The Lovely Bones is a novel which tells the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl murdered in the early 1970s. After her death, Susie watches her loved ones cope with their loss from Heaven, witnessing the detectives try and fail to discover her murderer, her parents marriage fall apart, and her siblings and classmates grow up and move on. Though Susie will never be able to rejoin the living, watching over them enables her, and those she left behind, to eventually find peace.
The narrator of The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon, is a normal fourteen year-old girl. She has just received her first kiss and is looking forward to going to high school next year. She is on her way home from school when she is stopped by a man who wants to show her something in the cornfield. Susie thinks she can trust this man because he is a neighbor who knows her parents. Unfortunately, this man, George Harvey, is a serial killer who rapes and murders Susie.
Susie is quickly taken to heaven, where she meets Franny, her guide in the afterlife. Heaven can be whatever she wants, and Susie chooses to create her heaven in the image of her hometown high school. However, the only thing Susie truly wants is to be back on Earth, growing up with the people she loves. This is the one thing Susie cannot have in heaven, but there is one way Susie can keep up with her family. From heaven, Susie can look down and watch her family as they struggle with their own feelings about her murder.
The Salmon family is forever changed as a result of Susie’s murder. Susie watches as her parents drift apart and her siblings and friends grow up and have experiences Susie can only witness. Her mother, Abigail, wants to run away from her feelings, whereas her father, Jack, wants to confront those feelings head on. Jack Salmon, unsatisfied with Len Fenerman’s investigation, begins his own investigation of Susie’s murder. This investigation leads Jack to suspect George Harvey. However, police cannot arrest Harvey because there is no evidence linking Harvey to Susie.
Susie follows her sister Lindsey’s life from heaven. Lindsey experiences major life milestones witnessed vicariously by Susie. Susie cannot herself grow up, but can have a basic understanding of the process by watching her sister. She watches as Lindsey grows into a strong young woman who also shares her father’s determinationto find Susie’s killer. Lindsey learns from Grandma Lynn the name of the man her father believes killed Susie. Lindsey begins watching Harvey’s house, committing his schedule to her memory, and waiting for her opportunity.
Family members are not the only people affected by Susie’s death. Ray Singh, the first and only boy Susie kisses, is at first a suspect. He is quickly ruled out by police, by remains haunted by the memory of Susie’s death. Ruth Connors, an unpopular girl in Susie’s class, is also impacted by Susie’s death. She is the last person Susie touches asher spirit leaves Earth. As a result, Ruth becomes obsessed with death and even begins seeing the dead on Earth. Ray and Ruth become forever linked in their shared grief and understanding.
George Harvey, Susie’s killer, is also watched by Susie. In heaven, Susie meets and learns the stories of all of his victims. She sees Harvey hide her body, lie to her father and the police, and run from the crimes he has committed. Susie wants to help the living apprehend her killer, but can only watch as the policeand her family try to gather evidence and find her murderer.
Through the experiences of the Salmon family in The Lovely Bones, readers can examine their own feelings and reactions to loss and mourning. Can something good come from a horrible tragedy? Can healing come from a place of tremendous violence and despair?