The Lovely Bones

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I read this book in three formats - primarily hardback, eBook at night, and audio towards the end when I was ready to be done.
Disclaimer: I am an English teacher. I teach my students that proper nouns are capitalized. (A noun is a person, place or thing. A proper noun is a specific person, place or thing.) SO - by those rules, Heaven is a specific place and should be capitalized. Therefore, in my opinions, I will capitalize Heaven. When I am quoting the book, it will be lower case if that's how it appeared on the page.

The story starts off with a 14 year old girl stating she was "murdered on December 6, 1973." (ePg. 1, loc. 36) The story is set in Philadelphia.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 3

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 2

Suspense: 1

Morality: 2

Traditional: 2

Sex - Susie said she'd had older men look at her "that way" since she'd lost her baby fat. (Ch. 1, ePg. 4, loc. 83) "I watched the art teacher make love to his girlfriend in the kiln room." (Ch. 3, ePg. 37, loc. 531) Ruth drew a picture of a naked woman that got passed around the high school. (Ch. 6, ePg. 72, loc. 1015) Later the drawing was defaced with an "obscene hole" (Ch. 6, ePg. 73, loc. 1036) and Susie is "both frightened and excited by what existed underneath the black line of the navel in those drawings". (Ch. 6, ePg. 73, loc. 1043) A girl sees sex as "achieving adulthood" and a boy thinks the first time should be perfect. (Pg. 117) A 14 year old has sex. (Ch. 10, ePg. 121, loc. 1713) Ref. to a child hearing her parents' lovemaking. (Pg. 151) A minor, passionate scene on a rooftop. (Pg. 152)

Religion - when Susie was 10 she had told anyone who would listen that she was going to get her tubes tied. (Ch. 6, ePg. 73, loc. 1044) Ray and Ruth debate the existence of Heaven. (Ch. 6, ePg. 78, loc. 1116)

Gruesome - Mr. Harvey wants to check that she's a virgin. (Pg. 12) Len's wife committed suicide (off the pages, no details). Ch. 12, ePg. 143, loc. 2010) Ref. to wounded women - spousal abuse, rape, incest. (Pg. 272)

Suspense - several moments when a character is in a tight spot.

Morality - Susie imagined her future self as a great protector, "When someone taunted Clive Saunders for walking like a girl, I would deliver swift vengeance with my foot to the taunter's less-protected parts. When the boys teased Phoebe Hart for her sizable breasts, I would give a speech on why boob jokes weren't funny." (Ch. 1, ePg. 13, loc. 192) A mom abandons her family.

Traditional - "a lot of bullshit in my heaven". (Ch. 1, ePg. 4, loc. 77) Reference to girls who could climb ropes being "butch". (Pg. 12) The principal "moon[ed] over the assistant football coach." (Ch. 3, ePg. 37, loc. 531) I assume the coach was male, and the principal was definitely male. Ruth's father encourages her to drink bourbon before she gets out of the vehicle before school. (Ch. 6, ePg. 74, loc. 1055) Implication that a girl has some sort of feelings for females. (Pg. 117)

There were several complex sentences and the order of the phrases/clauses within that sentence made the objects ambiguous. For example:

  • "When he saw her walking on the other side of the chain-link fence that separated the school from the soccer field and inside which was the most revered of the sports fields - the football one--" (Ch. 6, ePg. 76, loc. 1077)

  • "My father marveled at what a sound sleeper he was--just like me." (Ch. 11, ePg. 122, loc. 1722) Does she mean she was also a sound sleeper, or she also marveled at what a sound sleeper Buckley was?

  • "She couldn't stop the memories slamming into her. Everyone had a brutal report." (Ch. 14, ePg. 175, loc 2451)
    Should this read "Every one" as in each not "Everyone" as in all people?

  • "But she talked too much about her son and insisted on reading him poems from a book of sonnets." (Ch. 14, ePg. 177, loc. 2482)
    Who was she reading poems to - the son or Mr. Harvey?

I also found it weird that the school book they found of Susie's was from Mrs. Dewitt's English class and the same teacher was also Lindsey's teacher. Obviously I know that some teachers teach multiple grade levels - it just seemed strange to me. It didn't serve any plot purpose and it confused me so that I had to go back and figure out what role Mrs. Dewitt had played earlier in the novel.

Discussion Questions

After Susie introduces herself, and tells us about her school life, she clarifies that Mr. Botte did not kill her, warning, "Don't think every person you're going to meet in here is suspect." (Ch. 1, ePg. 2, loc. 43) Were you already suspicious of people?

Susie planned to "insist on being called Suzanne" (Ch. 1, ePg. 12, loc. 189) when she started high school. Did you make any changes when you started high school?

Susie's Heaven smelled like skunk, a bit, because she'd actually liked the scent on Earth. Franny's Heaven smelled like tobacco, and Holly's like kumquats. (Ch. 3, ePg. 36, loc. 524) What will your Heaven smell like?

Who did you think took the Monopoly piece off Buckley's dresser? (Pg. 70) What is your symbolic Monopoly piece?
Have you ever received half a heart (necklace)? (Pg. 70) From who?

In a matter of a few pages (Ch. 6), Susie and Lindsey both have their first kiss (or almost kiss). Susie described her actual first kiss as "like an accident - a beautiful gasoline rainbow." (Ch. 6, ePg. 72, loc. 1028) Do you have a first kiss story to share?

Franny suggested that imaginary friends were actually spirits visiting children. (Ch. 7, ePg. 87, loc. 1241) Did your children ever have imaginary friends? Could it have been a spirit? Did you ever have an imaginary friend? Was it related to someone who had passed away?

Ruana said if it were her, she'd kill the killer. Would you? Were you surprised she said that? (Pg. 88)

The first time Lindsey wore make up "she went to bed and slept on her back so as not to mess up her new face." (Ch. 9, ePg. 99, loc. 1398) Do you remember the first time you wore makeup?

Susie said Grandma Lynn "did the most important thing that day" (Ch. 9, ePg. 108, loc. 1528) when she pointed out Mr. Harvey to Lindsey. But it really wound up to be rather detrimental to the cause. Why did Susie say it was important?

In Heaven, Susie explained, "The night would come and the javelin-throwers and shot-putters would leave for other heavens. Heavens where a girl like me didn't fit in." (Ch. 10, ePg. 115, loc. 1625) Does this fit with your idea of Heaven?

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of Chapter 10, Susie comments that she "always chose the icicle: the weapon melts away" (Ch. 10, ePg. 121, loc. 1718) when she plays the game, "How to Commit the Perfect Murder". Did you remember her comment at the end of the book?

Did you suspect the affair? (Ch. 12)

What do you think the dream at the end of chapter 13 means?

When Lindsey was inside Mr. Harvey's house, "Small flecks of white dust collected at the tips of her shoes as she mounted the stairs, but she didn't notice them." (Ch. 14, ePg. 174, loc. 2440) What is this meant to symbolize or what is the explanation for the white dust?

Ch. 17: There are a few things to discuss -

  • "They picked their way through the gravel and mud, stepping over branches and litter that had gathered at the side of the road." (ePg. 229, loc. 3177) Did you think they were going to find something regarding the case against Mr. Harvey?

  • Samuel and Lindsey were riding the motorcycle and then it started raining. They pulled off the road and got under some trees and eventually went into the abandoned house. Then, even though it was still raining, they decided to run several miles to Lindsey's house. Since they couldn't run in leather, they took their clothes off. Why did they not just ride the motorcycle? How would that be any different than running in the rain?

  • How much do you think Heaven's residents look down on Earth? (end Ch.)

How old is too old to tuck in your kids? (ref. Pg. 259)

The mom (I had a hard time remembering her name - perhaps the author designed it that way) had pictures in her wallet. (Ch. 19, ePg. 261, loc. 3628) Do you still carry pictures in your wallet? Do you remember any special pictures you used to carry. She left Susie's picture propped against a "tiny, struggling tree". (Ch. 19, ePg. 261, loc. 3636) Why did she leave the picture near the tree?

Susie realized that her mother was not called to be a mother. (ref. Ch. 19, ePg. 262, loc. 3640) Do you believe that motherhood is a calling?

When Susie danced with her grandpa in Heaven, he said she was almost ready. Years later she was still watching. How long do you think Susie should have watched her people?

Susie realized she, "became manifest in whatever way they wanted me to be". (ePg. 317) Just as everyone has a different interpretation of Heaven, people also have varied ideas about ghosts and spirits. Why do you think this is?

The title is referenced on page 320. How did you feel or think about the title before? Did this reference / explanation change your perspective on the title for the better or worse?

Mr. Harvey seems to have ultimately received a good dose of karma. (ePg. 323) It is implied that Susie might have had something to do with it. Do you believe that such events are divinely inspired or just the nature of the world?

Were you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not? If not, what could have made it better?

Theme Ideas

Give your guests snow globes similar to the one Susie's father had on his desk, with "a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf." (ePg. 1, loc. 31)

Susie tells us that her "father was the kind of dad who kept a nude photo of you when you were three in the downstairs bathroom". (Ch. 1, ePg. 3, loc. 64) Have everyone bring a childhood photo of themselves and play a game to guess who is who.

Cover your meeting table with butcher paper and provide crayons like Abigail drew on in her own kitchen. (Ch. 6, ePg. 85, loc. 1216)

Susie said " 'How to Commit the Perfect Murder' was an old game in heaven." (Ch. 10, ePg. 121, loc. 1718) Play a similar game.

Decorate with ships in bottles in honor of the activity Susie and her dad shared.
Decorate with daffodils like Abigail (the mom) bought for Jack in the hospital. (Pg. 273)

Serve Vietnamese food and pork-fried rice like Susie remembered her dad liking from Hop Fat Kitchen. (Ch. 1, ePg. 13, loc. 202 & 203)
Serve the meal Susie dreamed of while she was being attacked: lamb, string beans, apple crumb cake. (Pg. 14)
Serve "lime Kool-Aid" from Dixie cups like Franny served Susie and Holly. (Pg. 19)
Serve macaroons like Susie's dad's firm always sent for Christmas. (Ch. 5, ePg. 58, loc. 821)
Serve "fluffernutter on wheat bread" (Ch. 5, ePg. 58, loc. 830) like Jack made.
Serve eggnog like Susie's mom offered Samuel Heller. (Pg. 67)
Serve sweet tea like Ray took to the shotput circle when he was meeting Ruth. (Ch. 6, ePg. 76, loc. 1075)
Serve eggs, sausage and pancakes like at Gifted camp. (Pg. 115-116) Add vanilla pudding like Lindsey wished for.
Serve "jellyfish, which involved a maraschino cherry at the bottom of some sugar and gin" (Ch. 11, ePg. 129, loc. 1819) like Samuel showed Lindsey.
Serve "Earl Gray" like Susie's mom was going to make after they woke up to sirens (because Jack had been beaten with a bat). (Ch. 12, ePg. 138, loc. 1943)
Serve lasagna and brownies (Pg. 244) like after the rain storm on college graduation day. Add Dom Perignon 1978 (Pg. 245)
Serve mint juleps like Susie imagined Grandma Lyn drinking in Heaven. (ePg. 319)
Serve apple pie, like Ray and his mom took to Susie's family. (Ch. 23, ePg. 310, loc. 4317)
Serve Stouffer's frozen ziti and Sara Lee frozen cheesecake - Grandma Lyn's "trademark". (Pg. 320)


  • Susie and her grandpa danced to the Barber Adaggio for Strings (Pg. 261)

  • Tennessee Williams and Dean Martin, because Susie imagined that Grandma Lyn was hanging out with them in Heaven. (ePg. 319)