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.
As a mother, this book was difficult to read. It starts right off with the murder of Susie that is horrific to read. As a parent, I felt the heart stopping fear of Susie’s parents as they waited for her to come home and then later as a body part is found. The rest of the story is told from Susie’s perspective from heaven. This is a different heaven than I have always imagined so this part of the story was hard for me to grasp. But I did understand the idea of Susie’s inability to let her family go and why her heaven was different. I thought the storyline of the family Susie left behind was very realistic. Many couples that suffer the death of a child have difficulty remaining married. Unfortunately, I have seen that within my own family, but have also seen others who have gone through it and it made their marriage stronger. I won’t spoil the ending by saying which way Susie’s parents ended up, but I did like how the author ended the story for them. Watching Buckly, Susie’s younger brother, grow up was an interesting storyline. I realized how everything in a family can change after something this terrible happens, no matter how old the family member is. My heart ached for both Buckley and his sister Lindsay as they were frequently left out because their parents were in deep grief. This story left me with the question,When is it time to let someone go and move on? Can you ever move on? I can’t say I loved this story, but it did hold my interest and kept me turning the pages hoping that at some point, the murderer would be caught. I am planning to see the movie and am looking forward to comparing the two. I gave this 3 out of 5 stars.