Present day opinions/thoughts:
I can safely say my opinions from my first reading were completely wrong due to not remembering details correctly. Susie didn’t force herself into Ruth, Ruth forced Susie in. Ray was very aware who he was having sex with and the experience helped him move on.
It’s a bittersweet tale that definitely stays with you. The grief and reactions of the family members are realistic and raw. You get the unique experience of seeing Susie’s grief too. Grief for the life she can never live. The grief she feels for the family she’s lost. When Jack has his heart attack, part of her prays he’ll die and join her, and it’s only Buckley’s desperate pray he lives that makes her reconsider this. She also shows some selfishness in her need for revenge until Lindsey is nearly caught by Mr. Harvey. This shocks her enough that she seems to focus more on her family and the people she cares about, and how to keep them safe. Out of all the wishes she had she chooses to experience love with Ray rather than get revenge/justice for herself. Although I did love how Susie managed to kill him with an icicle, her stated weapon of choice in a murder mystery.
The most disturbing part of Susie’s story for me is how she died and how her body is chopped up. Having the narrator of the story describing how a dog finds her elbow is a disturbing image that stays with you.
I find Ruth’s character the most interesting. She felt Susie’s soul, her crush, touch her as it left Earth, and she could never fully let go. She befriended Susie’s crush to hold onto her, attempted kissing him to become her, and worked on heightening her sixth sense in order to reach her. She allows Susie to return through her, and even when everyone else has found peace she returns to the cornfield looking for her. I feel she’ll never really stop loving her and trying to reconnect with her and other spirits.
Like when I first read this book ten years ago I know it’s a story that will stay with me. The writing is clever, telling a horrific event and its aftermath beautifully. I especially love the little mini-stories we are told from people’s lives, like Susie’s photo of her mum or Mr. Harvey’s mother. They’re little details that help build the characters into believable people. From the adults to a four-year-old Buckley, their emotions and actions seem believable. While writing the summary I kept details in that weren’t essential just because I loved their effects so much.
This book has been on my bookshelf for over ten years, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
A similar look at grief and how it affects a family is present in My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher. It follows ten-year-old Jamie whose sister, Rose, died when he was five in a terrorist attack. Like with Abigail their mother can’t cope with her grief and leaves her family. Like Jack their dad can’t forget or let go of his dead child. Rose’s surviving twin, Jasmine is constantly living in her sister’s shadow. Seeing it from the point of view of the youngest child, who doesn’t really remember his dead sister but lives with everyone’s grief for her, is fascinating and heart-breaking. If you like The Lovely Bones I highly recommend My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece.