Over the years in English you will have read novels that are considered coming of age novels, for instance To Kill a Mockingbird, The Kite Runner and Montana 1948. The Lovely Bones is also a coming-of-age novel; this means the story involves the initiation of the main character into adulthood. This initiation comes through the experiences and knowledge gained by the protagonist’s journey in the novel. As in many of these novels, the move into adulthood includes a loss of innocence and the destruction of a false sense of security. In these novels the main character tends to experience a shift from ignorance to knowledge and grow in maturity. The Lovely Bones focuses on these issues as Alice Sebold explores the process of growing up.
When the novel begins Susie’s sister Lindsey is a teenager and when it ends almost ten years later she is a wife and mother. The novel shows how she goes through the familiar rituals associated with a young woman as she grows up – shaving her legs, wearing makeup, going to camp, first kisses, new loves, friendship and college. The novel, of course, also traces Susie’s coming of age. Sebold cleverly presents the development of a dead girl along with a living one which enables her to infuse the experiences of growing up with an enhanced significance. The reader sees that Susie can’t move on in death until she finishes ‘growing up’.
Obviously, Susie’s rape and murder hastens the coming of age process – from innocence to experience for both girls. Susie learns her familiar and ordinary world is not safe, even in her small suburban world, men murder children. Susie is forced to move swiftly and violently from innocence to experience, and understandably from idealism to realism. However, even this shift does not result in her coming of age, what it does do is to create a need for Susie to experience ‘life’ more slowly and naturally. Of course, Susie’s death hastens Lindsey’s loss of innocence but it does so less dramatically. Lindsey does understand that the world is not really safe and that there are bad people out there doing bad things but she is still able to take part in the normal rituals of growing up.
Lindsey is clearly like many girls of her age, she experiments with makeup and fashion. She builds a relationship with Samuel and she grows into her sexuality. Lindsay is able to develop a relationship that is based on trust and understanding. However, although Susie’s murder and her mother’s absence does push Lindsey into an adult role early in her life, Sebold is able to also acknowledge the naturalness of growing up as well as contextualise the experience. The Lovely Bones shows that a person can move from innocence to experience violently and abruptly.