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The Lovely Bones

by Ann Sebold
 
The Lovely Bones is the story of a young woman's murder told from the point of view of the murder victim.   She observes from heaven the way her family attempts to pick up the pieces after her death.  This was Sebold's first novel.
 
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Summary:
 
Chapters 1-6
  • We meet the main character of the story, Susie Salmon, who is dead and in heaven.  We also meet her family and other people who were touched by her life.
  • Susie describes her murder in detail.  She was killed in an underground hole in a corn field by her school.
  • Susie describes her heaven--it is different for everyone.  Her heaven is filled with all the things she's ever wanted.
  • The police suspect Ray Singh, one of Susie's classmates, because he wrote Susie a love note that they found.
  • Susie touches a girl named Ruth on her way to heaven and Ruth is deeply affected.  Ruth is a brilliant artist who has few friends at school.
  • Mr. Salmon suspects a neighborhood man, Mr. Harvey, of killing his daughter after he helps him build a tent in his back yard.  His suspicions are correct.
  • A boy named Samuel gives Susie's sister, Lindsey, a half a heart necklace and kisses her.
  • Ray Singh and Ruth bond over their loss of Susie
  • Mr. Salmon goes to talk to Ray Singh and his mother.

Chapters 6-12

  • The reader gets a peek into Mr. Harvey’s past
  • Grandma Lynn arrives for Susie’s memorial.  She gives Lindsey a makeover that helps her separate herself from her dead sister
  • At the Gifted Symposium Lindsey and Samuel seal their relationship
  • Lindsey is disturbed by the “Perfect Murder” competition
  • The Police tell Mr. Salmon to back off of Mr. Harvey.  Abigail agrees with the police
  • Mr. Salmon sees a light in the cornfield and assumes it’s Mr. Harvey.  He chases the light with a baseball bat and scares Clarissa who was meeting her boyfriend.  Clarissa’s boyfriend destroys Mr. Salmon’s knee for his trouble.
  • Susie’s mom begins her affair with Len at the hospital

Chapters 13-16

  • Lindsey and Mr. Salmon talk about his suspicion of Mr. Harvey
  • Mrs. Salmon withdraws from her family throwing herself into housework
  • Grandma Lynn tries to talk to Mrs. Salmon about her behavior, but isn’t successful
  • Abigail asks her mother if she can use the family cabin
  • Lindsey breaks into Mr. Harvey’s house and finds a drawing her did of a cornfield hideout.  She brings it to the police
  • The police visit Mr. Harvey, but he has an explanation for the drawing and they don’t have enough evidence to arrest him
  • Mrs. Salmon meets with Len at the mall
  • Ruth and Ray start an impromptu memorial to Susie in the cornfield on the anniversary of her death

Snapshots-

  • Mrs. Salmon leaves the family and travels to California
  • Grandma Lynn moves in to help with the family
  • Lindsey finds out about her mother’s affair with Len
  • Mr. Harvey runs away which makes it apparent that he probably had something to do with Lindsey’s murder
  • Ruth moves to New York and Ray goes to Penn
  • The police begin to link Mr. Harvey to other murders

Chapters 17-20

  • Lindsey and Sam graduate from college
  • Sam asks Lindsey to marry him
  • Mr. Salmon has a heart attack after getting into a fight with Buckley
  • Mrs. Salmon comes home when she hears about her husband’s heart attack
  • Buckley lets his mother know how angry he is with her for leaving

Chapters 21-Bones

  • Len brings a belonging of Lindsey’s to the Salmons in the hospital.  It is a charm from her charm bracelet.
  • Ray and Ruth go to visit the sinkhole because the city is filling it in
  • Ruth and Susie trade places
  • Susie (in Ruth’s body) and Ray make love in Hal’s bike shop
  • Lindsey has a baby that she names Abigail Suzanne
  • Susie realizes she can leave her family—they are OK

Themes in The Lovely Bones
 
Isolation
Isolation is one of the major themes of The Lovely Bones.  It is seen both in the action of the play, and in the symbols.  Examples include:
  • Before the story begins, there is a paragraph about a snow globe.  Susie comments that the penguin in the snow globe must be lonely.
  • Even though Susie is up in heaven she is alone and has not reunited with other familly members who have already died.
  • Ruth and Ray are both social outcasts who are very alone.  Ray will always be tainted by the police's suspicion of him.  Ruth, who was always a little strange, becomes so wrapped up in the lives of the dead she is completely ignored by the living.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Salmon are unable to join together in their grief.  Instead, they are pulled apart.  Susie says, "My mother and father ended up standing in the same room downstiars.  They had ocme in from opposite doorways (29)." 
  • Ruana Singh grows away from her husband who is so ambitious he is never home.  The novel states, "His cruelty was in absence.  even when he came and sat at her dinner table and ate her food, he was not there (314)." 
  • The last paper that Susie writes for school is called "The Ostracized: One Man Alone."
  • Mrs. Salmon (Abigail) goes to California to be alone.  Before she leaves she tells her mother, "Do you know how alone I've always felt (169)?"
  • Susie takes a very special picture of her mother alone in the backyard.  In this picture Susie sees something in her mother that she has never seen before.

Meaning of the Title

 

Comprehension Questions for The Lovely Bones:

 

Chapters 1-6 

  1. Where was Susie murdered? In a cornfield
  2. What is put in Susie’s mouth to keep her quiet? her hat
  3. What body part of Susie’s is found? her elbow
  4. In this story, is heaven the same for everyone? no
  5. Who breaks into Clarissa’s locker at school? Ruth
  6. What does Mr. Harvey take from Susie as a souvenir? a charm bracelet
  7. What does Mr. Harvey build in his backyard? a tent
  8. Who suspects Mr. Harvey of murdering Susie? Mr. Salmon
  9. What does Sam Heckler give Lindsey for Christmas? a half a heart necklace
  10. What does Buckley do with Susie’s old monopoly piece? Puts it in his room

 

Chapters 6-12

  1. What did Ruth do to get in trouble at school? drew provocative pictures
  2. What does Mrs. Singh tell Mr. Salmon he should do about Mr. Harvey? Kill Mr. Harvey
  3. What is the significance of the bloody twig that Susie hid under her bed? Buckley choked on it.
  4. Whose dress does Lindsey wear to the memorial? Clarissa's
  5. What contest was usually held at the Gifted Symposium? The build a better mouse trap competition
  6. What contest did they have at the Gifted Symposium? How to commit the perfect murder
  7. What was Susie’s preferred murder weapon? an icicle
  8. What does Len tell Mr. Salmon he has to do? Leave Mr. Harvey alone
  9. Why does Mr. Salmon go into the cornfield in the middle of the night? He sees a light
  10. Who is in the cornfield when Mr. Salmon goes there? Clarisa adn her boyfriend

 

Chapters 13-16

  1. What does Lindsey's father help her with in the bathroom? Shaving
  2. When Lindsey asks, does Mr. Salmon say he would like to break into Mr. Harvey's house? No
  3. Granma Lynn goes on a walk with Mrs. Salmon to talk about what? Her affair
  4. Mrs. Salmon asks her mother if she can use something.  What is it? her father's old cabin
  5. Who does Mrs. Salmon discover smoking foreign cigarettes? Mrs. Singh
  6. What was Lindsey wearing when she broke into Mr. Harvey's house? Her soccer jersey
  7. What did Lindsey take from Mr. Harvey's house? A picture he drew
  8. Where does Mrs. Salmon meet Len for a rendezvous? At the mall
  9. Who starts the impromptu memorial on anniversary of Susie's disappearance? Ruth and Ray
  10. Does Mrs. Salmon go to the impromptu memorial? No

Snapshots

  1. What kind of treat does Ray Singh's mother leave for Mr. Salmon? Apple Pie
  2. Who comes to live with the Salmon's after Abigail leaves? Grandma Lynn
  3. What does Lindsey find in Len's office? Her mother's red scarf
  4. What did Mr. Harvey make for a living? Dollhouses
  5. To what state does Abigail move? California
  6. To what city does Ruth move? New York
  7. What is found next to the charm from Susie's bracelet? The bones of a dead girl

Chapters 17-20

  1. What type of place did Lindsey and Sam end up on the day of their graduation? An old house
  2. What did Sam ask Lindsey the day of their graduation? To marry him
  3. What does Ruth come home to see closed? The sink hole
  4. What does Buckley want to put down in the garden? Susie's old clothes
  5. What medical problem happens to Mr. Salmon? He has a heart attack
  6. Why does Mrs. Salmon  (Abigail) come home? Because her husband has a heart attack
  7. Is Buckley glad to see his mother? No
  8. Who throws away the message from Len? Grandma Lynn
  9. What is the flower Abigail always buys? Daffodils
  10. Who do Mr. and Mrs. Salmon see everywhere? Susie

Chapters 21-Bones

  1. Who goes with Ruth to the Sinkhole? Ray
  2. When does Len bring to the Salmons? A charm from Susie's bracelet
  3. What does Hal get Buckley for his birthday? Drums
  4. When Susie falls to earth, who's body does she enter? Ruth's
  5. What does Susie want to do when she's on earth? Make love to Ray
  6. Who does Susie try to call when she's on earth? Buckley
  7. What does Ruth record in her journal? deaths
  8. Who's father owns the house that Sam wants to restore? Ruth's 
  9. What does Susie call Lindsey's daughter? Little Susie
  10. What happens to Mr. Harvey in the end? He dies

 

Vocabulary
 
A

Accentuate-draw attention to

Accretion-to increase in size, addition

Accrue—gather together, increase

Acquisitive—eager to own things, quick to learn

Adroit--skillful

Amateur—someone who does things for pleasure, not money; someone who hasn’t done something before

Amiable—friendly and pleasant

Anecdote—a short personal story

Arcane—difficult or hard to understand

Ascend—move upward, climb

Assiduous—very careful

Audacity—boldness or daring; lack of respect

B

Barren—bare, not able to grow things; unable to have children

Blight—something that spoils or damages things

Buoy—to keep something up (v); an object that floats in the water (n)

Burgeon—grow quickly, flourish

Burnish--polish

C

Cavernous—very large and empty, like a cavern

Celestial--heavenly

Cipher—written in code

Clamor—to demand noisily; shout

Clandestine--secret

Commodity—a traded item; useful thing

Condescend—to act better than someone else; to do something that normally you feel too important to do

Conjecture—guess; something based on a guess

Conjunction—combining several things, things happening at the same time

Contagious—able to be passed to others through contact; likely to affect others

Contemplate—consider; think about

Contempt—hatred or disgust

Conspirator—member of a group planning something (usually illegal)

Convivial—pleasant, sociable

Cryptic—mysterious, secret

Curt—rudely brief, terse

D

Debase—to make something lower in quality

Delineate—describe, draw, portray visually

Demeanor—someone’s manner or appearance

Dexterous—good with your hands

Diminish—to make smaller

Discreet—careful not to offend people; good at keeping secrets; subtle

Dormant—not actively growing; not active; sleeping

Dumbfounded—make speechless

E

Elude—avoid; escape

Entreat—plead, beg

Excruciating—very painful, hard to bear

Exploit—to take advantage of someone or something

F

Fastidious—concerned with details, exacting

Feign—pretend; copy

Fetid—something with a rotten or offensive smell

Fissure--crack

Fjord—narrow dips into a coast

Flabbergasted—shock someone completely

Futile—with no useful result

G

Gastritis—inflammation of the stomach lining

Gingerly—very cautiously

Gracious—kind and polity; elegant and comfortable

H

Hiatus—pause, break

I

Impromptu—done without preparation

Inconsequential—not important

Indignity--humiliation

Inebriated--drunk

Inextricable—impossible to escape from; unable to untangle

Ingenuous—innocent; honest

Ingratiate—to try to please someone; kiss up

Initiate—to start something; to someone about something new

K

Kosher—pure; lawful or proper; real

L

Lenient—not harsh

Limber--flexible

Luminous—brightly lit; emitting or reflecting light

Luscious—sweet and juicy; desirable; romantic and emotional

M

Malleable—easily influenced; able to shaped and bent

Mallow—flowering plant

Mandatory--required

Marvel—be amazed

Mausoleum--tomb

Mimic—copy something; imitate somebody

Minuscule--tiny

Modulate—alter something, change sound

Mortician—funeral director

Mundane--ordinary

O

Oratorio—religious, classical music

Ostentatious—rich and showy

Ostracized—removed from society, excluded; banish

P

Penchant—strong liking or tendency toward something

Petulant--sulky

Perpetual—lasting forever; occurring repeatedly; blooming throughout

Pilfer—steal small items of little value

Pilgrimage—religious journey; trip to a special place

Placate—make someone less angry

Posterity—people in the future; descendants

Premonition—warning about the future

Preoccupy—fill someone’s thoughts

Prospective—likely to happen

Provincial—narrow-minded, unsophisticated

R

Raucous—unpleasantly loud

Recalcitrant—hard to do or handle; resisting control

Regime—form of government; controlling group; established system

Rescind—cancel something

Resurrect—raise someone from the dead; bring something back

Ricochet--rebound

Ruinous—damaging, decayed

Rustic—plain and simple; country-like; made of rough branches

S

Serration—notches like saw teeth

Servitude—state of slavery, work to be done as a punishment

Sheepish—embarrassed, timid

Simultaneously—at the same time

Sodden—very wet, drunk

Solace—relief from emotional stress; source of comfort

Speculate—guess; consider something

Staccato—in quick, separate notes

Subjugation—putting one person under the control of another

Sully—spoil, make dirty

Symposium—formal meeting, published collection of opinions

Synapse—gap between nerve endings

T

Taunt—make fun of someone

Teem--full of; rain heavily

Temporal—relating to time

Tenuous—weak; extremely delicate

Tenure—permanent status (usually for a university professor)

Thwarted—prevent something from being successful

Timpani—drums in an orchestra

Transmute--change

U

Unbidden—not wished for; not asked for or invited

V

Vicinity—surrounding area; near

Vigil—night watch; religious services at night

Vigilant—watchful, alert

Viscous—thick and sticky