Remembering Raquel, by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt Children's Books, November 2007, 160 pp).
When this book opens, 14 year old Raquel Falcone has changed from a metaphorically empty space in her freshman classroom to a literal one -- she has been killed in a traffic accident. How did she die, people wonder; was it really an accident? How did she live? In short, first person vignettes, the people around her react, reflect, and remember—and as they do, the shape of Raquel emerges, and she becomes in the reader’s mind a person worth knowing, and worth caring about (although not all the people who remember her did care much). The moments of Raquel’s sudden death, also an empty space at the beginning of the book, get filled in along with her life—the reader must take the one with the other.
This is a fast read, and it is told by a wide variety of well-characterized narrators, some very sympathetic, others less so. I think that because it is written in such a un-narrativly dense style (which I can’t think of a way right now to say more gracefully, but it isn’t a criticism), this might be a book to give to younger teens who aren’t the keenest of readers. The central question—how would one be remembered, oneself?—has a universal applicability that might also draw in reluctant readers. But this isn’t to say that this is an easy or superficial book. It is not; it is very moving, thought-provoking, and graceful in its creation of Raquel’s life and death.
And it ends on the hopeful note of a new friendship arising from a meeting at her funeral, which would probably have pleased Raquel.
This book has been nominated in the YA category of the Cybils Awards. The publisher sent copies to all of us on the Nominating Committee--thanks.