George Harvey remembers trips he used to take with his mother when he was eight. They would go into town and steal things, thinking of themselves as scavengers. When they were caught Harvey felt fear, and he could sense when they were going to be caught. His mother began making him hide the stolen items on his body, which she found thrilling. He felt free and warm then. Once when they are passing a gravesite his mother told him that it’s good to look past the dead, and they take some charms and the flowers from a grave. Harvey senses they are doing something wrong. They sleep together in the truck that night and are awoken by three drunken men staring at his mother. She moves slowly and has Harvey turn the key to the truck so they can escape. Harvey realizes living as a child or as a woman are the two worst things to be.
George Harvey watches Lindsey run away. He then hides the knife in a hole in the basement, and he wraps up all of the trinkets, minus Susie’s Pennsylvania keystone, and puts them deep in the foundation. He has already buried the book of sonnets that he kept from the murder scene. He then calls the police and reports his home has been broken into.
When Jack calls the station he asks for Len Fenerman but he cannot be found. He is informed that two uniforms have already gone to Harvey’s house. Mr. Harvey lets the police search his house, which impresses them. They believe he is sincere in his sympathy for the Salmons. They see the dollhouses that he builds and they ask him about them. They know about the stolen drawing, but Harvey does not mention it to them. They ask him about it, he reacts by showing the police a similar drawing and explaining that he had obsessed over how it had happened, and had come up with that structure. They asked why he had not shown it to the police, and he says he did not want to meddle. They tell him Len will probably want to see the sketch tomorrow.
Meanwhile, after Abigail picks up Buckley she calls Len from a pay phone and asks him to meet her at the mall. She drops Buckley off at the play circle and he is excited to be there. Inside a store, Len brushes by her and heads out of the store. She follows him. He unlocks a door and takes her into the inner workings of the mall. She follows him to the end of the corridor into a large room full of metal tanks and drums. She feels like she is inside a heart, and thinks of Jack when the doctor told him he had risk of heart failure. Len watches Abigail as she finds him—he sees the need in her eyes. He feels bad for the family but he cannot resist her eyes. He reaches out and touches her. They kiss. They do not know that Mr. Harvey is packing his belongings. The others wait at home, Lindsey and Samuel dressed and lying on her bed, Grandma Lynn doing shots, Jack watching the phone. Len and Abigail undress. At home, Samuel kisses Lindsey’s neck and thinks to himself that he never wants to leave her. Abigail undresses completely—she has the adult body Susie will never have. Mr. Harvey leaves his house while Abigail commits adultery.
Dr. Singh is late for dinner, and Ruana goes about her routine of stretching. She knows he is kept late by ambition rather than by a woman. She no longer has ambition after she injured herself dancing. Still, she keeps herself in good shape. She can hear noises from the neighborhood, but then they are drowned out by Ray’s loud music. The doorbell rings and she lets Ruth Connors in.
Ruth has decided she wants to do something to mark the anniversary of Susie’s death. She sees candles at the grocery store and knows that Ray will come with her to mark the anniversary. Ray and Ruth have begun to kiss as an experiment. Neither of them feel anything, and Ruth thinks she is gay, but they decide to keep trying anyway. Now Ruth finds Ray dancing in his room. A drawing Ruth did of Susie hangs over Ray’s bed. She asks him to go light the candles in the cornfield with her. She offers to kiss him for a while, and Ray has secretly begun to like this. They kiss until Ruth swears and says she thinks she feels something.
Ruth and Ray arrive at the cornfield holding hands. Samuel and Hal Heckler are already there. There are daffodils on the ground that were already there when Samuel and Hal arrived. Mrs. Stead joins them. Grace Tarking sees and calls a few others to join. The Gilberts come and join. By the time it is completely dark, Susie notes that almost everyone she has ever known is in the cornfield with candles. Rumors of George Harvey’s guilt had begun to spread, and people wondered if it was true. Susie buzzes with heat and energy in heaven as she watches the people at the vigil. No one calls the Salmons; they are left undisturbed.
Lindsey realizes they are having a ceremony for Susie. Abigail is not interested because she is “done” with that. She tells Lindsey she wants to be more than a mother. Lindsey asks her if she is going to leave. She lies and promises she won’t. She holds Lindsey and tells her she is helping keep her father alive. Jack pulls into the driveway. She then tells Lindsey to get her father.
Jack agrees to go, and they decide to bring Buckley and not to protect him from Susie’s death anymore. Lindsey takes Buckley upstairs to get dressed. He tells her he sees Susie. She hugs him and tells him she’ll always be there for him. Abigail continues to read her Moliere book, and goes into the dining room where Jack will not see her. Ruth sees the Salmons approaching and tells Ray to go help Jack. Jack realizes Susie was loved by people he doesn’t recognize. He tells Mr. O’Dwyer that Susie used to listen to him sing on summer nights, and asks him to sing a song for them; he sings and everyone joins in.
Susie remembers the summer nights when she listened to Mr. O’Dwyer. Sometimes, she would smell a thunderstorm coming. She’d change into a cotton nightgown and go out onto the back porch. Her mother would stand and watch, telling her she’d catch cold, but then telling her she looked invincible. Susie would agree.
When Lindsey was given her camera she took so many pictures that she had to pick which rolls she wanted developed and which ones she did not. She loved that photography made it seem like she had found a way to stop time.
In the summer of 1975 Abigail asks Jack if he ever made love in the ocean. He says no. She asks him to pretend they are making love in the ocean and that he will not see her again for a long time. She leaves the next day for her father’s cabin in New Hampshire.
That summer, the neighbors leave food on the doorstep for the Salmons. Jack’s favorite is Ruana’s apple pie. In the fall Grandma Lynn calls and tells Jack she is coming to stay. Jack needs help with the children and she offers it. He realizes they will have to put her in Susie’s room.
December 1975 marks a year since George Harvey left and there is no sign of him. Local storeowners still keep a sketch of him in the window. Lindsey asks Hal to take her to the police station so she can see what they are doing. When she is there she sees her mother’s scarf on Len’s desk; she knows it is her mother’s because it is Chinese red, a bright red that her mother frequently wears. She asks Len why he has it. He makes up an excuse. Hal tells her they should go. Lindsey cries in disbelief to Samuel later.
At seven years old Buckley decides to make a fort that Susie always promised she would make with him. Jack cannot bring himself to help because it reminds him of building the tent with Mr. Harvey. Buckley uses whatever he can find to make walls, and Lindsey, Samuel and Hal help him drag boulders to use. Hal gives Buckley corrugated tin to use as a roof. Jack shuts out the noise by keeping his den window closed. When the fort is finished Jack cannot see his son out the window. Buckley lets in enough light to see his comic books. He misses Susie at odd moments; he also wishes his family would play with him like they used to, without worry behind their eyes. He does not allow himself to miss his mother. Buckley writes a story where a boy goes into a hole and never comes out. Jack doesn’t notice it but Buckley knows there is something wrong with the story, so he hides it in the box spring in Susie’s old bed.
In the fall of 1976 Len Fenerman visits a safe that contains evidence from Susie’s case. All they found in Mr. Harvey’s house were the bones of the animals. They searched the field again and found an old coke bottle with Harvey’s prints and Susie’s prints, linking them. But he cannot find Harvey. Len sees the jingle bell hat and remembers how Abigail collapsed when he gave it to her. He wonders when it was that he fell in love with her; Susie knows it was when he watched her draw on butcher paper in crayon. Susie feels bad for him, because he feels guilty that he missed his chance at catching George Harvey when he was with Abigail at the mall. Len takes all of the photos of the unsolved cases out of his wallet and writes “gone” on the back of them. He does not know that in Connecticut on September 10, 1976 a hunter found Susie’s Pennsylvania keystone charm alongside a grave that had been dug up by a bear, and the bones of child’s foot were exposed.
After one winter in New Hampshire Abigail decides to drive to California to work in the wineries. She realizes that sex is not the way out. On her drive across the country she sends Lindsey and Buckley postcards of the places she stops. She buys herself a bottle of champagne for her arrival in California. She remembers the New Year’s Eve that all of the family had stayed up until midnight. The strike of midnight was anti-climatic. Jack lifted up Buckley and sang Auld Lang Syne. When Buckley asks what it means, Abigail gets lost in her own world.
When Abigail reaches the beach she parks the car and walks along the cliffs. Abigail thinks of the books she read in college. Abigail wants to reach the waves, so she climbs down the cliffs. Susie worries she will slip. Abigail walks along the beach; she sees a baby sitting alone by the water. Soon she realizes that the baby is being photographed and she laughs. Abigail thinks about how the waves could sweep the baby away and none of the adults could do anything. Later that week she gets a job at Krusoe Winery. She writes to Lindsey and Buckley. On her days off she goes to the nearby towns of Santa Rosa and Sausilito, but she finds that even in unfamiliar places she cannot escape her grief.
Jack organizes a yearly memorial for Susie. Each year fewer people come. Students at the high school now only know her as a name; saying her name out loud simultaneously resurrects her and buries her, she is just the Murdered. Only a few, like Mr. Botte, remember her as a real girl.
Ray Singh has grown into an attractive seventeen year-old, not quite a man yet. Susie feels a longing for him. Ray often reads his favorite book, Gray’s Anatomy, and finds the parts on his own body. He goes to Penn for college. Susie worries his head is filled with too much memorization and not enough room for his friendship with Ruth or his love for his mother and his memory of Susie. Ruana packs the book of Indian poetry containing Susie’s picture, and when he unpacks at school her picture falls out; he cannot avoid seeing the lips he kissed.
On graduation day Ruth and Ray are already gone. Ruth moves to New York City. Ray graduated early. At the Salmon house, Grandma Lynn introduces Buckley to gardening.
Abigail calls the house from California on occasion. In one conversation in 1977, Jack tells her they miss her. She says she knows. He asks her about teaching, which was what she wanted to do. She says plans change.
In New York Ruth lives in a closet sized room on the Lower East Side. She wears all black. She scans the streets for places women have been murdered.
Ray reads about death in his textbook and how the visions people see are often the result of strokes. He wonders if a soul will ever touch him like Susie touched Ruth.
Mr. Harvey lives up and down the Northeast corridor, often camping. He still likes to drive to the Salmons’ development in early morning or late night when no one will notice. He knows how to pick wild mushrooms; one night in Valley Forge Park he finds novice campers dead from eating poisonous mushrooms and he takes their valuables.
Buckley only lets Hal, Nate and Holiday into his fort. When he is ten Hal encourages him to waterproof it so that it doesn’t get puddles. Grandma Lynn gets excited when Hal comes over and dresses up and makes muffins. Jack teases her.
In December 1981 Len gets a call from Delaware that links a 1976 Connecticut murder to Susie’s murder because of the Pennsylvania keystone charm. The body in Connecticut has teeth so they ask for Susie’s dental records. Len does not call the Salmons. He wants the case to remain closed.
Since Hal had heard of the drawing Lindsey found, he tries to track George Harvey down through his biker network. One day he meets Ralph Cichetti, who says he thinks his mother was killed by her boarder. Cichetti tells Hal the man built dollhouses, and Hal makes a call to Len.
Years pass and Susie still watches her family and friends. She always ends her day watching her father in his den. She can trace how all of the people she watches are connected by her death. One night at Evensong, Susie sees Holiday, who had lived to old age on earth; he is so happy to see her he knocks her down.
Chapter 15 opens with more exposition on Mr. Harvey’s childhood, as Susie attempts to understand where Mr. Harvey comes from and why he is this way. His mother’s love is free and warm but unpredictable; the freedom is countered by the fear he feels when they get caught stealing, a feeling in his stomach that is compared in simile to “eggs being folded in a bowl.” In Susie’s previous description of Mr. Harvey’s house, she describes it as cold; instead of the unpredictable warmth of love, Mr. Harvey chose the coldness of killing and being alone. His mother teaches him that sometimes he needs to look past the dead to take their trinkets. At the time he felt it was wrong, but the grown-up Mr. Harvey now takes the keepsakes from his victims. Sebold fleshes out Harvey’s character by exposing the places where Mr. Harvey used to have feelings and morals, and also where he learned to be unfeeling. The fear Mr. Harvey has of getting caught stealing with his mother is paralleled by his fear when he sees Lindsey escaping from his home.
Besides Lindsey’s escape from Mr. Harvey’s house, there are two other escapes that run parallel in Chapter 15: Abigail escapes her pain through adultery, and Mr. Harvey escapes from being caught for Susie’s murder. However, neither Abigail nor Mr. Harvey truly escape from what they are running from—both of them still have the guilt of knowing they did something wrong. While Abigail is following Len through the inner working of the mall, she feels like she is inside her heart, but then she is reminded of Jack’s heart—alluding to the fact that she is inside his heart as well, and that their hearts are in some ways the same.
By escaping, both Abigail and Mr. Harvey attempt to move on from Susie’s death. Throughout these chapters, many of the characters find their own ways of moving on and letting go of Susie, building on the theme of surviving grief. Ruth and Ray’s relationship progresses and becomes sexual. At first the kissing was an attempt to imagine Susie as alive, but as they continued to do it they began to have their own feelings about each other and Susie is no longer constantly present in their relationship. In Snapshots Susie notes that Ray is growing up and becoming handsome; in heaven Susie feels an attraction to him that is also maturing. Her maturation is symbolized by her picture, in which Ray sees the lips he had once kissed, thus sexualizing the picture and foreshadowing the consummation of their relationship later in the book.
All of the people who ever knew Susie are also moving on from her death, as demonstrated by the impromptu memorial in the cornfield. Seeing the people celebrating her memory, Susie “buzzed with heat and energy” because she lives in the memories of others, so when they commemorate her she feels more alive. But she also notices that everyone is saying goodbye to her, never to think of her again. The Salmon house has been isolated up to this point, and the author uses a simile to describe this isolation, saying there is an invisible barrier like a layer of clear ice. However, Abigail does not leave the house, and instead focuses on her desire to be more than a mother. She goes back to her “mysterious” self by pulling out her old college books; she reads Moliere and distances herself from her family and from Susie. Her psychological absence from the family is coming to a climax—she physically leaves the family soon afterwards.
In the chapter Snaphots, Susie fast-forwards through the lives of her family, friends, Len and George Harvey, showing how time passing has helped them to build anew in her absence. The snapshots of the title also refer to the photographs Susie has in her mind of all the things she watches; she believes that as long as she is watching, those moments are not lost. Susie explains that she liked photography because it allowed her to capture a moment in time, a moment that is now gone forever. In heaven, Susie continues to capture the moments where she exists in people’s memories.
In Snapshots, characters continue to survive their grief and their guilt over losing Susie. Len keeps all of the evidence from Susie’s case in a “safety box”—a parallel to the safe that Susie is in in the sinkhole. Len continues to feel guilty, but he is also able to let go of the dead, shown in his writing “gone” on the backs of all of the pictures of unsolved cases. Buckley builds a fort for Susie, furthering the theme of construction because he is building anew after Susie is gone. Buckley also takes up gardening, showing his growth symbolically. Lynn comes to live with the family and sleeps in Susie’s old room—by putting a new occupant in Susie’s room, Jack shows he is beginning to accept that she is not coming back. Ruth and Ray both move off to new places, away from the town, but Susie still comes to their minds on occasion. On Abigail’s trip to California, she remembers the song sung on New Year’s Eve the time when the whole family celebrated together. The lyrics “old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind” are representative of leaving behind the old and bringing in the new, which is what happens at New Year's. The same is happening now for Susie’s family and friends and Len.