On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming
"He knocked. The porch light snapped on. The door swung open. Standing there was a woman as tired and sagging as her old house. 'You've come to return her shoes, haven't you?' Mike stammered, 'Y-yes, yes, how did you--' 'Someone always returns her shoes,' the woman interrupted. 'Always on October twenty-sixth. Every year on this very date.' 'Mrs. Morrissey,' said Mike, 'is Carol Anne still awake? Can I speak with her, please?' The woman gave a hollow laugh. 'Carol Anne is dead, been dead fifty-six years this very night. Drowned in a canoeing accident over on Hawthorn Lake, she did. My poor baby. Her body was in that freezing water for hours.'"
OK, here's the deal. Though Fleming includes an appendix wherein she details where she came up with the ideas for her stories, if you're over the age of sixteen, you've most likely heard variations of all of them before. I flew through reading this book because the whole time I felt like I was experiencing literary déjà vu.
I'm obviously a big fan of children's and young adult literature--I wouldn't study the genre for a living if I didn't--but there are still times when I have to practice my ability to suspend disbelief and read a story from the perspective of its intended audience. I think I failed to fully do that with this text (shame on me).
I do, however, wholeheartedly think the book could be enjoyed by young readers--probably between the ages of ten and fourteen--who are fans of scary stories to read in the dark.
Fleming's collection of short stories begins with the tale excerpted above. Teenaged Mike Kowalski drives around town past curfew avoiding his mother's incessant calls to his cell phone. On an abandoned road he comes across a young girl in need of a ride. Mike drops her off at home and then notices she left her shoes in the car. Upon returning to the girl's house to return the shoes, Mike discovers the girl was in fact a ghost who died many years before. He drives to the nearby forgotten cemetery where the girl's body is interred and upon finding her headstone is surrounded by a group of teenaged ghosts, all in need of telling their death stories to a living human. With this preface, the narratives proceed.
I did enjoy a couple of stories within the collection and appreciated that Fleming played around with form and setting: some of the stories take place during the Victorian era, others are more contemporary, and a few tales heighten their level of fantasy and science fiction. Perhaps my favorite tale was one wherein a young girl encounters a new classmate who's skilled at lying to everyone else and only disclosing the truth of his crimes to her.
It's a quick read, several stories feel like throwaways, but if you know a young teenager looking for something to read during the Halloween season, it's worth checking out.
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