How does The Lovely Bones connect to the world in regards to social issues, historical issues, and values/ethics?
The Lovely Bones takes place in the 1970s, an era known for America’s “loss of innocence” and cynicism, a theme that is reflected in the book. During this time, parents became more worried about child abductions, the main point of the book, due to some high-profile cases, and this became a national social issue. As a result, this was also a time when parents began to worry about their kids walking home alone, or being too trusting of strangers. Both of these issues led to the main character’s death. This can be seen as a social issue, as it is still a problem in today’s society—maybe even more so, with current issues such as Internet predators. The novel can be seen as historical since it represents an era when people were just becoming concerned with this issue in large part. We can think about this ethically both in terms of how much independence children should have and how much awareness they should have about strangers, factors which contributed to the main character’s death.
Another ethical issue is the police’s apathetic handling of the case, closing it and not arresting the killer, although there is evidence and the killer displays suspicious activities. This makes us question how seriously the police often take violent crimes and if their level of involvement is sufficient. Looking at this from a historical angle, in the 1970s, child abductions (like this one) were handled totally by local police, and they often did not have the resources or experience necessary to handle them properly. As a result of these issues which came to light in the 1970s, Congress established the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the early 1980s, which monitors the FBI's database of missing children and helps local law enforcement publicize alerts.
There are of course obvious connections (as it is modern fiction and could have very well taken place in real life, even yesterday): unsolved crimes, the secrecy of psychopathic rapist killers, feelings of anger/loss/helplessness from the victim's family and close friends, etc.
I also think it poses some other big questions: Is there life after death? Is communication with Earth possible from the afterlife? Is that communication directly affected by injustice?
I believe there's significance in the fact that the book was published during a time in which crime has become drama and entertainment both in the fictional and non-fictional sense (think Law & Order, but also think of high profile crimes played on the news like mini-series). The Lovely Bones taking place in 1973 provides the more modern reader with a stark contrast to the impression of crime they may have. The viewpoint of the changes in the lives of those around the crime give us a different perspective of characters we have seen or heard of in real life. Think Amber Hagerman (of AMBER ALERT) or Elizabeth Smart's face peering out from magazine covers and television screens. While we may have felt like we "knew" the information, in stark comparison, The Lovely Bones shows us how far removed we are from the actual experience of tragedy by bringing us into the private lives of a fictional family / community.
This brings into question the idea of privacy for the modern reader. As they read more of the ways in which grief and loss changed people, they have more of an understanding as to how complicated the story (and someone's character) might be. The difference between knowing who killed Suzie in the book (because you can hear her perspective) and knowing who killed the child on the news suddenly becomes a very different thing.
There's also the idea of variations in the processing of grief. One could compare Jack to Abigail. One championed the search for justice, one didn't. One let grief takeover, one abandoned the family altogether, but can you say that one parent was wrong or right in dealing with the loss of a child? You find gradients in the right and the wrong, which is a decidedly more modern approach to values/ethics.