THE death of a loved one seems too bitter a pill to swallow. Yet for some, death means a new life. Author Alice Sebold tackles the subject in her debut novel, The Lovely Bones.

Narrated from the standpoint of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, The Lovely Bones is the compelling story of Susie’s death and its effects on the people she left behind.

The book begins with Susie’s personal account of how she was raped and murdered by a deranged neighbor and the after-life experiences she had before going to heaven. From heaven, she watches over her family, friends, and neighbors. She sadly observes her family being torn apart by grief, her friends drifting away, and her killer disposing evidence of the crime.

The novel appears to be just another family drama. But Sebold manages to set it apart through her unique writing style which alternates from being lyrically poetic in one moment, to being harsh and unsentimental in the next.

The first two lines of the book are effective attention-grabbers. It establishes the tragic subject of the story and at the same time conveys humor. Readers are given a glimpse of Sebold’s quirky style in the way Susie likened her name to a fish while introducing herself as a dead person.

There are a lot of instances in the book which show Sebold’s impressive ability to balance humor, drama, and suspense. During moments when the characters’ pain becomes overwhelming, she suddenly shifts to a lighter subject like the antics of the dogs in heaven or the romantic escapades of Susie’s former classmates.

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To make readers understand the depth of pain the characters feel, Sebold inserts flashbacks in the narrative. When not observing events on earth, Susie recounts happy memories when still alive—simple things that would seem inconsequential to the living. It is during these intervals that Sebold imparts another important point—that life should be cherished even at its most mundane.

Also commendable in The Lovely Bones are its well-developed characters. Sebold incredibly portrays Susie as someone naively adolescent and remarkably mature at the same time. This is manifested in the way she sounds so childlike in the beginning, maturing as the story progresses. Although she never grew up physically, she did so emotionally.

Sebold did not neglect the development of the other characters. Through Susie’s eyes, she describes the transformation of the Salmon family members as each of them undergoes the painful process of acceptance and letting go.

Loaded with sad and painful moments, The Lovely Bones does more than make readers cry. It’s the kind of novel that haunts you long after you’ve read it. Ma. Stephanie Rose R. Hilario

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