I read The Lovely Bones a few years ago when it first came out, and I was blown away by it. It is an incredible novel, an instant addition to my list of favorite books of all time. In 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is grabbed on her way home from school by a creepy neighbor, who turns out to be a serial killer. He rapes and murders her in a secret underground spot. She is dismembered and her body parts hidden away. But the book is so fascinating because Susie is the narrator of this novel, and she tells her story from her afterlife. She watches her family and friends as they grow up and grieve for her, she struggles with the fact that she will never be older than 14, she watches her killer as his life goes on and she follows the detective trying to solve her murder. It is so complicated and so entirely original. Just the premise is beautiful and creepy and exceptional–what is it like to be a murder victim and watch the world you used to live in change and cope with your loss? Sebold is a powerful writer, and because of that she is deft through some tricky moments that could have made the story a hokey Christian allegory. It doesn’t come across as anything but one girl’s living, breathing (so to speak) experience. And there’s a great deal of hope at the end, despite the horror of her actual death and the fate of her killer. It really isn’t about the murder itself, but about everything that comes after.

A couple of months ago I read Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, which tells the story of her rape as a college freshmen and the successful prosecution of her attacker. It is another dark but hopeful story about a teenage girl. The book starts with Sebold recalling in graphic detail exactly what she remembers about her rape. It is told and done in the first chapter, and it left me breathless, outraged, and frustrated. That’s exactly the right state of mind to read the rest of the book, which follows her life afterwards and her push to convict her rapist. Her friends change, her family changes, she changes even though she denies it for quite a while. Sebold’s anger is on every page, and you feel it with her. I found it incredibly hard subject matter to read, but I couldn’t put it down.

I would recommend either of these books to teens or adults.