Remember Me: After Birth, After Life

Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wizened look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer / reviewer / blogger Lizzie Skurnick reads 'Remember Me', the 1989 story of a murdered girl who will not take ghost for an answer.

Most people would probably call me a ghost. I am, after all, dead. Okay guys — don't get mad at me — but I have to admit: I may not quite share your passion for Remember Me. Wait! Don't yell! I will blame it partly on the fact that I was recently rereading Richard Peck's Ghosts I Have Been, and find that Pike's work suffers in comparison, as his narrator's wry commentary is not delivered in a southern accent.There is also the fact that the year this book was published, I was frantically filing college applications and too grieved and wraithlike to trifle with the actual undead. There is also the fact that I am very committed to the ambulating-in-the-afterlife scene in Ghost, and reluctant to switch my allegiance over. SO! Take some grain with your salt, if you will, and please do set me right in the comments. Just remember: there is enough afterlife to go around for everyone. Certain novels seem to come built-in with a cinematic ideal, and I see Remember Me as something in the Lost Boys tradition, with a little Twin Peaks-cum-90210-by-way-of-Heathers perfectly-white-Keds action thrown in. Here we are, among some standard-issue group of teenagers in any post-Reagan-era California suburb, girls in polos with the collars turned up, white shorts, and that ubiquitous pageboy; boys in Members Only jackets and a modified flock-of-seagulls wedge, everyone speeding around the canyon from apartment complex to sprawling Spanish-Style mansion to leafy park. We could all simply settle in and enjoy the advent of compact disks and Kid n' Play if it weren't for one inconvenient detail: a girl has just gone, apparently without cause, flying off of a balcony to her death. Or...HAS SHE? Shari is a typical upper-middle-class teenager with typical upper-middle-class problems — how exactly to adjust to her new Ferarri and whether or not her boyfriend, Daniel, truly likes her or her car, how to deal with the fact that all the boys at school DO like Beth, who is obviously just a pair of breasts who's realized if she acts dumb, she'll be seen as an all-over beauty. (She's right.) She loves her colorblind, diabetic brother Jimmy — you're going to want to hold onto that information — and is happy to tolerate her parents, who, obviously, bought her the Ferarri. She's also fond of their housecleaner, Mrs. Parish, and likes Mrs. Parish's daughter Amanda too, despite the fact that she's extraordinarily beautiful, as well as a rival for Jimmy's attentions. And her best friend Jo is not only extremely fond of her, she's also petite, so they can wear each other's clothes. Okay! Keep track of all those people and the things I said about them, please! Unfortunately, Shari has been killed—and she has no idea why. The dastardly deed occurred at the house of Beth, at a party during which the well-endowed temptress fools around with Shari's boyfriend in the hot tub, but we don't know if it's related to that or not. But right before Beth dies, the kids have engaged in a seance (orchestrated by Jo — there's always that seance person!) during which Shari is sure she's contacted Peter, the recently deceased brother of Beth's boyfriend Jeff, for whom Shari has always carried a bit of a torch. Keep track of that all too, please, it is important! Poor Shari takes a dive shortly after wandering out on the balcony, her emotions in turmoil. She's hugely peeved at Daniel, discomfited by her strange possible channeling during the seance — but not, as she tells us from the hereafter, she's fairly sure, suicidal:
I felt a sensation. It was not one of being pushed; it was, rather, a feeling of rising up. Then of spinning....it was only in this last instant that I realized I had gone over the edge of th balcony. That I was falling headfirst into the ground. I didn't feel the blow of the impact. But I do remember rolling over and looking up. Now there were millions of stars in the sky. Orange ones and green ones and blue ones. There were also red ones. Big fat red ones, whose number grew as I watched, blotting out all the others in the heavens until soon they were all that remined, part of a colossal wave of smothering hot wax. I blacked out. I died.
What follows is fairly boilerplate for dramatic accounts of the recently deceased — but just because it's boilerplate doesn't mean it's not fun. Like most of the newly dead, Shari must learn from the response of those around her that she's passed over—or, rather, the lack of response. After waking up in her own house, she's perturbed that her parents don't see her, then mildly alarmed at their abrupt departure for the hospital, her mother choking out that it's important for the "three of them to be together right now." (Three?) Finally sees herself on a slab at the morgue, and she faces the unfaceable — and by that I mean, literally, her face: "It was me lying there. Just me." And, like all newly dead, she also gets granted a spirit guide whose job it is to convince her to get the hell out of there. (Apparently the world runs like the kind of teeny overbooked restaurant that sticks the check on the table before you've even had time to order coffee.) She first sees him at her own funeral, in a casual ensemble that cracks her up: "His clothes made me laugh. He was wearing baggy white shorts and a red t-shirt and sandals. To my funeral?" It is, of course, Peter, who, after schooling her on her need to go to the light, warily acknowledges that he hasn't himself because he's chosen to help others do so, though he's not completely forthcoming as to why. One thing he's certain about though is that Shari has to drop this notion of finding out why she's been killed and get on with her post-dive activities, pronto. He does this through a series of long, unqualified dialogues written in the style that I associate only with teen fiction of this era and Cormac McCarthy, and his perfectly flat responses are either highly ironic or deathly serious, depending on how much personality you want to ascribe to Peter:
Peter looked uncomfortable. "Shari, you're dead. You had a nice go of it on earth, but now it's time to move on." ..."But what about my family? They think I'm dead." "You are dead," he said. "Yes, I know. But they don't know what death means." "That's not unusual." "But it is unusual to have your family think you killed yourself when you didn't." I paused. "They must all think I was crazy." "They don't," he said. "They do. Did you see how many kids from school came to my funeral?" I sighed. "I bet you had ten times as many." "Neither of us is running for student office." "If I go into the light, can I still come—"
BEEZATCH, CAN STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS AND COME TO THE AFTERLIFE, PLEASE!!!!!!!!! But, after accepting that Shari is not going to go before at least making a stab at figuring out why she's been consigned to enternity, Peter worms his way into my heart by training Shari to do all those after life-y things like floating and moving around with your mind — "Let's fly, Shari Poppins" — and also tells to watch out for the Shadow, a dark wraith that pops up and terrifies her when she's not paying attention. Peter also doesn't know what it is, but Shari's description is as good as any: "...perhaps, I thought, it was a scar on the world. It was painful to behold." Throughout all this, Shari is fond of making jaunty asides to us that are, in fact, funny — although as I said above, I still think they could benefit from a southern accent. Wondering if she was considered superficial before her death, she finally dismisses the query: "I've discovered once you're dead, the only opinion that matters is your own." (See? Wouldn't you just want some Alabama in that?) After the second day she awakens, still dead, she sighs, "Apparently, dying was a condition one good night's sleep couldn't remedy." Shari investigations, which she pursues both by merely settling down in rooms, invisible, and then invading dreams when she can, yield a bunch of information, but she's not able to shake it out to see who killed her. It's still interesting, though, to know that the Mrs. Parish, Amanda's mother, had an affair with Jo's father, her brother in law; that the detective on the case, Mr. Garrett, is a drunk and his daughter is a junkie; that Daniel lusted after and took a shower with his cousin Marsha; that Jo truly does love her; and that Amanda really does love her brother. But it's not until she's drawn to the site of her death and retakes her leap into the afterlife that she comes upon a crucial piece of information, picked up as her life passes before her eyes:
The baby was crying. The huge person was pulling on the poor thing's ankle band, too. I began to cry in sympathy. And then I cried in pain as the huge person began to put the other baby's ankle tape around my leg. It didn't quite fit; I must have had fatter ankles..When I awoke, another huge white person was carrying me through the air to see my mother....Then something very scary happened. The huge person gave me to another huge person not dressed in white and said she was my mother. But this huge person did not smell like my mother.
Thank god, a SWITCHED AT BIRTH. Now, if we could just get some—incest, you say?—why, yes, I think we can manage—
"Mr. Foulton is my father. Jo is my half-sister." I had to put a hand to my head. "Amanda is Jimmy's sister." "That's insane," Peter said. "No, it's logical," I said. "Mr. Foulton had an affair with Mrs. Parish, and she got pregnant with me. But Mrs. Foulton found out about it. Maybe they told her, I don't know. Mrs. Foulton was working as a nurse at the hospital where I was born. Imagine how she must have felt when she looked at her sister's child and knew it was her husband's child."
If I could follow that, I would feel bad too — but I did get it after a few minutes, although I must confess Detective Garrett's diagram of the apartment and the ways in which various people could have killed various other persons at various times stumped me completely, as it seems like some teen-based speed-round of clue. (DANIEL did it in the LIVING ROOM with the INAPPROPRIATE FONDLING.) But Shari is smarter than I, and not only does she solve the crime, she saves her brother's life and finally decides she'll go the afterlife. But not before she brings Peter with her. As it happens, the Shadow, we learn, is all the bad thoughts and fears one has accumulated over one's lifetime, and Peter has a whopper: that he DID actually commit suicide. He's under the impression that means he never gets to go to the light, but Shari dismisses that with alacrity:
"You told you you have to stay?" "Other guests in my predicament." "Oh, yeah, go to the man on death row for advice about your trial."
I will try your patience yet a bit more with just a few mystery-stickler questions. I mean, would any diabetic eat cake, insulin or no insulin, end, period? Would a detective actually spend 10 minutes establishing the whereabouts of 6 people in a three-room apartment during a five-minute interval? Would he then ask one of those teenagers in private for a beer? Does Pike know those baby bracelets are made so that they cannot BE removed, except in the case of that neat TV movie where the nurse did it by mistake because they were, if I recall correctly, "So gol-danged slippery! I swear!" Could we think of a better name for the evil thing than "The Shadow," since only Madeleine L'Engle allowed to use that and yes-I-said-so? Isn't someone around there going to start channeling an artist or mathematician and go screaming down the dark hall before the whole place burns to the ground, for God's sake, ANYONE? That said, I must return to my Lost Boys vibe. I admit it, ladies, and string me up if you must — I think the law firm of Duncan, Peck, Cormier and L'Engle has stolen my shelf for teen thrillers forever. HOWEVER. Whenever whatever person who is optioning every single movie from the 80s for a remake decides that it's time to get some Keds and Spanish-style mansions on the big screen, I have my $13.95 ready. • • • • • Quelle deluge, mes belles! Anyway — you ALL knew this Plotfinder! Thank God. However, the knowingest of all of you was Kate T., who came in with "Silver" by Norma Fox Mazer like ZERO seconds after the column posted. Congrats, Kate! You can write me at jezziefinelines@gmail.com for your CHOIX of ONE COLUMN. If I know it, I will do it. Now, for this week's Plotfinders, which comes from readers Amanda G. and Aury W. I am doing three, because these are all so disturbing I literally want them OUT OF MY INBOX, so here goes: Double whammy for you here. I did a lot of classroom-library miscellaneous-leftovers reading in my youth, so a lot of the books, bereft of famous author or recognizable genre, have slipped through the cracks in my mind. I'm thinking, first, of a book about a boy who is friends with a wealthy boy. The rich boy has a twin sister that the hero is attracted to, and he somehow becomes invisible and uses this power (with requisite guilt, of course) to spy on the girl. In doing so he discovers that the twins (surprise) are lovers. Apparently this was as much as my ten-year-old mind could handle, because I can't remember a thing after that. It might be Lois Duncan or her ilk—Christopher Pike? Second is a book where a poor girl befriends a wealthy girl (Veronica? Victoria?)—maybe her mother is the rich girl's maid? The wealthy girl has a habit of biting her nails and her parents bribe her to stop by promising her nail polish. Somehow it evolves that the poor girl's mother is crazy in some way, which culminates in her being found naked at the river on Halloween, where some boys throw rocks at her—the ringleader being V.'s love interest. Also the boys have an incredibly mean nickname for the heroine, which may be the title, and has been on the tip of my tongue for at least the last five years. It's been torture, really—please help me get some closure! After his parents die, a kid (maybe named Matt) and his deaf little sister run away from home. The little sister carries around a stuffed Snoopy. While Matt is out looking for work, the little sister gets murdered. The police suspect Matt. He lies and says he's 18, so he gets thrown into jail where he's raped. The next day, he admits he's only 15 or 16, so the head cop takes Matt home to stay with him until the trial. The cop is married to an artist. At some point, Matt breaks his leg. The cop's baby daughter falls into the pool, so Matt jumps in to save her and ruins his cast. Also, he asks if the artist is a witch, and the cop gets mad and threatens to send him back to prison. And I think there's one point where the cop calls the sheriff of Matt's hometown, and the sheriff says Matt was once arrested for beating up a kid who was abusing a horse. Gah!!!!!!!!! Let us get these shadows out of the way and enter the AFTERLIFE where we receive all the ANSWERS. Winner gets choice of free column. As always, you can send me the answers to jezziefinelines@gmail.com. To cut down on paperwork, this week's win will be chosen in a calculus calculated to make my life easier: if no one knows all three, I'll give THREE individual winners wins as if each were one separate discrete thinger. But if ANY READER knows TWO, that person takes THE WHOLE SHEBANG, irrespective of the time the answer is submitted. If there's more than one reader who knows two, then the first one to submit wins. Anyone who knows all three obviously trumps everybody. Good luck! As I do EVERY WEEK, I now must take a moment to remind all thinking persons that a) Fine Lines is being transmogrified into a book of some sort and b) you can KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT IT if you take two seconds and send me an email to get on the mailing list. To do so, either click HERE or send an email to jezziefinelines@gmail.com with WHERE IS THIS PURPORTED EMAIL YOU'RE SENDING, ALREADY? in the subject line. Don't worry, many are coming. Interns, I am still reading applications and will be back to you soon! Readers, next week's column is a surprise — I haven't yet decided, but I'll give you the month's roster then too. As always, I am reachable for any reason by email at jezziefinelines@gmail.com. Some people use it to ask for books. Some people use it to share memories. NO ONE USES IT to push anyone off a balcony. Let's keep it that way, shall we? Remember Me Lizzie Skurnick [The Old Hag] Earlier: Bridge To Terabithia: Troubling The WatersFlowers In The Attic: He Ain't Sexy, He's My BrotherA Little Princess: A Reversal Of Four BunsTiger Eyes: Cuando Los Lagartijos CorrenHomecoming: A Dicey ProspectGo Ask Alice: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase: Life's A Bitch And So Is The Governess
Stranger With My Face: Stop Projecting
Happy Endings Are All Alike: The Price Of Fault
The Pigman: A Day No Friends Would Die
Julie Of The Wolves: The Call Of The Wild
Deenie: Brace Yourself
A Wrinkle In Time: Quit Tesseracting Up
Love Is One Of The Choices: No, Not That 'Sex And The City'
The Girl With The Silver Eyes: Little Pitchers Have Big Pharma
Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself: Springtime For Hitler, Part II
Summer Of My German Soldier: Springtime For Hitler, Part I
From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: City Of Angels
A Gift Of Magic: Totally Psyched
Are You There Crazy Psychic Muse? It's Me, Lois Duncan
The Secret Garden: Still No Idea What A Missel Thrush Is
To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie: No Telephone To Child Services
The Westing Game: Partners In Crime
The Moon By Night: Travels With Vicky
My Sweet Audrina: The Book Of Sister And Forgetting
The Long Secret: CSI: Puberty
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit: A Pocket Full Of Orange Pits
The Witch Of Blackbird Pond: Colonies, Slit Sleeves And Stocks, Oh My!
Are You In The House Alone? One Out Of Four, Maybe More
Jacob Have I Loved: Oh, Who Am I Kidding, I Reread This Book Once A Week
Then Again, Maybe I Won't: Close Your Eyes, And Think Of Jersey City
My Darling, My Hamburger: I Will Gladly Pay You Tomorrow For A D&C Today
All-Of-A-Kind Family: Where I Would Put Something Yiddish If I Thought You Goyishe Farshtinkiners Would Farshteyn
Island Of The Blue Dolphins: I'm A Cormorant And I Don't Care
Little House In The Big Woods: I Play With A Pig Bladder Like It's A Balloon
The Grounding Of Group Six: Have Fun At School, Kids, And Don't Forget To Die