The Lovely Bones

On December 6, 1973, in a suburb of Philadelphia, 14-year-old Susie Salmon takes her usual shortcut home from her school through a cornfield. George Harvey, a 36-year-old single man who lives alone and builds doll houses for a living, persuades her to have a look at an underground den he has recently dug in the field. Once she has entered it, he rapes and murders her with a shaving razor and dismembers her body, putting her remains in a safe that he dumps in a sinkhole. Susie's spirit flees toward her personal heaven.

The Salmon family at first refuses to accept the fact that Susie is dead, until Susie's elbow is found by the neighbor's dog. The police talk to Harvey, finding him strange but seeing no reason to suspect him. Susie's father Jack, on extended leave from work, begins to suspect Harvey, a sentiment his surviving daughter Lindsey comes to share.

One day Len Fenerman, the detective assigned to the case, tells the Salmons that the police have exhausted all leads and are dropping the investigation. That night in his study, Jack looks out the window and sees a flashlight in the cornfield. Thinking that it is Harvey returning to destroy more evidence, he runs out to confront him, armed with a baseball bat. The figure is not Harvey, but actually Clarissa, Susie's best friend who is dating Brian, one of Susie's classmates. As Susie watches in horror from heaven, Brian - who was going to meet Clarissa in the cornfield - beats Jack with the bat, after finding him and the panicking Clarissa, and breaks Jack's knee. While Jack recovers from a knee replacement surgery, Susie's mother, Abigail, begins an affair with the widowed Detective Fenerman.
Trying to help her father prove his suspicions, Lindsey sneaks into Harvey's house and finds a diagram of the underground den, but is forced to leave when Harvey returns unexpectedly. The police, however, satisfied with Harvey's explanation, do not arrest him, which enables him to flee from Norristown. Later, evidence is discovered linking Harvey to Susie's murder, as well as to those of several other young girls. Susie meets his other victims in heaven, sees into Harvey's traumatic childhood, and realizes that he has made several unsuccessful attempts to stop killing.

Abigail leaves Jack, and eventually takes a job at a winery in California. Her mother, Grandma Lynn, moves into the Salmons' home to care for Buckley and Lindsey. Eight years later, Lindsey and her boyfriend, Samuel Heckler, become engaged after finishing college, find an old house in the woods owned by a classmate's father, and decide to fix it up and live there. Sometime after the celebration, while arguing with his son Buckley, Jack suffers a heart attack. The emergency prompts Abigail to return from California, but the reunion is tempered by Buckley's lingering bitterness for her abandoning the family for most of his childhood.

Meanwhile, Harvey returns to Norristown, which has become more developed. He explores his old neighborhood and notices the school is being expanded into the cornfield where he murdered Susie. He drives by the sinkhole where Susie's body rests and where Ruth Connors and Ray Singh are standing. Ruth, Susie's former classmate who had felt Susie's spirit rush past her immediately after she was murdered, senses the women Harvey has killed and is physically overcome. Susie, watching from heaven, is also overwhelmed with emotion and feels how she and Ruth transcend their present existence, and the two girls exchange positions: Susie, her spirit now in Ruth's body, connects with Ray, who had a crush on Susie in school, and had made plans to go out with her a few days before the murder. Ray senses Susie's presence, and is stunned by the fact that Susie is briefly back with him. In the bike shop of Sam Heckler's older brother Hal they find a room to make love, as Susie has longed to do after witnessing her sister and Samuel. Afterwards, Susie must return to heaven.

Susie moves on into another, larger part of heaven, occasionally watching earthbound events. Her sister gives birth to a daughter, Abigail Suzanne. When stalking another young girl in New Hampshire, Harvey is hit on the shoulder by an icicle and falls down a snow-covered slope, dying from the impact. At the end of the novel, Susie's charm bracelet is found by a Norristown couple who don't realize its significance, and Susie closes the story by wishing the reader "a long and happy life."

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