Remember Me 2: The Return
by Christopher Pike
I’ll start out by saying that I have yet to give a negative review to a Christopher Pike book, so this will be my first. While Remember Me is rightfully celebrated as one of his best (and scariest) books, Remember Me 2 was a problematic mess. Its existence stands as a testament against making unnecessary sequels, even if the fans and publishers really want one. The book goes back and forth between the story of Jean Rodriguez, a Latinx girl living in a rough part of Los Angeles, and Shari Cooper, our protagonist from the first book who is now becoming further enlightened in heaven. While Jean’s story was both boring and laced with problematic representations of Latinx, queer, and disabled people, Shari’s chapters in heaven were insufferable, sanctimonious, and preachy. Literally, the only thing I liked about this book was the short story about the troll muse. It was shoehorned in and didn’t really fit with anything else, but I genuinely loved that story. The entire concept of Shari, the spirit of a rich white girl, being placed as a “wanderer” in the body of a troubled Latinx girl is problematic as fuck. This is a white savior narrative taken to a spiritual level. I get that it’s a product of its time, and that comes up a lot in these books, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one where the entire premise was this flawed. If you loved the first book, I recommend just stopping there and thinking of it as a stand-alone. I, however, am a glutton for punishment and will continue reading to see how this all wraps up in the final book of the trilogy.
Recap & Observations:
Remember Me 2 opens Jean Rodriguez heading to her boyfriend Lenny’s birthday party. She has just found out that she’s pregnant with his kid. Jean sees how hard her mother works and how thankless she and her siblings are for it. Her best friend Carol is a lesbian, but Jean doesn’t mind. Her good friend Sporty was just shot and killed a few weeks earlier. Now, typically I would applaud the inclusion of a nonwhite protagonist here, but not all representation is good. It really felt like Christopher Pike held a lot of contempt for Jean, as well as her friends and family. There was an underlying sense of spite in the way he described Jean’s life. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it makes me think Pike should maybe stick to writing about messy rich white kids. This… this was just the start of things getting cringy.
That night at the party she tells Lenny about her pregnancy, he takes it pretty well and asks her what she wants to do about it. Jean can’t decide. After most of the party leaves, Sporty’s girlfriend Darlene makes a proposition to Lenny, Carol, and Jean. She knows it was the gang leadr Jaun who set Sporty up and had him killed, and she wants revenge. Jean loses her cool, and tells them that they’re just going to get everyone killed. She goes out on Lenny’s balcony to cool off. She doesn’t know how long she’s been out there when she feels the balcony give way, and before she knows it she’s falling. Oh shit, is she going to die just like Shari in the first book? Well, we will have to go to heaven to find out. That’s because the entire next chapter is a sanctimonious new age rambling about how Shari is some kind of saint now.
This is how the rest of the book is structured. Middling action in Jean’s story is interspersed with insufferable and preachy info-dumping by Rishi, Shari’s spiritual guide. In the first book, Shari was a typical high school student, no better or worse than most. It’s what made her story engaging. But now that Shari has gone into the light with her boyfriend Peter, she has reached new stages of enlightenment. The Rishi, who’s something like an angel, gives Shari a chance to go back to earth as someone else in order to do some good. She would become what they call a Wanderer. Shari would have all of Jean’s memories, but would still have the chance to recover her own. She had the divine task of helping to bring about a spiritual awakening. In other words, Shari’s pristine white soul was going to take the place of Jean’s lost and troubled one. A spiritual white savior for the unwashed masses!
Jean wakes up in the hospital. She finds out that she fell from Lenny’s balcony when it collapsed. Lenny had fallen as well and was in the ICU with a broken back. Jean lost the baby from the trauma of the fall. She insists on going to see Lenny, even though he doesn’t want to see her. He just found out he’ll never walk again and is reasonably upset about it. Jean’s mother and Carol both immediately notice a change in Jean. She’s more thoughtful and seems to have a newfound purpose. She starts helping her mom with taking care of her younger siblings and volunteering at the hospital. Knowing the context of the change made it cringy to read, but Pike also oversold Jean’s newfound enlightenment. When Carol offers her a joint, she throws it away because she’s better than that now. If I were Carol I’d have slapped her. I love this drug-free journey you’re on Jean/Shari, but no one asked you to become a D.A.R.E. spokesperson.
Jean also finds herself drawn to Shari’s old haunts in different parts of LA. She ends up at the spot where Shari died. The landlord tells her about the girl who died and mentions the girl’s last name: Cooper. Jean takes the name and looks up an address in the phone book. She walks over there and sees her brother Jimmy moving out of the family house. She strikes up an awkward conversation and offers to help him move into the new place if he gives her a ride. She doesn’t know what’s drawing her to him, but she knows that something is. One of my favorite things about Christopher Pike’s books is the twisted-as-all-fuck mysteries he weaves into them. Watching a character try and figure out what you already know for the majority of a book is tedious. Which is to say that no, we’ve got a little while before she figures it all out.
While volunteering at the hospital, Jean becomes good friends with a girl who is terminally sick. The girl encourages Jean to write her own stories. So when Jean finishes her first short story, she reads it at the girl’s grave. And this is how Pike shoehorned in my favorite part of the book. Jean’s short story is about a successful female horror author who finds out that her muse for her whole career has been a troll that lives in her closet. The hideous troll who has given her all of her ideas has decided that he wants in on the glory and fame. He moves in on the author’s life, fires her agent, runs up her phone bill making long-distance calls, and insists that she share credit with him on all of her future work. The troll just wants to make things scarier and gorier, and won’t listen when the author tells him that he has to remember the age of their audience. Things keep getting worse, and so the author finally devises a plan to deal with her troll problem.
The author consults a less successful writer friend with a ”story problem.” She tells him what’s happening to her under the guise of a short story she is writing and complains that she can’t figure out what her protagonist should do. The other writer considers the predicament of the protagonist and gives her an idea to fix it. She follows his advice has special locks installed on her closet and even has a phone installed inside. Then she takes her troll on a date and makes him think that he’s gonna get lucky when they get home. She tells him the condoms are in the closet, and once he’s inside she pushes the door shut and latches it. At first, he’s angry but realizes that he’s stuck but at least he has a phone. When the author goes to thank her friend for the idea, his door is answered by a female troll who says the man isn’t home. A wink and a nod. The moral of the story is that horror authors have trolls for muses? Anyway, it had nothing to do with the rest of the book but I thought it was fun.
After reading her story, Jean makes plans to hang out with Jimmy again. When she’s in her apartment she sees a picture of Shari and recognizes it as herself. She says something that startles Jimmy, it was a line from a story he wrote while sleepwalking after his sister had died. Actually, the ghost of Shari had written it, and that was the way he explained the inexplicable appearance of the story on his computer. Jean asks to read it and he hesitates but allows her. Jean doesn’t even need to read much of it; she remembers who she was and what her purpose in returning is. She tells Jimmy; he resist at first, but she knows things only his sister Shari could know. I would probably be pretty pissed if someone came back claiming to be my dead sibling, so I guess it’s good that Jimmy doesn’t buy it right away. I don’t know. This book lost me in chapter 3 so I’m pretty indifferent to the little shit at this point.
Now we have to interrupt this shitty plot to remind you about the concurrent heaven storyline. Shari decides that she is going to go back and take Jean’s body, but Peter insists on coming with her. The Rishi fears he is not read. You see, Peter killed himself in the first book. He still has a lot more to figure out to reach Shari’s level of (eye roll) enlightenment. He finds out that he’s going to return, but he will be disabled. That’s not the word they used, but “crippled” is a very dated term and I’m not going to perpetuate it here. Peter accepts the challenge. Now, if you haven’t guessed like I did a few chapters before this revelation, Peter’s the white soul savior of Lenny. Only Lenny hasn’t remembered yet. So… that’s the big twist.
Back in LA, Jean gets word that Lenny and Darlene are back to plotting a revenge strike against Juan. She goes to Darlene’s to try and stop it. Lenny surprises her by agreeing to follow her back to Jimmy’s apartment. They take the elevator up to the third floor and Lenny produces his gun. He explains that he had caught Jean making out with Sporty and that’s why he had Sporty killed. Jean has no recollection of making out with Sporty. She tries to reason with Lenny, but he won’t hear her. He tells her that only she was supposed to die on the balcony, only he messed up and they both fell. He blames her for his ending up in a wheelchair. He backs her out onto Jimmy’s balcony, he shoots her in the leg because he wants to make her jump. She falls over the edge but lands in the pool.
The jarring moment of thinking he killed Jean makes Lenny remember that he is Peter. That’s when Jimmy arrives with Shari’s best friend Jo. Now our white saviors can finally get to work! But you’ll have to wait until I read the next book, which I’m not in any rush to do. Because yes, that is how it ends. That is the sequel to Christopher Pike’s most reputable book. Oof.
There’s so much wrong with this book I feel torn between having too much to say and nothing to say. Its representation of Latinx people was bad. Its representation of LGBTQ characters was OK by comparison. I have low hopes for how that might turn out in Book 3, though. The representation of disabled people and mental illness was also bad. Using Lenny’s paralysis as a punishment for Peter’s suicide was… just… why? This was published in 1994. That explains more than it forgives. Sensitivity readers are a great way for modern authors to avoid these pitfalls, but I don’t know how one could salvage an entire plot predicated on white saviors. And before you try and say that souls don’t have a race, Shari still very much saw herself as white. Her memories of Earth were from a white perspective, and she was being sent to save a Latinx girl and her Latinx community. I don’t think it can be read any other way.
It also felt like Christopher Pike was trying to preach his own new-age religious philosophies to a young readership. On one hand, I have no grievances with a book having a message. Most good books do, and a lot of times they come from an author’s spiritual beliefs. I’m not mad at that. But there was no subtly whatsoever. It was all info dumped in Rishi’s dialogue. None of it was learned through the actual story. Not only did It make for a wildly uneven reading experience, but the sanctimonious nature of it was also alienating. If the goal was to enlighten teen readers, there are far more engaging ways to go about it.
And that’s all I have. It’s over until the next book. I will probably read a few other Christopher Pike titles before then. And by probably I mean definitely. I’ll be reading The Midnight Club next since it is being adapted into a Netflix series along with a few other Pike titles that I am very excited about. I have a funny feeling they won’t be adapting Remember Me 2 as a part of it.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
The concept is problematic at best, preachy at worst. And it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There were a lot of places to go with a sequel, which makes this whole setup such an odd choice.
The decision to jump from one narrative to another was tedious. In part because both narratives weren’t all that interesting or had much going on. It almost felt like the whole book was a prologue to the next part, and a bad one at that.
Shari was a relatable teenager in the first book but somehow became a saint in this one. It made her insufferable. Lenny and Carol were reduced to stereotypes. The Rishi character was basically a personified info dump.
Scare Factor: 0/2
The first book has a terrifying premise. This one was just baffling. It came across as preachy, which is annoying and not at all going to give me nightmares. The only thing dreadful about it is imagining that the afterlife is actually as sanctimonious as depicted in this book
I guess I’ll give it a point here. Mostly for the short story about the troll muse. But also because the whole concept of a Wanderer is battshit enough to stand out, just not necessarily for the right reasons. Not all original ideas are good.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Richie Tankersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat