The Lovely Bones opens with a brutal rape/murder, which makes the whole book look less appealing. But from this it opens out into a book of love, growing up and healing from unbearable horror.
Susie Salmon (like the fish) is trapped in heaven, which is her own perfect world except for the fact that she can no longer speak to her family and friends who are mourning her on earth. Even worse her murderer still walks the streets of her previous life and police investigations just wash over him. So she watches her younger sister begin to fall in love, her mother remember who she is and her first crush grow up and move on.
Throughout this there is a level of tenderness towards the characters from Susie who is narrating, even as they react to their grief though anger and turning away from each other. Without the normal worldly troubles she can only find anger for her murderer, and frustration when those she knew get close to finding a clue which could solve the mystery. This is not a detective story however, only that the brutally murdered and those traumatised by the murder want peace, there is no great investigation in which clues are uncovered step by step.
Sometimes I did wish for a more mature narrator who wasn’t still amazed by her first kiss, but the consistency of Susie’s innocence in spite of her violent rape in her last hours gives hope of healing for her and then for her family as they move on in life.
Sebold pains a beautiful afterlife in which the newcomers are allowed to adjust with a transition period that is just a sealed perfect world for them before allowing them to explore more fundamental truths and find those who have watched them from heaven.