The Lovely Bones book review

Dec 8, 2009 at 2:46 p.m. ET

The critically acclaimed best-selling novel The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold has been made into a feature film directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson and starring Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon.

Now a major motion picture in theaters in December, The Lovely Bones began as a groundbreaking novel.

Watch the movie trailer for The Lovely Bones

The first half of the book is the strongest, where it is part mystery and part ghost story as 14-year-old murder victim Susie Salmon, "like the fish," narrates the events that happen after her disappearance. Academy Award-nominee Saoirse Ronan plays Susie in the film adaptation. Susie's father, portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film adaptation, suspects the killer's identity and struggles with the grief and helplessness brought on by the murder. Susie's sister, a major player in the novel, fears she will be forever defined by Susie's death, while the youngest Salmon, Buckey, struggles to understand the meaning of death. The second half of the book is pure ghost story as Susie watches her loved ones grow, age and begin to move on while she explores her personal heaven.

The Lovely Bones

The novel was a breakout hit when it was published in 2002, and the film adaptation is garnering much attention and anticipation. While the basic premise of the novel – a murdered 14-year-old telling her woeful tale from heaven – has the potential to turn into a lengthy cliché drowned in sentiment, Sebold is a skilled novelist who is able to weave this story into an original and moving account.

Here's what other reviewers of the novel had to say:

"A keenly observed portrait of familial love … A deeply affecting meditation on the ways in which terrible pain and loss can be redeemed through love and acceptance." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A small but far from minor miracle … A story that is both tragic and full of delight and grace … Sebold maintains a delicate balance between homely and horrid. Full of suspense and written in lithe, resilient prose that by itself delights." Publishers Weekly

"Few novels, debut or otherwise, are as masterful or as compelling as Sebold's. A beautiful novel, Sebold challenges us to re-imagine happy endings as she brings the novel to a conclusion that is unfalteringly magnificent." Kristine Huntley, Booklist.

The novel's title stems from a line near its end in which Susie ponders her friends' and family's newfound strength after her death: "These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections – sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent – that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life."