continuing lives of her family and friends. While Susie now knows that Harvey is a serial killer, she looks on in frustration as the police write him off as creepy but harmless. Susie’s family struggles to move forward after her death, and she watches them slowly break apart under the pressure.
Upon Susie’s transition to heaven, her spirit passes by a classmate she had never known very well, Ruth Connors. After this experience, Ruth has a yearning to learn more about Susie and forms a relationship with the boy Susie had been about to start dating, Ray Singh. Even though Susie is dead, she still fosters a connection with Ruth.
Although the rape and murder scenes in this story are quite hard to read, the overall novel is a beautiful narrative about loss and grief. I think this book would be especially important for high school students to read since many of them are probably confused about how to deal with death. There really is no way for adults to prepare adolescents to cope with loss, but becoming acquainted with the idea through books may be helpful for some people.
When I first read this book, I had lost one close extended family member and one extended family member I never knew very well. Both instances were very weird times in my life because I had no frame of reference for how I should react. I’m not saying that reading a book about death is going to make things any better, but I’ve found that connecting with literature can be very comforting in difficult situations.
As Alice Sebold wrote, “the events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”
— Kelly Lyons, Fiction and Nonfiction Editor