How to Teach The Lovely Bones

Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon's life is tragically cut short by a brutal murderer named George Harvey. While Susie's heaven offers her everything she could ever want in an afterlife, she can't seem to disconnect herself from what the living are doing down on Earth—particularly, her grieving family.

The Lovely Bones can be an intense read for students, as the novel opens with a horrifying scene of Susie's rape and murder. However, the violence presented in the beginning of the book is quickly offset by the ethereal imagery and surrealism of Alice Sebold's portrayal of heaven. Teachers are encouraged to compare and contrast how the murder case is handled in the book's setting (the 1970s) and how it would be handled today in the 21st century. This novel can also be a good introduction to a discussion about themes of mortality, spirituality, and the afterlife. Students might enjoy conceptualizing what their own ideal, personal heavens would be like.

Summary

When the novel begins, fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is already dead. As she attempts to navigate her way through her own personal heaven, she watches her family down on Earth grieve over the unbelievable tragedy of her brutal murder. Each member deals with the grief in different ways, from the mother ditching the family completely, to Susie's sister attempting to bring the killer to justice, even though he manages to flee town before the police can catch up with him. Meanwhile, up in heaven, Susie comes to learn that she must disconnect herself from what is going on with the living in order to properly move on in her afterlife. Of course, this is much easier said than done. The Lovely Bones begs readers to consider just how valuable life really is and what it means to truly move on from a tragedy.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones

Paperback

A New York Times best-seller and a Good Morning America "Read This" Book Club selection, The Lovely Bones explores one family's struggle with grief, loss, and ultimately closure following the murder of 14-year-old Susie Salmon.

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Content Warning

The Lovely Bones discusses rape, murder, and death.

Objectives for Teaching The Lovely Bones

  • Identify and explore themes of grief, mortality, family, and the supernatural.
  • Understand and discuss the various ways in which characters in the novel deal with grief and tragedy.
  • Identify literary elements used throughout the novel, such as flashback and foreshadowing.
  • Follow the sequence of events even as they are told retrospectively.
  • Discuss the conceptualization of the afterlife presented in the novel.
  • Discuss whether or not Susie Salmon can be considered a tragic hero.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Mortality — The entire novel forces the reader to think about the idea of one's own mortality. Even the best and most innocent people can have their lives cut short, so it's imperative to always appreciate life as much as possible.
  • The Supernatural — In real time, the book is set in Susie Salmon's own personal heaven. The violence that is happening on Earth is contrasted by the magical, beautiful surrealism of Susie's afterlife.
  • Family —  From heaven, Susie watches her family grieve her death. The novel focuses on how a family is broken by, and eventually rebuilt after, a tragedy.

Key Facts

  • Length: 328 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 890
  • Publication Date: 2002
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11

Awards

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • 2003 American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction
  • Bram Stoker Award for First Novel

Movies

A film adaptation of the novel was released in 2009. It received mostly positive reviews and only differs minimally from the original version.

Your students will love:

  • Imagining the idea of a personalized afterlife.
  • The justice of the anatagonist being killed in the end.

Students may have problems with:

  • The unconventional narration told mostly through flashbacks.
  • The abstractness of the afterlife presented throughout the novel may not be realistic or relatable enough for some readers.

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The Lovely Bones

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