Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Remembering Raquel

"It's amazing how much dying can do for a girl's popularity."

The opening lines to Remembering Raquel, by Vivian Vande Velde, could be easily interpreted as a cold and calculating statement made by a classmate. Quite the contrary, these words begin an insightful and often refreshingly honest collection of thoughts presented by the classmates of Raquel Falcone. On the way home from a movie one evening, fourteen year old Raquel steps off a curb into the path of an ongoing car and is killed. Told in first person by teachers, classmates, friends, family, and blogging buddies; Raquel is remembered, sometimes with cruel disregard, by each. As the story progresses, we learn not only more about Raquel, her hopes and dreams, but also how a single person is often intertwined with and an integral part of the whole of a school or community.

The most intriguing aspect of this novel is how Vande Velde presents her characters in each chapter. She does not fall into the insipid trap of using this young girls death as a life changing occurrence to those left behind. Instead, she chooses to focus on individuality and paints a true picture of how Raquel, someone who "was practically invisible," lived her life. In doing so, readers gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of Raquel, her friends and family, as well as those who did not know her or, while feeling badly she is gone, do not particularly mourn her. This novel does not sugar-coat the popular students, labeling them as evil. It does not automatically place Raquel on a pedestal alone, or with her friends. What this novel does is present a snapshot of real life affected by tragic death. Things change, things stay the same, time marches on with respect to a young girl gone too soon.

Vande Velde notes on the cover flap that she was "inspired to write this book by the roadside memorials she sometimes sees near her home." She has paid a thoughtful homage to those memorials. More about this book, including links to some of the crusader projects discussed, may be found on Vande Velde's web site.

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