This was one of those books I'd always wanted to read but never got the chance to borrow or buy it. Then sometime in October, in a Borders in Milford, CT, I spotted it on a shelf and snatched it up right away. I didn't get to read it until about three weeks later (I've a bad habit of buying books when I have plenty to read), but when I did, it haunted me for a while, particularly the beginning of it.
Susie Salmon, the main character, is speaking from the grave- or rather, her place in Heaven- as the victim of a brutal murder by her next-door neighbor. From above, she witnesses the falling apart of her family as her mother retreats into herself, her father obsesses over finding her killer, her killer is working to erase all the evidence, and her friends and sister try to make sense of it all. She watches as life begins to go on without her, and tries her best to point her loved ones in the direction of her murderer.
Though I wished Sebold would have described Susie's heaven, and those she meets there a bit more thoroughly, I found this book incredible- by turns heartbreaking and beautiful. Of course, parents overlook the beauty and reality of it in favor of removing it from school libraries due to the mature content (Susie was raped, then murdered and dismembered). The book was moved to the faculty section of the school library in a Waltham, Mass. middle school and also challenged in a Westport, CT middle school. However, the superintendent believed that middle school students were mature enough to read the book. While I'm inclined to agree that many are- in sixth grade I was reading books much like this one- I can't help but wonder if the parents had some credibility here. Then again, if the book is being taught or allowed in schools, I'm certain that teachers can find a way to teach kids about death and how to cope with it, as it is a part of life- even the murder described in the book, sadly enough. Besides, without going into extremely minute detail, Sebold wrote the murder with touching discretion, and I think readers get the idea without it being too graphic, and I think she's brave for even skimming the surface of such a tough subject.
At any rate, read this book (and don't see the movie- I heard it was nowhere near as good). It's beautifully written and a wonderful story about how a family copes with the loss of a daughter, granddaughter and sister, and how they learn to find life again. P.S. I included both the original book cover and the one they did when the movie came out- I have the copy with the movie poster on it.