By Alice Sebold, “the novel of the year” [16 January 2003]. In his review he quoted novelist and former icon

By Alice Sebold, “the novel of the year” [16 January 2003]. In his review he quoted novelist and former

Novel Guide: The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books, proclaimed The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, “the novel of the year” [16 January 2003]. In his review he quoted novelist and former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen as saying the book is one of the best books she has read in years and that it is “destined to be a classic along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Critical Praise

  • "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."

—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Arts section review

  • "A small but far from minor miracle...a story that is both tragic and full of light and grace...full of suspense and written in lithe, resilient prose that by itself delights." —^ Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

  • "Masterful" and "compelling.... Sebold's beautiful novel shows how a tragedy can tear a family apart, and bring them back together again. She challenges us to re-imagine happy endings, as she brings the novel to a conclusion that is unfalteringly magnificent. And she paints, with an artist's precision, a portrait of a world where the terrible and the miraculous can and do co-exist." —Booklist

  • "^ The Lovely Bones is one of the strangest experiences I have had as a reader in a long time, and one of the most memorable. Painfully funny, bracingly tough, terribly sad, it is a feat of imagination and a tribute to the healing power of grief." —Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  • "Set in a heaven as real and possible as the earth is mysterious and shifting, ^ The Lovely Bones explores, with clear-eyed affection and wit, the romance of family life, the shy, funny turbulence of adolescence, and the painful tracks love and loss make through our world." —Amy Bloom, author of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
Before Beginning: The Lovely Bones, in part, is a story of what happens after death. What do you think happens? Is there an afterlife? A Heaven? Reflect upon your own ideas—so we can discuss them before beginning the text.

Chapter Questions and Vocabulary:

Chapter One:

  1. Although she is uncomfortable Susie talks to Mr. Harvey in the cornfield? Why? What are your first impressions of Susie? Of Mr. Harvey? Of Susie’s family?

  2. According to Susie, what happens to Mrs. Salmon’s pain [over time]?

  3. Susie introduces her story from Heaven—what are your first impressions of Heaven?

  4. Who is Franny?

  5. Why is it ironic when Mr. Harvey says, “You should be more observant, Susie”? [8]

  6. Why doesn’t Susie wear her cap?


    • CONTEMPT [5]

    • ANECDOTES [7]

    • INDIGNITY [7]

    • AUDACITY [8]

Chapter Two:

  1. Describe Susie’s heaven.

  2. Describe Frannie—and her heaven.

  3. Explain the following quote: “They had never found themselves broken together” [20].

  4. Does Mr. Salmon do the right thing in telling Lindsey about the elbow? Why—or why not?

  5. What is the Inbetween?


    • METICULOUS [21]

    • FUTILE [21]

    • MODULATE [24]

    • OSTRACIZED [25]

    • DISTINCE [25]

    • INSINUATING [26]

    • CONCEDE [26]

    • FINIALS [26]

    • CLANDESTINE [27]


    • PETULANT [31]

    • SCHIZOID [35]

    • EVENSONG [35]

Chapter Three:

  1. Who is Ruth Connors?

  2. Why does Ruth break into Clarissa’s locker?

  3. Why does Susie find the ability to watch the school “intoxicating”? [40]

  4. Why does Susie think of destroying spiderwebs when she misses her mother?

  5. Why does Mr. Salmon smash the bottles? Describe what happens afterward.


    • MUNDANE [36]


    • NUANCES [37]


    • TETHER [44]

Chapter Four:

  1. How is it ironic that Susie’s body is hidden inside a safe?

  2. Describe what happens when Mr. Harvey builds the tent.


    • FASTIDIOUS [50]

    • WARRING [50]

    • SINKHOLE [51] read pg. 52

    • DESOLATE [51]

    • PALPATE [51]

    • COVETED [51]

    • AMBLING [55]


Chapter Five:

  1. What is “the Walking Dead Syndrome”? [59]

  2. Why does Mrs. Salmon despise the word “Mama”?

  3. Explain the following quote: “Each split level contained a narrative.” [63]

  4. Who is Samuel Heckler and what does he bring Lindsey?


    • REVERANT [61]

    • WAINSCOTING [64]


Chapter Six:

  1. Describe Susie’s “one day in life of being a bad kid” [74].

  2. Why does Ruth’s intelligence make her “a problem”? [78]

  3. Why does Susie feel connected to Ruth?

  4. Describe Ruana Singh—why does Mr. Salmon say she “must have driven the police nuts”? [85]

  5. What does Ruana advise Mr. Salmon to do?



    • FEIGNING [74]

    • REPOSE [76]

    • SUBVERSIVE [77]

    • INGRATIATE [85]

    • BESIEGED [90]

Chapter Seven:

  1. What is Franny’s theory about imaginary friends?

  2. Does Buckley really see Susie?


    • BURGEONING [93]

Chapter Eight:

  1. What does this short chapter reveal about Mr. Harvey’s childhood?


    • FJORDS [96]

Chapter Nine:

1. Describe Grandma Lynn—and how she “drag[s] the light back in” [100].

  1. Describe the memorial service.

  2. What does Ray do with Susie’s photo? Why?

  3. Explain the following quote: “Grandma Lynn…did the most important thing that day” [112].


    • BENZEDRINE [100]

    • APERITIF [102]

    • DELINEATED [103]

    • SUBJUGATION [110]

Chapter Ten:

  1. Describe the Gifted Symposium—and the divisions within the groups of students.

  2. Do you think Susie will “give up on Earth”? [120]


    • ACUTE [114]

    • GASTRITIS [114]

    • ASSIDUOUS [117]

    • RESURRECT [117]

    • TRAJECTORY [123]

Chapter Eleven:

  1. How does Mr. Salmon know about Mr. Harvey? What is “deep-soul knowing”? [127]

  2. Why does Mr. Harvey count his souvenirs?

  3. Explain the following quote: “No one could imagine an appetite like the one in the green house” [130].

  4. Why does Mr. Salmon love it when Len Fenerman drops by?

  5. What happens between Mr. Salmon and Brian Nelson in the cornfield?


    • WORRY STONE [129]

    • VIGIL [140]

Chapter Twelve:

  1. Lindsey waits with Buckley when Mrs. Salmon goes to the hospital—then who does she call? How does she get to the hospital?

  2. What does the Thursday afternoon reveal about Mr. and Mrs. Salmon’s relationship? About Mrs. Salmon’s relationship with her daughters?

  3. Being a parent affects everyone differently. Explain the following quote: “They had been deeply, separately, wholly in love—apart from her children my mother could reclaim this love, but with them she began to drift. It was my father who grew toward us as the years went by; it was my mother who grew away” [153].


    • HIATUS [141]

    • INCREDULOUS [146]

    • PERSEPHONE [149]

    • ZEUS [149]

    • PRIG [150]

    • PROVINCIAL [150]

    • DEMETER [151]

    • CUPID [151]

    • PSYCHE [151]

    • AUREOLE [152]

Chapter Thirteen:

  1. Explain the following idea: Brian and Clarissa used Mr. Salmon’s “debasement as a varnish of cool” [156].

  2. Susie finds her father heroic in his attempt to reclaim a normal relationship with Buckley. Why?

  3. Why does Mrs. Salmon give her mother “a nugget of truth”? [169]


    • DEBASEMENT [156]

    • ADROIT [158]

    • BENIGN [164]

    • PLACATED [165]

    • KOSHER [167]

    • MALEVOLENT [172]

Chapter Fourteen:

  1. What “trophy” does Lindsey bring from Mr. Harvey’s house? [179]

  2. What happens to Susie after she meets Flora?


    • OBSEQUIOUS [175]

Chapter Fifteen:

  1. How does Mr. Harvey convince the police his drawing does not implicate him in Susie’s murder?

  2. What happens when Mrs. Salmon meets Len at the mall? Describe what this reveals.


    • PILFERED [187]

    • ACQUISITIVE [190]

Chapter Sixteen:

  1. What does Ray have hanging over his bed?

  2. What happens in the cornfield on the anniversary of Susie’s death?

  3. Why doesn’t Mrs. Salmon want to go? What does she mean when she says that, to honor Susie’s memory, she wants “to be more than a mother”? [207]

  4. Does Susie talk to Buckley?

  5. What does Mr. Salmon realize in the cornfield?


    • SUKHASANA [199]

    • DIRGELIKE [205]


  1. Why does Mrs. Salmon leave?

  2. Why does Grandma Lynn come “to stay”? [213]

  3. In this chapter, “the worst news yet” is revealed to Lindsey—what is it? [215]

  4. Describe Buckley growing up without his mother—how is he impacted by her loss?

  5. To what extent is Mrs. Salmon’s escape to California—another shore—successful?

  6. Why is it different when Ruth or Mr. Salmon say Susie’s name, than others who did not know her?

  7. What does Ruana put in Ray’s suitcase when he goes to Penn? Why?

  8. Describe Ruth’s life in NYC after graduation.

  9. Describe Ray’s life at Penn.

  10. Why does Hal call Len?

  11. Why is this chapter entitled “Snapshots”?

  12. Who comes to Susie’s heaven?


    • DEFIANT [226]

    • COPIUS [227]

    • PRECIPITOUS [227]

    • FETID [228]

    • MATAHARI [229]

Chapter Seventeen:

  1. Why is the rain a problem for Lindsey and Samuel?

  2. Why does the penuin show globe comfort Mr. Salmon?

  3. What does Susie’s last roll of film reveal about her parents’ marriage?

  4. Why does Susie turn away from Earth the day her sister gets engaged?


    • ACCRETION [233]

    • PANNARD [241]

Chapter Eighteen:

  1. Why does Ruth have fans in heaven? Why is her work “important”? [251]

  2. Describe what happens when Buckley wants to use Susie’s old clothes.

  3. Why does Buckley pray to Susie?


    • DISINGENUOUS [248]

    • VIVISECT [250]

    • IMPINGED [252]

    • CIPHER [252]

    • SEISMIC [261]

Chapter Nineteen:

  1. When Mrs. Salmon hears there has been an emergency, who does she call?

  2. Why does Mrs. Salmon leave Susie’s photo under a tree at the airport? [266]

  3. Describe Mrs. Salmon’s meeting with her children after almost seven years?


    • TENUOUS [270]

Chapter Twenty:

  1. Why does Susie “both pity and respect” Len? [273]

  2. Why does Mrs. Salmon bring daffodils to her husband’s room?

Chapter Twenty-One:

  1. What had Grandma Lynn told Susie about her first kiss?

  2. Explain the following quote: “It was a convergence of luck that had kept my sister safe so far. Every day a question mark” [299].

Chapter Twenty-Two:

  1. While Susie is with Ray, what is Ruth doing in Heaven? What does Susie tell Ray about Heaven? What does she tell him about “the dead”? [309]

  2. Explain the following quote: “Look what happens when you dream” [310]

Chapter Twenty-Three:

  1. Read paragraph one on page 320—what are “the lovely bones”?




      1. How is “wide wide Heaven” different from Susie’s previous heaven? [325]

      2. How does Mr. Harvey die?

      3. Who is Abigail Suzanne?

      4. Is the end of the novel optimistic?

After completing the novel:

1. Briefly describe the following characters—are they static or dynamic? Why?

    • Susie Salmon

    • Mr. Harvey

    • Mrs. Abagail Salmon

    • Mr. Jack Salmon

    • Lindsey Salmon

    • Buckley Salmon

    • Grandma Lynn

    • Frannie

    • Ruth Connors

    • Ray Singh

    • Ruana Singh

    • Len Fenerman

2. Please use the space below to discuss your reflect upon your feelings about the text. Did you like it? Dislike it? Why? What is the most important idea you came away with?

Discussion Questions [after completing the novel]:

1. In Susie's Heaven, she is surrounded by things that bring her peace. What would your Heaven be like? Is it surprising that in Susie's inward, personal version of the hereafter there is no God or larger being that presides?

2. Why does Ruth become Susie's main connection to Earth? Was it accidental that Susie touched Ruth on her way up to Heaven, or was Ruth actually chosen to be Susie's emotional conduit?

3. Rape is one of the most alienating experiences imaginable. Susie's rape ends in murder and changes her family and friends forever. Susie’s alienation and isolation is transferred, in a sense, to her parents and her siblings. How do they each experience loneliness and solitude after Susie's death?

4. Why does the author include details about Mr. Harvey's childhood and his memories of his mother? By giving him a human side, does Sebold help us to understanding his motivation? Sebold explained in an interview about the novel that murderers "are not animals but men," insinuating that is what makes them so frightening. What does this mean? Do you agree with the author?

5. Discuss the way in which guilt manifests itself in the various characters - Jack, Abigail, Lindsay, Mr. Harvey, Len Fenerman.

6. "Pushing on the inbetween" is how Susie describes her efforts to connect with those she has left behind on Earth. Have you ever felt as though someone was trying to communicate with you from "the inbetween"?

7. Does Buckley really see Susie, or does he make up a version of his sister as a way of understanding, and not being too emotionally damaged by, her death? Do you think Susie's parents do a good job of helping Buckley comprehend the loss of his sister? How do you explain tragedy to a child?

8. Susie is killed just as she was beginning to see her mother and father as real people, not just as parents. Watching her parents' relationship change in the wake of her death, she begins to understand how they react to the world and to each other. How does this newfound understanding affect Susie?

9. Can Abigail's choice to leave her family be justified? Can she still be viewed as a good mother?

10. Why does Abigail leave her dead daughter's photo outside the Chicago Airport on her way back to her family?

11. Susie observes that "The living deserve attention, too." She watches her sister, Lindsay, being neglected as those around her focus all their attention on grieving for Susie. Jack refuses to allow Buckley to use Susie's clothes in his garden. When is it time to let go?

12. Susie's Heaven seems to have different stages, and climbing to the next stage of Heaven requires her to remove herself from what happens on Earth. What is this process like for Susie?

13. In The Lovely Bones, adult relationships (Abigail and Jack, Ray's parents) are dysfunctional and troubled, whereas the young relationships (Lindsay and Samuel, Ray and Susie, Ray and Ruth) all seem to have depth, maturity, and potential. What is the author saying about young love? What is illustrated bout the trials and tribulations of married life?

14. Does Jack Salmon allow himself to be swallowed up by his grief? Is there a point where he should have let go? How does his grief process affect his family? Is there something admirable about holding on so tightly to Susie's memory and not denying his profound sadness?

15. Ray and Susie's final physical experience (via Ruth's body) seems to act almost as an exorcism that sweeps away, if only temporarily, Susie's memory of her rape. What is the significance of this act for Susie, and does it serve to counterbalance the violent act that ended Susie's life?

16. Alice Sebold seems to be saying that out of tragedy comes healing. Susie's family fractures and comes back together, a town learns to find strength in each other. Do you agree that good can come of great trauma?

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