Book Review the Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

“I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973” (Sebold, 5). In Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones,” 14-year-old Susie Salmon is raped and murdered while on her way home from school. Salmon was taking her regular route home when Mr. Harvey persuades her into a secret room he had built in the field. While down in that secret room is where Mr. Harvey then rapes and kills Salmon. Mr. Harvey is a serial killer, which we will find out later in the book. Although he changes in many ways throughout the story, the power of Susie’s love for her family destroys him in the end. However, the evidence throughout the book explores Mr. Harvey’s transformation into a monster.

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Mr. Harvey experienced childhood trauma that may have been a reason to his actions. At a young age, he was abandoned by his mother, which may have led to his choice of killing women and girls. As a child, “he would steep himself in the images of other places and other words, trying to love what he could not” (Sebold 97). He obviously witnessed some kind of family dysfunction that triggered a dissociative response from him, wishing he was someone else, or away from his current state of being. His father’s abandonment of his mother when Mr. Harvey was at such a young age might have created a anger of her not coming back to take care of him. His father obviously was not a positive figure after committing such a cruel act in front of a child. Mr. Harvey’s final memory of his mother sparked an impulse that would control him later on. “…while her son clung on to the amber necklace she had torn from her neck to hand him” (97) The amber pendant is his first trophy, a dark gem that would influence his habits as a killer later in his life.

There are other experiences that occur in Mr. Harvey’s life that influenced what Mr. Harvey became. His mother instilled a belief in him as a child that a piece of someone, whether it be an object or lock of hair, can be trinkets of good luck, especially those from the dead. “ You have to be able to look past the dead” his mother said: ‘Sometimes there are good trinkets to take away from them’ (188) The saving that Mr. Harvey took part in as child, whether it be legal or not, was harmful to his morals, and is obviously more evidence that he received very bad parenting. After his mother made him steal items in a store, “he had a moment of clarity about how life should be lived. Not as a child, or as a woman. They were the worst things to be” (190). These are extremely horrible concepts to shape a personality with. This connection that he savors trinkets becomes intertwined in his taking of human life. They are his good luck charms. This is a treasure trove of a good, young, innocent child. What separates us as humanity from animals are the ideas of right and wrong, and George Harvey was obviously not taught well.

In real life, Mr. Harvey might be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. His complete disregard for others leads to his ability to kill and feel no remorse. His need for human life eats away at his days, along with an obviously abnormal connection with his mother as he commits these crimes. He tries to satisfy himself: “He had killed animals, taking lesser lives to keep from a child” (131), however, it is not enough. It is a lust for him, just as a small drink is to a serious alcoholic. It is a need that almost constantly needs to be bottled-up. He does not feel alive unless he is in control, and able to take a human life. I feel that Susie almost seals her fate with an image she unknowingly gives Mr. Harvey: “Six feet from Mr. Harvey stood, I stuck my tongue to taste a snowflake” (6). Susie’s youth and innocence is like heroin to him. Even with the girl that he was almost caught with, Claire, the mere intensity in his face told her exactly what would have happened to her had he possessed her: “ …his wanting something unspoken that to give him would equal our oblivion” (129). It is unfortunate that Susie is not as perceptive.

His mother also had deep emotional and mental problems of her own to leave a child behind, but Mr. Harvey likes to think of her as a good girl. This comes out of him as he kills Susie, and is not revealed to us what he was like with the other victims. “They only want good girls” and adds “You aren’t leaving Susie. You’re mine now” (12). These are both statements that reveal his need for possession, which may have surfaced from his child hood abandonment. Raping someone and then taking a life, are all you can take from a person, and in Mr. Harvey’s mind, his victims are completely his. He acts lovingly towards his victims before he “takes” them, so they can never leave: “His voice was gentle, encouraging, a lover’s voice on a late morning. A suggestion, not a command “ (15). This is not a sadistic action for him, as he does not torture, or even show signs of causing any harsh pain. Death for him is natural, and he is not able to control his need to take human life, whether he validates it in his mind or not. He wants love, like a little boy: “Tell me you love me.” he said” (15). Despite his betrayal by the female race, he craves this love; in whatever twisted manner he has defined that in his mind.

Psychologically, Mr. Harvey is aware of the consequences and very interested in his own self-protection. After killing Susie, his mind quiets, at least for awhile, and he can operate without his lusty need taking up his time and concentration. Even though his dreams stabilize as well, he speaks of the “….not-still dreams of women and children” (96). This is the monster inside of him that has a growing appetite. The intensity of his need increases just months after taking Susie.

Mr. Harvey’s actual murdering of his victims shows clumsiness at first, with the actual killing being far more important to him: “He forgot my elbow; he used a cloth sack for a bloody body…”( 50). Susie almost becomes meat to him then. The life he wanted from her has been taken, and he has fed his need. The body is carelessly dragged along with him. I feel Sebold is giving up further evidence that despite Mr. Harvey being a monster, he is still exploring who he is, and learning exactly how to go about it. His excellent planning skills of the act are always so logical, but it seems he falls short in the actual dumping of his victims. With Susie, “ he knew to remove my body from the field. He knew to watch the weather and to kill during an arc of light to heavy precipitation because that would rob police of evidence” (50). Clearly, with the weather planning, and the complex cornfield construction, the process and planning is part of the pleasure for him. It’s always the chase that’s the most fun.

To calm those who might have doubts about his odd career, he maintains a cheery, concerned actions. I think behaviors such as these are bland, generic, human habits. Mr. Harvey blends in very nicely, not sticking out in anyone’s mind.“He was friendly, but businesslike, unremarkable” (128). Unremarkable is the magic word for a serial killer. Mr. Harvey’s disguise is for the most part masterful, as it enables him to lure the unsuspecting when he hunts. Even Susie in the beginning is drawn into this persona that known throughout the neighborhood, She remembers, “ I was cold, but the natural authority of his age, and the added fact that he was a neighbor and had talked to my father about fertilizer rooted me to the spot” (7). Because of the close knit atmosphere of this neighborhood, Mr. Harvey is a predator who is able to work quite capably, and he learns this as the authorities dismiss him, and pass him by.

Towards the end, when the pieces of Mr. Harvey’s acts are being found by other authorities, he gains comfort from his mother after he leaves the neighborhood, “And George Harvey would turn his attention to the single jewel that hung from his mother’s throat , a large oval piece of amber” (97). And he is no longer able to hear the voices of the bodies outside of his window. He is not cured, there is no happy ending where he goes to jail and learns his lesson. It is almost unlucky that he does not get caught, or put through some kind of treatment. His life has been used up by a need that can bother any one of us, as mental illness does not discriminate. Mr. Harvey can not have been aware of his outcome but his urges make him explore his wishes to the end: “…..It would be weeks before the snow in the ravine melted enough to uncover him” (327) I can’t imagine a death more ignored, uneventful, or abandoned. Even in death, he is left to himself.

Works Cited

  1. Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. 2002. 
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Book Review The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (2021, Apr 04). Retrieved July 7, 2022 , from

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