When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in Heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, Heaven, and living.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This is one of those books that I picked up several times and then put it back down, before I ever got around to reading it. Mainly because the story sounded so depressing even from the book description on the back. And I will grant you that the story is very bittersweet to read. But the voice of the narrator is so compelling that once you start, it is hard to put it down.
What is so unusual about the narrator voice is not so much the age alone, but the age combined with circumstance that gives Susie a haunting power behind her story. (No pun intended) The story picks up with a young girl that has been the victim of a murder, and she proceeds to narrator the story of the remainder of the lives of those she knew, and loved, as well as her murderer. Displaced from their lives by a violent act, Susie struggles with the pain and difficulties that those from her previous life encounter. But what I found to be particularly impressive about this type of story telling is that it isn’t about another crime story. In fact it is more a book of healing, and moving on.
Being removed from the story, I also found the narrator voice powerful, in that she had the knowledge of the characters — but their appearance is through a filtered presentation. But the filtering process is so unusual, since it takes place from another life, and another location all together. So the book is more like watching a movie than it is living a story. It is great for giving the reader the ability of identifying with Susie. You can watch, suffer, and struggle with those in the story — but there is very little you can do to influence them, or affect the outcomes of their lives. In reflection, the reader comes to realize that this is very much what our perception is of other people, and their lives. We only have a certain power, and ability to influence others. We can be empathetic, and struggle to observe what it is that they are going through — but we are limited in our ability to change anything. I think it is this aspect of the book that makes it so powerful. The reader is able to identify subconsciously with what it is like to live this kind of life.
I really enjoyed the book. And the horrible parts that I was expecting to come across were not there. The story picks up after the murder, and as I said it is more of a look into healing than it is crime and horror. It is funny, and fun, and simply and enjoyable read. And yet, I didn’t find this book sappy or over emotional in any way. I would recommend this book as a great read. It is well written, and I loved it.
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I haven’t seen the movie on this one. I generally don’t like to watch movies of books I have read. I almost always find I am disappointed. I have met a lot of people that couldn’t get through this one due to the topic. And it does have a bittersweet tone throughout.
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Why is it that our senses can fool us into believing that we want something very much, but once we hold it in our hand, it doesn’t turn out to be what we expected? — Kenneth Wishnia, The Fifth Servant