Coming-of-age novel; adolescent memoir; elegy; mystery; love story; tragedy


A group of neighborhood men collectively narrate the striking events of their early adolescence from the standpoint of middle age.

Point of view 

The narrator speaks in the first person plural ("we"). The narrative voice has access to the collective knowledge of the neighborhood boys, and speaks for them generally, but is not omniscient. As the story is told in retrospect, rather than in real time, the narrators are able to add details and clarifications out of chronological order. Also, because the story is told from the future the narrator's memories of the past are faded, and events may be distorted or altered.


The neighborhood boys loved the Lisbon girls and remain devastated by their suicides, so their narrative tone reflects both their attempts to make sense of this loss and their hope of finally expressing the sacred, objective truth of the girls' lives.



Setting (time) 

Thirteen months, from June to the following August, in an unspecified year during the Vietnam War

Setting (place) 

A middle-class suburb in Wayne County, middle America, on the outskirts of a deteriorating city


The five Lisbon sisters: Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), Therese (17)

Major conflicts 

In the wake of their sister Cecilia's suicide, the four remaining Lisbon sisters struggle to live in a progressively deteriorating and isolating environment, amid external and perhaps internal expectations of future tragedy. (2) In the wake of the Lisbon girls' suicides, the neighborhood boys struggle to comprehend the deaths and to discover the truth of the girls' motives, experiences and lives.

Rising Action 

Cecilia's suicide attempt, Cecilia's suicide, Lux's late return from the homecoming dance


Mrs. Lisbon withdrawing the girls from school, confining them to the house, and drawing the shades, at the beginning of Chapter Four

Falling Action 

Lux's liasions on the roof, the girls' attempts to contact the boys, the remaining girls' suicides


The superficiality of vision, the impossibility of knowing someone else, the ravages of time and the impermanence of memory, the desolation of love, the permanence of loss, the effect of built environment on human beings, the American obsession with happiness, the decline of suburbia, the implicit consent of the community to tragedy, the liminality of adolescence, the horror of the mundane.


Narrative repetition and foreshadowing, bricolage, boundaries, built environment, male vs. female sexuality, adulthood vs. adolescence, boys vs. girls, inside vs. outside, superstition and belief vs. objectivity, public opinion vs. truth, the deterioration of the Lisbon house, the connection between environment and action, the connection between physical isolation and death, the invasion of the fish-flies.


The elm tree in the yard, the plastic card of the Virgin Mary, Lux's brassiere hanging on the crucifix, Cecilia's wedding dress, menstruation, angels, ghosts, candles, windows and window shades, cars and driving, cigarettes, telephones, television.


The neighbor's glimpse of Cecilia with a suitcase, Cecilia's diary grouping the sisters as a single entity, Lux standing lookout on the porch before Homecoming, Mary's remarks at Homecoming, Mr. Lisbon's glimpse of Cecelia's "ghost," Mrs. Lisbon's withdrawal of the girls from school, the physical decay of the Lisbon house, the light going out in the Lisbon house as the boys drive by after Homecoming.