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The Lovely Bones | Plot Summary

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Summary

The Lovely Bones begins with the announcement that the first-person narrator, 14-year-old Susie, is dead: "I was murdered on December 6, 1973." Susie is speaking from heaven, where she arrives soon after her murder. Susie's killer is a neighbor, Mr. Harvey—a loner who makes dollhouses for a living. He lures Susie into a dugout he's prepared for the purpose, and then he rapes and kills her. He puts her remains into an old safe and buries the safe in a sinkhole a few miles away.

As Susie describes it, heaven is different for every soul who arrives there. Susie can create what she desires in heaven—a new house, dozens of dogs—as long as she understands why she desires it. Susie likes heaven, but she's determined to reach her loved ones on Earth. She is sure that if she observes them closely, she may be able to help them cope with their loss.

Through Susie's eyes, The Lovely Bones follows the course of a large, diverse cast of characters. She watches her family for years as the bonds connecting them break and re-form. These bonds are the "lovely bones" in the book's title. Enviously, she monitors the relationship between Ray Singh, her almost-boyfriend on Earth, and Ruth Connors, a girl that Susie's soul touched on its way to heaven. And she stalks Mr. Harvey, who has fled town and is still murdering girls and women.

Meanwhile, Susie is learning to live in heaven. She's given a counselor, Franny, who works to help Susie untangle her soul from its earthly attachments. Her loved ones can't become whole until Susie learns to let them alone—a hard process. Susie is worried about her family and yearns to help them. She's eager to bring Mr. Harvey to justice, and so she keeps trying to guide people toward clues that point to him. She also deeply regrets having lost the chance to experience a real relationship with Ray Singh.

Susie's father, Mr. Salmon, tries to attack a friend of Susie's in the cornfield, mistaking her for Mr. Harvey. Her boyfriend savagely retaliates, hitting Mr. Salmon's kneecaps, and Mr. Salmon is sent to the hospital. Susie's mother, Mrs. Salmon, begins to find life with her broken family intolerable. Hoping to ease her pain, her mother begins an affair with the detective investigating the case. When that doesn't help, she leaves her family and moves to California.

Susie's father can't accept that there's no evidence to implicate Mr. Harvey, whom he is convinced is guilty. His efforts to solve the case on his own bring more trauma to his remaining children. Lindsey, Susie's younger sister, tries to harden herself against showing any grief. Her younger brother, Buckley—who can speak directly to Susie—tries to bring himself up, realizing that his father is too obsessed with Susie to be a real parent.

Susie is also keeping close watch on Mr. Harvey and visiting scenes from his early life. Gradually, readers learn some of the reasons he's become so monstrous. As a child, George Harvey has parents who are both mentally ill; his father makes buildings from scavenged supplies and his mother shoplifts. The elder Mr. Harvey abuses his wife and, by implication, George. One day, with George in the backseat of the car, Mr. Harvey pushes his wife out of the vehicle onto the road and drives away. George never sees his mother again. He begins his string of murders by killing his middle-aged landlady, and then he begins stalking and killing girls as young as six years old. Susie befriends many of his victims in heaven.

Mr. Salmon continues to be so unhinged by grief and rage that he allows Lindsey to break into Mr. Harvey's house in search of evidence. Lindsey finds evidence of several other murders, as well as a plan for the dugout where Mr. Harvey killed Susie. Mr. Harvey comes home unexpectedly, and Lindsey escapes just in time. She's got the diagram of the dugout, but she's sure that Mr. Harvey has recognized her.

At what would have been Susie's high school, Ray Singh and Ruth Connors become close, drawn together by their intense connection with Susie and their shared feeling of being outsiders. Ruth learns that her brief contact with Susie's soul has given her the ability to sense any spot where women or girls were murdered. She begins keeping a diary of all the victims she discovers.

After months, the Salmon family begins to heal. Lindsey and Sam Heckler fall in love, and it's a love that will last. Sam and his older brother, Hal, function almost like uncles for Lindsey's brother Buckley. Mrs. Salmon's mother, Lynn, arrives for an indefinite stay with the family. Grandma Lynn can't cook, but she's funny and level-headed and provides some structure for the household.

Lindsey's boyfriend's older brother Hal Heckler quietly tracks news about Susie's murder for years. One day, by chance, he hears a story that makes him sure Mr. Harvey is the murderer. He contacts Detective Len Fenerman with the news. Separately, Fenerman gets a call from a detective in Delaware: a girl's murder in Wilmington has led to a similar case in Connecticut, where a third detective has found a missing bracelet charm that belongs to Susie. There's no doubt now about Mr. Harvey's guilt—but Mr. Harvey seems to have vanished.

Lindsey graduates from college, and she and Sam become engaged. Ruth moves to New York City, and Ray enrolls at medical school. Mr. Salmon has a heart attack when Buckley accuses him of caring more about Susie than about his living children. Mrs. Salmon comes home to care for her husband, and the two of them fall back in love.

Ruth's father knows that Ruth has always been fascinated by oddities like sinkholes. When he hears about a sinkhole near Susie's house (and near Hal Heckler's bike shop), he calls her. Ruth then calls Ray and asks him to come see it with her. At the same time, Mr. Harvey is driving to his old neighborhood, irresistibly drawn back by his need to find Lindsey—who is home alone.

Before Mr. Harvey can get out of his car, a policeman spots him and tells him to move along. He drives by the sinkhole, passing Ruth. Ruth is so staggered by the sense of death emanating from Mr. Harvey's car that she faints. At that moment, she and Susie trade bodies.

Years earlier, in heaven, Susie's counselor, Franny, told her, "If you desire it enough and understand why—really know—it will come" (Chapter 2). This is the moment when Susie gets both things she has desired for so long: the chance to bring Mr. Harvey to justice and the chance to rejoin Ray Singh. Because she chooses love rather than vengeance, Mr. Harvey escapes. Ray recognizes Susie in Ruth's body, and the two of them spend the night together.

Ruth is visiting heaven in Susie's place and meeting many of the dead girls she's identified. By the time she and Susie return to their own bodies, Ray has read Ruth's journals and learned about the many murder victims she's found.

Mr. Salmon is released from the hospital, and he and Mrs. Salmon return home. That evening, Ray, Sam, and Hal join the family for dinner. Always the outsider, Ruth declines the invitation. Susie realizes that her family has healed: "lovely bones" have mended and formed a new, living structure, and now she can let them go.

Lindsey and Sam marry. Susie starts spending time in heaven with her grandfather instead of watching her family on Earth. One afternoon, as she and her grandfather are "visiting" a diner in New Hampshire that he had known on Earth, a bus pulls up and Mr. Harvey gets out. In the diner, where he orders a cup of coffee, he spots a teenage girl. He follows her out of the diner and tries to strike up a conversation. Annoyed, the girl walks away. At that moment, Susie sees a row of icicles over Mr. Harvey's head. One of them falls, causing him to stumble and pitch into a ravine, where he dies.

Time passes. Lindsey becomes a therapist, and she and Sam have a baby girl named Abigail Suzanne: "Lindsey left me in her memories, where I was meant to be," Susie observes. Five miles away, someone finds the charm bracelet Susie was wearing when she died.

The Lovely Bones Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Susie is raped and murdered, and her soul goes to heaven.

Rising Action

2 Mr. Salmon realizes that Mr. Harvey is the murderer.

3 Lindsey breaks into Mr. Harvey's house and finds a clue.

4 Mrs. Salmon leaves her family and moves to California.

5 Lindsey and Sam graduate from college and become engaged.

6 Mr. Salmon has a heart attack.

7 Mrs. Salmon moves back home.

8 Susie's soul enters Ruth's body.

Climax

9 Ray and Susie (in Ruth's body) make love.

Falling Action

10 Susie returns to heaven and Ruth to Earth.

11 Mr. Harvey is killed by a falling icicle.

Resolution

12 Lindsey's and Sam's baby is born, Abigail Suzanne.

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