The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones book cover
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The Lovely Bones eNotes Lesson Plan

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Lesson Objectives: 
By the end of this unit, students should be able to

  • discuss and give examples of the ways in which Susie’s first-person narrative point of view impacts the story, and explain how the story would affect the reader differently if it were told instead by an omnipotent narrator;
  • examine how the point-of-view of the dead girl looking down from heaven transforms the story from a traditional thriller into a meditation on life and death, loss and redemption;
  • identify and discuss the effectiveness of various literary devices the author employs, including metaphor, simile, irony, and juxtaposition;
  • explain how Sebold’s detailed descriptions of the setting contribute to tone and mood;
  • identify and explain the significance of these images and symbols from the novel—the charm bracelet, photographs, the snow globe, ships in bottles, and Mr. Harvey’s dollhouses;
  • discuss the significance of the novel’s title and how it relates to major themes in the novel—familial love and its transformation; the redemptive quality of pain and loss; and the achievement of acceptance and freedom;
  • explore the themes of isolation and alienation and cite specific examples from the text that indicate their causes and ways of overcoming them;
  • identify and discuss the significance of various literary motifs, such as the role of dogs and rabbits, religious imagery, instinct and intuition, and the relevance of dreams;
  • identify the ways Susie’s family and close friends respond to her death; identify the personal conflicts her death creates for them and explain how they overcome these conflicts.

Introductory Lecture:

First published in 2002, The Lovely Bones reached the New York Times bestseller list just weeks after its release, resonating deeply with readers and critics around the globe. Novelist Anna Quindlen told Today show viewers, “If you only have time to read one book this summer; it’s The Lovely Bones,” and in 2009, the novel was made into a major motion picture by acclaimed director Peter Jackson. This kind of success is hardly unheard of, but the book’s unlikely subject matter makes its success surprising. Not a traditional thriller or mystery, The Lovely Bones instead recounts the aftermath of a young girl’s brutal rape and murder from the perspective of the victim herself as she looks down from heaven. 

Endearingly honest, charming, and courageous, Susie Salmon watches over the living from a very personal realm where she can have anything she desires, except the thing she wants most: to be reunited with her family on Earth. As Susie witnesses her loved ones grapple with unbearable grief and mounting frustration over the police’s inability to solve her murder, she attempts to guide her father toward the identity of her killer, whom she also watches. As the bonds that held her family together start to unravel, Susie realizes that she must accept her own death and let go of her connection to her family on Earth in order to enable her loved ones to move on as well. 

While the story offers no scintillating puzzle to keep us turning pages—we know who killed Susie by page two—The Lovely Bones captures us from the first line, holding our rapt attention as Susie, like her family on Earth, tries to come to grips with her fate. We feel their mutual grief, isolation, and loneliness, and find personal meaning in their ultimate peace and freedom.

Given the novel’s vivid, authentic, and arresting storytelling, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Alice Sebold was the victim of a heinous assault herself. In 1981, during her freshman year at Syracuse University, the author was attacked and brutally raped. The police told her to count herself lucky—a previous rape victim had been killed. Her rapist was later caught and convicted, but the horrendous experience sent Sebold into a downward spiral of depression and drug abuse until teaching and writing pulled her out. She published Lucky, a memoir of her experience, in 1998. A few years before the release of Lucky, she decided to pursue a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of California at Irvine; it was there that the character of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon was born. 

Michiko Kakutani’s rave review for the New York Times sums up the power of this story nicely: “A deeply affecting meditation on the ways in which terrible pain and loss can be redeemed—slowly, grudgingly and in fragments—through love and acceptance. . . . Ms. Sebold’s achievements: her ability to capture both the ordinary and the extraordinary, the banal and the horrific, in lyrical, unsentimental prose; her instinctive understanding of the mathematics of love between parents and children; her gift for making palpable the dreams, regrets and unstilled hopes of one girl and one family.” The Lovely Bones is haunting, mesmerizing, at times wrenching, yet ultimately hopeful. Sebold’s ability to take us into one of the worst experiences life could offer up and then pull us through the other side is almost breathtaking, and her ultimate message of acceptance is as healing as is her ability to remind us of what is truly important in life.

About this Document

Our eNotes Comprehensive Lesson Plans have been written, tested, and approved by active classroom teachers. Each plan takes students through a text section by section, glossing important vocabulary and encouraging active reading. Each is designed to bring students to a greater understanding of the language, plot, characters, and themes of the text. The main components of each plan are the following:
  • An in-depth introductory lecture
  • Discussion questions
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Section-by-section comprehension questions
  • A multiple-choice test
  • Essay questions
Each plan is divided into a teacher and a student edition. The teacher edition provides complete answer keys for all sections, including example answers for the essay questions.