Okay, let me get the snark out of my system: if you're going to read one heartwarming book about child rape this Summer, make it this one!
Sorry. Even without the hype, I fear some of my gut reaction to this novel would be not merely critical but pissy. The book too often skews into the mawkish, its vision of Heaven a rather tediously-familiar conceit, its approach to trauma also inflected (infected?) by pop-culture desires and devices which simplify, make a sweet sad pap out of destruction and desires. I almost viscerally distrust a story which uses such too-familiar ingredients of horrific event to find redemption and meaning, and the author would have to work a bit harder than this one does to complicate such emotions (let alone such plotting). There are far too many moments where the prose and plotting blunder into infelicitous cliche.
But I was startled by many moments of true loveliness, by many insightful and (yes) messy engagements with its characters' inner confusions and reactions to the horror, and to the fact that such horror both persists and fades. The first chapter--where (no spoiler, really) our narrator meets her death--is truly wrenching and well-done. I really liked the confident complexity of the novel's structure; despite my annoyance with the frame of watching-from-Heaven, Sebold quite skillfully shifts across a startling range of times even in a paragraph -- she captures not just the "event" but the far more complicated web of people's emotional histories. Perhaps I should be more generous with my rating, as the book was bucking my skepticism, and it did often move me, and I did generally enjoy reading it . . . but I doubt my piddling little review, 6 years after all that hype, will do much to alter anyone's reading, any way.
I am fascinated that it won a Stoker award but this acclaim is nowhere to be found on the book I own.... but now we're getting into marketing.