When author Alice Sebold was a freshman at Syracuse University, she was brutally raped. She wrote about this harrowing experience in her non-fiction memoir Lucky, and she drew upon this horrific experience again as the starting point for her first novel, The Lovely Bones.
The Lovely Bones is the story of Susie Salmon, who is raped and killed when she is only fourteen. However, rather than write this story as a thriller, which had been done many times before, Sebold tells it from Susie's perspective: the dead victim tells her own story. This shifts the focus from suspense to the emotional impact of such a crime. The Lovely Bones evokes in minute detail just how much was taken from this young girl, and how much she missed out on, but it also traces in exquisite, painful detail how this violent and undeserved crimes distorts her family. Her mother leaves her father for eight years. Her father tries to catch Susie's killer, and is crippled in the process. Susie's sister and brother are driven into emotional retreat, becoming very distant from their previously idyllic family.
Given that Sebold lived through the initial experience that the main character suffers, it isn't really surprising that The Lovely Bones captures her suffering so well. What is impressive is how Sebold combines well-chosen detail and exquisite prose to paint heartrending portraits of an entire suffering community, and how well she humanizes the serial rapist and killer Mr. Harvey, but without ever excusing his terrible crimes.
In 2004, The Lovely Bones won the Richard and Judy Best Read Award (given by the British Book Awards), and a movie version is currently in production (as of January 2005).