Friends, each week I will be revisiting a classic YA book from my (and your) youth for us to discuss and revel in because talking about books (especially the trashy ones) that I devoured as a pre-teen and teen is one of the happiest discussions I can have. This concept may sound similar, and you’re right, it is inspired by Jezebel’s now-defunct weekly column Fine Lines. You can still revisit its archives here. Since that series hasn’t been active for 10 years, I think we’re in the clear.
With that in mind, the first book we’ll be discussing is Christopher Pike’s Remember Me, the 1989 classic (make no mistake, every book we’ll be covering is a damn classic) about Shari Cooper’s untimely death at a party, and what comes after for her in…the afterlife. Or, as the cover of my contemporary paperback says “They killed her…but she came back.” Spooooooky. Spoilers, obviously for this 30-year-old book that I’m pretty sure at least 80 percent of people who clicked on the link have read already.
I first read Remember Me when I was about 10; and being 10, dying at 18 seemed like a reasonable age to live to and accomplish a lot in life. Now at 34, almost 18 twice over, I can confidently say that younger Katy Hudson had some good ideas about a few things (impeccable taste in Archie comics, pizza toppings, and Green Day songs to name a few) but definitely not about what constitutes “old” or a life well-lived. I can tell you that I remember absolutely loving this Pike book above all others, thinking it deep, profound, and teaching me the importance of making sure your syringe never has an air bubble in it. More on that last bit, later.
So what is the book about? Shari Cooper is a wealthy teenager, on the brink of graduation, with a happy home life. She’s devoted to her older brother, and her parents are there, but not really, in the way that only a book set in the late ’80s can get away with. In addition to a fancy home life, Shari’s got a part-time housekeeper she loves, a best friend interested in the occult, and a hot boyfriend who basically exists to demonstrate how un-perfect he is for Shari.
None of this really matters because Shari’s dead at the beginning of the book. Yes, friends, she goes to a birthday party for a frenemy with her dumb boyfriend (Danny), best friend (Jo), and the daughter of her housekeeper (Amanda), only to wind up dead after falling 4 stories. Did she get pushed or did she jump? (She was pushed, but it takes a while for the book to get there.)
Shari goes through the usual tropes of trying to get people to see or hear her, with no luck, only for it to dawn on her that they can’t do either because she’s dead. That is until she encounters Peter at her funeral. Who is Peter you ask? Good question! He’s the teenager Shari had a massive crush on, who died 2 years prior, under vague circumstances. (Spoiler alert, he basically killed himself because he was curious what would happen, but again, it takes a while for the book to get there, and why didn’t Pike’s editor say something about that?! This is a book for impressionable youths!)
Shari and Peter team up to find out who really killed her, and there’s a subplot involving an alcoholic detective and his drug-addicted daughter, and a mysterious shadow (that they call Shadow, because they’re not particularly creative teenagers) that emanates hate and follows Shari and Peter around because holy cats these books were fairly age-inappropriate for a 10-year-old. I see that now.
Shari, after getting nowhere by trying to infiltrate the party attendees’ dreams, to see if they dreamed about killing her (I mean, why not?) eventually gives in to the Shadow, only to realize the Shadow is simply a record of the life she lived and the way she felt about herself (thus the hate, because self-loathing, get it?!) The Shadow demonstrates to Shari that (and here’s where it gets really Christopher Pike-y) Shari is actually the biological daughter of her housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter, Amanda, is the biological child of the family Shari grew up with. How did the mix-up happen? Weeelllll, Shari’s best friend’s mom was a nurse, and ALSO the sister of Shari’s housekeeper. You still with me? Long story short, the housekeeper slept with the nurse’s husband, got pregnant, and had a daughter. The nurse, not wanting to have to deal with a living reminder of her sister’s infidelity in the family, swapped the babies out at the hospital. Thus making Shari the half-sister of her best friend, and the biological daughter of the housekeeper. Ok, now here’s the twist. Amanda has been dating her biological brother for a few weeks, because why not? This is a YA book written in 1989, baby!
Shari ultimately discovers that it was Amanda who threw Shari to her death because Amanda was legitimately not right in the head and thought Shari didn’t approve of her or something. We discover this because Amanda tries to seduce her biological half-brother, knowing he’s her brother, and then in a misguided attempt to murder him (Amanda sees a problem, and always thinks murder is the solution. Amanda seems fun.) injects him with 10x his regular dosage of insulin (they’re both diabetics) and then injects an air bubble to kill him. Amanda is thorough but Amanda didn’t realize she’s dealing with a ghost, so Shari invades her brother’s body and gets his consciousness to break up the air bubble so that it doesn’t kill him (because that’s definitely a thing.) While this is happening, Amanda is trying to also burn the house down because Amanda doesn’t know how to half-ass anything.
The good news is the detective rushes to the scene and is able to save the brother and arrest Amanda. Shari and Peter confess their undying (get it?!) love for each other, and make plans to move on to the next phase of the afterlife (the white light, but those of us who read the sequel know what really happens) The end.
Now, friends, I hadn’t read this masterpiece in at least 20 years when I sat down last night to go over it again, and all I can say is that I’m glad I had permissive parents who didn’t care what I read growing up. I’m shocked at how much I remembered about this book before the re-read, primarily the Shadow showing you your life as it was lived, as well as the truly bonkers ending of a sister trying to seduce her brother and then trying to kill him with an air bubble. Apparently, these things tend to stay with you.
Now that I’m a little bit older and maybe only slightly wiser than my 10-year-old self, I was worried this book wouldn’t be as good as I remember, but I have to admit that this was a fairly solid, trashy teen mystery. While I didn’t love the fairly descriptive scenes of Shari’s family seeing her at the morgue, I truly appreciate the bat sh*t insanity of the ultimate villain, and also appreciated how the book ends with Shari’s parents shrugging off her death and welcoming Amanda into the fold. (No, seriously, they pay for her legal bills, and the brother emotionally supports her because why not?) While I’m now on the opposite side of 18, unlike the first time I read this, there was definitely enough here to keep the book enjoyable that I feel like I don’t need to sit my 10-year-old self down and have a serious conversation. So, in that regard, I can tell you that Remember Me definitely holds up.
Next week we’ll be doing Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block, so dust off your copy if you want to join in on a fresh re-read. Give me a shout on Twitter if you have a title to request in the coming weeks—keep in mind, I have every single Fear Street ever written (including the trilogy about the haunted car that time travels to the Puritan times), the first 50 Sweet Valley Highs sitting on my shelf, and about 60 Baby-Sitter Club books with my name literally on them, so we have a lot of ground to cover. Until next week!