Of all the revelations that her afterlife brings, perhaps the most startling for Molly Bellamy is the discovery that being dead doesn’t mean being done with life. Murdered by a trusted friend when she was sixteen and in love, Molly finds herself, not in heaven, but trapped in a valley of nonexistence beside a lake—like being in a snow globe but without glass walls. She shares this virtually unchanging place devoid of sensations with others like her who have also died young and in a violent, sudden, and painfully brutal way.
All of the ghosts beside the lake occasionally travel back into the real world in a process called Fading. When Molly fades, she returns as a hitchhiker to Frog Road in Hannah, Washington—the road that she and her murderer had travelled. While she lived, music was life to Molly, yet Julian made her feel more alive. Now dead, she wonders if she’s an example of what happens to young girls who run away with boys they love. As a ghost, she imparts information to the living about hidden treasures, secrets, strained relationships, and other portentous events. In a world that never changes, Molly’s premonitions provide excitement.
On one of her Fades, Molly hitches a ride with Tatum, a girl whose death she foresees. Tatum knows a secret, that her best friend Claudette is having a tryst with the most attractive man at Hamilton High—a really hot, older man—a married teacher named Mr. Parancini. Because Tatum worries for her friend’s life and safety and because she can’t sit back and watch her friend destroy herself, Tatum decides to tell a trusted adult the secret. The secret-telling backfires, and queen bee Claudette tags Tatum as the “snitch bitch” and elicits the help of her friends to harass Tatum. A victim of bullies who act like dogs that can’t ignore the cat, Tatum counts the months before she can escape the torture that has become her life, months of torment that might remind readers of Jerry Renault’s abuse in The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.
The encounter between the two girls in When They Fade by Jeyn Roberts actually links them, and each is determined to save the other. From their dedicated diligence, readers glean a message about the effects of acting dead and passively accepting current circumstances rather than taking charge and being a change agent. For Tatum—heavy with doubt and mistrust—the mystery of Molly’s ghost keeps her occupied and distracted from antagonistic behavior even from her parents. As Tatum sleuths for answers, she finds an ally in Scott Bremer, who tries to save her from gang mentality gone too far.
With this book, readers learn valuable lessons about violence and its effects, about love’s power, and about memory’s and emotion’s ability to repair damage. Readers also learn certain human truths, like how “we can never fully know someone, no matter how much they share. And the worst of mankind often wears the best masks” (172). Another lesson comes from Scott’s wisdom: “A place is just a place. It’s what you do with it that matters” (219), and yet another from Molly’s: “Sometimes it’s easier to keep the faith than lose trust” (292).
This affecting story of one young woman’s struggle to understand her meaningless death and another’s battle with bullies will likely appeal to readers of books like Everlost by Neal Shusterman, Between by Jessica Warman, or Dead on Town Line by Leslie Connor—books which speculate about the afterlife. As it explores a version of the afterlife experience, Roberts’ book tells the story of people bound in a common purpose and determined to make a difference. It also reveals that in memories, we find our hopes and dreams.
- Posted by Donna