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.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Identify and discuss the effectiveness of various literary devices the author employs, including metaphor, simile, irony, and juxtaposition.
4. Explain how Sebold’s detailed descriptions of the setting contribute to tone and mood.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Explore the themes of isolation and alienation, and cite specific examples from the text that indicate their causes and ways of overcoming them.
8. 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.
9. 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.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension....
(The entire section is 533 words.)
1. The narrative viewpoint in The Lovely Bones is certainly unique, one of the book’s most interesting aspects. Why would the author choose to tell the story from the dead girl’s perspective instead of from the world of the living? What does this add to the story? What would be lost if the story were told in a more conventional way?
2. Why do you think the author reveals Susie’s murderer on the second page of the book? Does revealing the identity of the killer immediately make the story more effective or less effective? In what ways?
3. Sebold chooses to tell this wrenching story in a rather matter-of-a-fact way. Why does the author choose this tone, and how would the story have been...
(The entire section is 884 words.)
anecdotes: short narratives of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident
audacity: intrepid boldness, arrogant disregard of normal restraints
indignity: an act that offends against a person’s self-respect, an insult
mortician: a funeral director, an undertaker
1. Why do you think the author decides to reveal Susie’s murderer on the second page of the novel?
By choosing to reveal the killer almost at once and write the story from the dead girl’s perspective, Sebold shifts the focus from suspense and mystery to the emotional impact of the heinous crime, on both the victim and the murderer....
(The entire section is 494 words.)
clandestine: secret, concealed
crepe de chine: a light, soft silk or synthetic fabric with minute surface irregularities
Evensong: an evening prayer, a form of worship said or sung in the evening
Herculean: heroic, formidable
inconsequential: unimportant, minor
insinuating: clever, sly
lumbering: hulking, clumsy
meticulous: careful, thorough
monotone: a vocal utterance or series of speech sounds in one unvaried tone
ostracized: cast out
petulant: huffy, irritable
reverberated: echoed, resounded
reveries: dreams, daydreams
schizoid: conflicting, contradictory
(The entire section is 888 words.)
cloak: to cover, to conceal
conjectures: guesses, assumptions
contemplation: meditation, thought, study
envelop: to surround, to enclose, to embrace
filament: a thread, a strand
gesticulating: gesturing, waving
infinity: time without end, perpetuity
intoxicating: exciting, enthralling
nuances: shades, degrees
penchant: a liking, a fondness, a desire
phenomenon: an occurrence
stealthy: silent, sly
1. Susie describes looking down on the Earth and seeing “souls leaving bodies all over the world.” How does she say these souls interact with the living as they leave...
(The entire section is 790 words.)
bluff: good-naturedly direct, blunt, or frank
desolate: deserted, isolated
fastidious: excessively particular, critical, or demanding; painstaking
palpate: to stroke, to touch
1. What did Mr. Harvey do in the hours after murdering Susie? What did he do with her body?
After collapsing the hole in the cornfield, he stuffed Susie’s body parts into a sack and carried it to his garage. He showered and placed the body bag in a safe. Then he drove that to the Flanagans’ sinkhole where he dumped the safe.
2. What words does Susie use to describe Mr. Harvey’s mood as he is disposing of the evidence? What do these...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
Confucius: ancient Chinese thinker and scholar
conviviality: hospitality, friendliness, cordiality
resolute: firm, stubborn, determined
reverent: deferential, respectful
1. Susie says that it was her sister Lindsey who had to deal with the Walking Dead Syndrome. Define this.
The Walking Dead Syndrome, according to Susie, is when people can only see the dead person when they look at you. In Lindsey’s case, after her sister’s murder, everyone, even Lindsey herself, saw Susie every time they looked at Lindsey.
2. When questioned by Detective Fenerman, what does Mr. Harvey say is the purpose of...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
affectations: deliberate mannerisms, quirks, pretentions
cadavers: corpses, dead bodies
formaldehyde: a colorless, toxic, water-soluble gas
ingratiate: to curry favor with
leering: smirking, sneering, grinning
patter: chatter, drumming
repose: to recline, to rest, to relax
revered: respected, honored, valued
twaddle: nonsense, rubbish
1. In the beginning of this chapter, Susie relates an anecdote of cutting class with Ray Singh. How does the scene develop the theme of regret and dreams unfulfilled? What does the scene add to the narrative?
(The entire section is 855 words.)
burgeoning: growing, promising
internment: imprisonment, captivity
perpetually: continually, eternally
widow’s walk: a railed rooftop platform often with a small enclosed cupola (frequently found on nineteenth-century North American houses)
1. What does Buckley tell his friend Nate about Susie? What is Susie’s reaction?
Buckley tells Nate that he sees Susie—that she was gone but now she’s back. Susie is surprised; she feels faint at the thought. She has not even let herself yearn for Buckley, afraid he might see her. Like everyone else, she wants to protect him. Buckley, however, swears he sees her, saying she...
(The entire section is 553 words.)
fjords: long, narrow inlets of water with steep sides or cliffs
specimen: an example, a sample
stave churches: medieval wooden churches with a post and beam construction related to timber framing
Vologda: the administrative, cultural, and scientific center of Vologda Oblast, Russia
1. What did Mr. Harvey dream about for three months after Susie’s murder?
Mr. Harvey dreamed of buildings in faraway places like Yugoslavia, Norway, and Vologda.
2. What does he dream about on the night of Susie’s murder, and how might this dream be significant to Mr. Harvey?
He dreams about the...
(The entire section is 332 words.)
apéritif: an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite
bygones: that which exists in the past
delineated: defined, outlined
demeaned: disgraced, humiliated
excruciating: agonizing, unbearable
flounce: to prance, to stomp, to swagger
obliged: grateful, thankful
subjugation: defeat, suppression
vestibule: an entrance, a foyer, an antechamber
vestments: garments, robes; habits
1. Who comes to stay with the family, and what impact does the visitor have on them?
Grandma Lynn, Abigail’s mother, arrives, and she actually manages to breathe some life into...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
assiduous: diligent, tireless, attentive
begrudged: resented, envied
cryptic: mysterious, puzzling
hypodermics: needles used for injections beneath the skin
interceded: intervened, mediated
kowtow: to do the accepted thing, to obey
oratorios: large musical compositions including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists
symposium: a conference, a meeting
wry: ironic, sardonic, cynical
1. In this chapter, the setting changes. Where do we go and with whom?
This chapter is set at the annual statewide Gifted Symposium, a four-week camp for gifted youngsters in grades seven through nine....
(The entire section is 767 words.)
campanile: an Italian bell tower (especially a freestanding one)
consensus: an agreement, an accord, a harmony
cupolas: small domes adorning roofs or ceilings
incontrovertible: indisputable, unquestionable
oblivion: nothingness, void
punting: to cease doing something, to give up
ricocheting: rebounding, recoiling, reverberating
vigil: a watch kept during normal sleeping hours; an act or a period of observing
1. How does Susie’s father know that Mr. Harvey killed his daughter? What proof does he have? Describe how he feels standing outside of Mr. Harvey’s house.
Jack Salmon has an...
(The entire section is 752 words.)
clamoring: shouting, crying
hiatus: a pause, a break, an interruption
incredulous: doubtful, skeptical
leniency: compassion, mercy, lack of harshness
prig: a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others
provincial: regional, simple, unsophisticated
rescind: to withdraw, to cancel, to repeal
1. What is the official story of what had happened in the cornfield with Mr. Salmon and Clarissa?
The official story is not all that far from the truth: “Mr. Salmon was crazy with grief and had gone out to the cornfield seeking revenge.”
2. When Lindsey...
(The entire section is 875 words.)
adroit: skillful, clever
agile: nimble, supple, lithe
aloft: up in the air
benign: kind, gentle, not dangerous
debasement: humiliation, shame
lapis lazuli: a semiprecious stone usually bright blue
malevolent: wicked, evil, nasty
malleable: pliable, impressionable
mandible: the lower jaw
ostentatious: pretentious, showy, affected
placated: pacified, soothed
pyre: a combustible heap for burning a dead body as a funeral rite; a pile of material to be burned
reprieve: a pardon; a temporary avoidance of something unpleasant
touché: a term used to acknowledge that an argument or a witty point is especially good...
(The entire section is 994 words.)
amiable: friendly, good-natured
ballast: a counterweight to create stability
encased: covered, enclosed
feigning: pretending, faking
luminous: glowing, shining, radiant
methodically: carefully, systematically
obsequious: flattering, fawning
posterity: all future generations of one’s descendants
stupor: a trance, a coma, a daze
1. What has Lindsey been doing just as Mr. Harvey does?
For a week Lindsey has been casing Mr. Harvey’s house, just as he observes the homes of others.
2. Mr. Harvey notices Lindsey watching him and begins to itch. Why? Has this...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
demeanor: manner, conduct
pilfered: stolen in small quantities
raucous: rough, grating, boisterously disorderly
repellent: disgusting, revolting
riving: wrenching open or tearing apart; splitting with force or violence
ruinous: disastrous, harmful
trill: a warble, a vibration
1. Why do you think Sebold describes scenes from George Harvey’s childhood in the first few pages of this chapter? How might they affect the reader’s perception of Harvey?
She describes scenes from George Harvey’s childhood when he is with his mother. They had little money and often...
(The entire section is 696 words.)
arbitrary: random, chance
embellish: to elaborate, to decorate, to exaggerate
entreaties: appeals, pleas
impenetrable: dense, impassable
premonition: a forewarning, an intuition
1. Chapter Sixteen takes place in one day. What day is it?
It’s December 6, 1974, exactly one year to the day that Susie was murdered.
2. How does the community mark the anniversary?
They all come together for an impromptu candlelight vigil in the cornfield.
3. Individual isolation and alienation in a broader sense are themes in the novel. How are these themes addressed in...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
copious: abundant, plentiful
precipitous: steep, sheer, abrupt
transmutable: able to change from one nature, substance, form, or condition into another
tincture: a color, a dye, a tint
1. Photographs and cameras are symbols in the novel, and this chapter is simply titled “Snapshots.” Explain what these “snapshots” represent.
In this and in previous chapters, photographs reveal hidden truths. What has become of these characters in the intervening years is revealed through a series of literary snapshots. Susie describes in the beginning of the chapter her love for her camera and the way she could use it to...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
accretion: an accumulation, a buildup, a growth
euphoric: overjoyed, elated
inevitability: a certainty; the inescapable
inordinate: excessive, immoderate
1. Whom does Susie watch most, and why?
She watches Lindsey the most. She says that in watching her, she finds she “could get lost more than with anyone else.”
2. What do Samuel and Lindsey discover in the woods that day after graduation? What is the significance of their find?
They discover an old abandoned house that Samuel immediately falls in love with. He asks Lindsey to marry him and live in this house with him....
(The entire section is 698 words.)
antagonistic: aggressive, hostile
ardently: passionately, zealously
cipher: a code using secret symbols
disingenuous: insincere, deceitful
immaculate: spotless, flawless
impinged: imposed, intruded
inextricably: in a hopelessly intricate, entwined, or complicated manner
recalcitrant: unruly, disobedient
timpani: a set of kettledrums, used especially in an orchestra
1. What is Ruth’s special gift—or curse?
Ruth is able to see into the Inbetween. Sometimes she can see dead people. At other times she is able to see or feel something bad happening in a certain place,...
(The entire section is 524 words.)
cadre: a squad, a unit
cavernous: hollow, vast, echoing
circumscribed: restricted, bounded
noxious: toxic, harmful, poisonous
tenuous: fragile, vague, shaky
ubiquitous: omnipresent, pervasive, universal
viscous: sticky, gelatinous
1. Why does Abigail fly back to Pennsylvania?
She finds out from her mother that Jack has had a heart attack and that he is in the hospital asking for her.
2. What does Abigail leave outside the terminal at O’Hare airport? Why does she leave it behind?
She leaves the class portrait of Susie that she had carried in her wallet for...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
futile: useless, pointless
jurisdiction: authority, dominion, rule
lilt: a characteristic rising and falling of the voice when speaking
talisman: a lucky charm
1. Describe where Mr. Harvey is in this chapter?
He’s fallen asleep inside a shack he built in the woods in Connecticut, the same shack where he killed and buried a young waitress, only now her body is gone.
2. Who are “the wounded” whom both Len and Susie see? What lists have both Susie and Len started keeping?
They are the women who have been beaten or raped. Susie and Len have both started keeping a list of the...
(The entire section is 811 words.)
beseeching: imploring, pleading
convergence: a point of meeting, a junction, a union
convex: curved, arched
doffed: tipped, lifted
innocuous: inoffensive, harmless, safe
stupendous: astonishing, amazing
vestiges: leftovers, remains, relics
1. Where do Ray and Ruth go, and why do they go there?
They visit the Flanagan sinkhole that the town is going to fill in, the place where Mr. Harvey dumped Susie’s body. They learned the sinkhole was finally going to be filled in and they were curious to see it one more time.
2. On their way to the sinkhole, Ray and Ruth spy another...
(The entire section is 378 words.)
elliptical: oval, elongated
translucent: glowing, luminous, radiant
unbidden: without having been commanded or invited; arising without conscious effort
1. Why does Susie fall to Earth? How does it happen?
When Ruth asks Susie what she wants, Susie knows at that moment she wants more than anything else to be alive. Ruth wants to know what it is like to be dead, so they meet in the Inbetween and, for a brief time, switch places. Susie enters Ruth’s body, and Ruth goes to Susie’s heaven.
2. What does Susie do in her short time on Earth? Why is it so important to her?
(The entire section is 520 words.)
inebriated: intoxicated, drunk
manifest: adj. obvious, clear; verb reveal
scintillating: sparkling, dazzling
sobriety: abstinence, moderation
1. As the chapter begins, what word comes to Ruana Singh’s mind that she had been avoiding for many years?
The word divorce comes to Ruana’s mind.
2. As Susie watches her father’s car pull into the drive, what does she realize she may have been waiting for all this time?
Susie realizes she may have been waiting for her family to come home to one another without her, not for Mr. Harvey to be caught or her...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
undulating: rolling, swelling
uninitiated: inexperienced, unskilled, unversed
1. What does Susie mean when she says, “You don’t notice the dead leaving when they really choose to leave you”? Whom does she say does notice?
Susie means that the dead stay with us after their bodies have died until their spirits are ready to move on. While we feel their physical loss, we don’t notice their spiritual absence. We’re not meant to: “At most you feel them as a whisper or the wave of a whisper undulating down.” Only those closest to death themselves will notice. In Susie’s case, it was only Grandma Lynn who noticed, and who...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
1. Who murdered Susie Salmon?
A. Ray Singh
B. Joe Ellis
C. Mr. Harvey
D. Mr. Botte
E. Len Fenerman
2. Who is Franny?
A. Susie’s younger sister
B. Susie’s English teacher
C. Susie’s new roommate in heaven
D. Susie’s intake counselor in heaven
E. Another victim of Susie’s killer
3. Franny tells Susie what about her death?
A. “You must forget it.”
B. “You have to accept it.”
C. “You must avenge it.”
(The entire section is 1006 words.)
1. Describe, using specific details from the book, how Susie’s heaven changes as the book progresses. Include in your response some discussion of the abilities Susie has in her heaven, as well as their limitations.
When Susie first arrives in heaven, it looks a lot like the high school she would have attended in that “all the buildings were like suburban northeast high schools built in the 1960s. Large, squat buildings spread out on dismally landscaped sandy lots, with overhangs and open spaces to make them feel modern.” She describes soccer goal posts in the distance and “lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin.” Susie explains that all the dead had been given their simplest dreams here: There are no...
(The entire section is 2588 words.)