Fits of Nostalgia: Remember Me
Overall, this was a solid story with a genuinely creepy concept. Shari narrates as a dead protagonist trying to solve her own murder, all while grappling with her new reality as a ghost. The book is laced with elements that play off the 1980s Satanic Panic. Most of the characters were distinct and complex, even if their motivations could sometimes be perplexing. I love a horror story that doesn’t rely on its characters making terrible decisions, and this one more than fits the bill. It also had some really moving moments I didn’t expect. It deserves it’s accolade as one of Pike’s most celebrated works. My only major complaint is that the back of the book gave away almost the entire first third of the plot, which made the beginning feel tedious. That is not the author's fault, though.
Observations & Spoilers
Christopher Pike’s YA Horror novels don’t have a franchised brand name like Fear Street, but they often get compared to one another anyway. Pike’s books in particular have a reputation for being a more grown-up and mature version Fear Street. I’m inclined to say that reputation holds up. Even Stine’s darker works tend to have a lighthearted and often campy quality to them, which is part of their charm. Pike’s approach is more grim. He doesn’t shy away from showing things like drug use and suicide, which I have yet to come across in a Fear Street book. In fact, I probably should not have been reading an of them in 4th grade. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is this: writing up Pike’s books for this series don’t give me as many opportunities for slipping in silly gifs and memes, but that won’t stop me from trying.
Fear of death is one of the most basic fears of any living thing. It is the great unknown; more permanent than life. Starting out with a protagonist who is already dead really sets an unsettling tone, and Pike manages to carry that throughout this book. Not only is she dead, but she has to look on helplessly while her family and friends all mistake her murder for a suicide. She does all of this while periodically being chased by a creepy shadow creature. I was impressed by the especially touching scene where she sits with her brother while he breaks down in his car after identifying her body. I thought Pike used the theme of grief effectively throughout the book without it getting too heavy.
Like a lot of the horror of the late 1980s, this book has plenty of elements that play off of the whole Satanic Panic of that decade. Shari’s best friend Jo is all about the occult. Jo has them all take part in some spirit calling rituals right before Shari’s inevitable demise, which in turn makes Jo seem suspicious. It also provided an introduction to Peter - Shari’s friend who had died a few years earlier. After Shari’s death, she and Peter become ghost buddies. My one gripe is that all of the occult stuff mislead me to believe that there might have been a supernatural element to Shari’s death. I was only a little let down when that turned out to not be the case. There was plenty of other creepy supernatural stuff to satisfy my appetite.
In the end, the Shadow turned out to be a part of Shari. It was all of the things she was afraid to know about herself. When she finally let it catch her, she learned that her parents were not really her parents. Her and another child had been switched at birth because of a feud between her real mother and her aunt. And it turned out the girl whose life she was supposed to have was none other than her brother’s girlfriend, Amanda. If you didn’t follow all of that, you’re not alone. It was a bit convoluted and Pike had 230 pages to explain it. Ultimately, all you need to know is that Amanda and Shari had each lived their whole lives with the wrong family, and Amanda figured it out before anyone else.
Amanda had also been at the party on the night that Shari was murdered. She had a convenient alibi of being in the bathroom at the exact time of the fall, but the detective had started to poke holes in the story. By they time Shari puts all of this together, it becomes a race against time to save her brother’s life. In one of the more disturbing twists of the book, Shari can do little more than watch as Amanda carries out her deranged plan to kill Jimmy (who’s diabetic) by poisoning him with insulin. In the end, Amanda’s plot is foiled. Jimmy is saved and the secret of the switched babies comes to light.
All in all, I liked the book - even if it was difficult to really poke fun at.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 point 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). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Remember Me is ranked 1st of 39 among Pike’s YA novels, placing it in the top tier of the series.
Fairly complex and ambitious, Pike manages to cover a lot of territory in a relatively short book. And it holds up well all of the years later.
It was a bit slow to start, though everything it took the time to tell us did end up mattering in the end. So I guess I can't complain about that too much. I only nix a point here because the whole baby switching bit was a bit convoluted.
Even the characters I didn't like were complicated and distinct. And there were a lot of characters to keep track of. Even though I did not care of Shari at the start, her character grew in all of the important ways throughout the book.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Death is scary. It would have been better if the cause of death was more supernatural, but the dead narrator being chased by a shadow being made for some pretty creepy moments.
I remember finding this concept to be wholly original when I was a kid (not to mention utterly terrifying). A dead protagonist itself isn't original, but I think Pike really makes it his own.