Ryan Chartrand

College students and members of the community had a chance to be on the same page this summer.

Preface: The Cal Poly Shared Reading Program welcomes all of San Luis Obispo County to join the campus in the unifying experience of reading this year’s selection.

Preface, which was first implemented in 2002, is part of the university’s orientation program, WOW. Incoming freshmen and transfers are asked to read a pre-selected novel during the summer, which they review and discuss with volunteer discussion facilitators during the Week of Welcome. This year’s book was “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold, a heartbreaking story which encompasses the reality of rape and murder.

Last year, the program expanded citywide to include community discussions of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini at the San Luis Obispo City-County Library. There was an enormous response. When the program culminated with the author’s visit, the audience was the biggest that the Performing Arts Center had ever seen. As a result, the organizers decided to expand the program to the entire county. Libraries across all of San Luis Obispo County will hold volunteer-led discussions of the novel.

The program will enable students and residents of the county to share in one experience. Preface Coordinator Patricia Ponce said it is a good venue for interaction.

“We hope to get the same level of participation,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for both entities to enjoy reading and enjoy each other.”

Some students who participated in the program said they were glad to have a chance to get a head start on the Cal Poly learning experience.

“I think it was a good way to start college-level discussions,” said computer science freshman Brian Oppenheim.

Ponce said that about 70 percent of students said they read the entire novel. This year she expects the students to respond just as well because the novel they have selected will appeal to many people, due to the issues it tackles.

“The Lovely Bones,” avoids the dry and repetitive storylines of most books. The book engulfs the reader into the storyline almost immediately, which helps peak interest into the book instead of having to wait until the second or third chapter to find out what is going on.

For 14-year-old Susie Salmon, life was short and unpredictable, but heaven was even stranger.

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

After Susie was brutally raped and murdered by her neighbor, the reader is forced to continue reading about her family’s trials and struggles from her point of view in heaven.

The author creates a plot and setting that excites the reader’s mind and senses into believing that they are right there with Susie in heaven, watching what she is observing and sharing in her heartbreak.

While the book is difficult to put down, it is also difficult at times to imagine heaven in an unhappy and lonely sense. Isn’t heaven supposed to be a happy place?

Susie misses her family, yearns for the day when they will come to be with her and she cries – all things many religious people will have a difficult time relating to since heaven is where sorrow and unhappiness are supposed to disappear.

As the family slowly begins to unravel after Susie’s disappearance, “The Lovely Bones” is a chilling reminder of what rape and murder can do to families. While there are many books on the shelves that can relate to this subject matter, the way in which Sebold went about writing it captures readers’ attention and brings their personal emotions into the lives of a fictional family.

Chapter after chapter new experiences await Susie. She watches through marriages, separations, deaths and family memories she will never be a part of.

As Susie sees everyone she knew continue on with their lives, she misses the moments she knew she would never experience. As her siblings get older, the memories and grief seem to disappear while at the same time still exist in a very real sense in their minds even if their physical actions do not show it.

While her father, who is certain he knows who murdered his daughter, tries to uncover the truth, the town officials are slowly losing sight on what happened, discouraging her father even more.

It is a book that will bring tears, laughter, wonder, sorrow, anger and happiness all at the same time.

For more information on Preface, visit www.preface.calpoly.edu.

Brittny Peloquin contributed to this report.

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