CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 15. . . .December 16, 2017
When They Fade is a ghost story with two protagonists: Molly, the ghost of a girl murdered in the 60’s, and Tatum, a girl being terribly bullied in the present. Molly is stuck in a changeless limbo, with no control over when she “fades” and appears on the road near her murder to haunt another passerby. Molly learns something when she touches each person she haunts, and she tries to pass on the information or warning before she returns to limbo. When Tatum picks her up, Molly gets a premonition that she will soon be violently killed, but Tatum doesn’t believe her warning.
Tatum is being ostracized and harassed at school because she revealed the secret that her best friend Claudette was dating a teacher. Claudette and the teacher both told everyone that Tatum was the one obsessed with the teacher, so they appear to be the victims of Tatum’s malicious lie. Unable to do anything about the bullying, Tatum becomes fascinated with finding out Molly’s story, assuming there is something to be put right that will allow Molly to pass on.
Molly is frustrated with Tatum’s refusal to believe that she is the one in danger and wants to warn her again. Parker, another dead soul, shows Molly a way to return to the living world on purpose. It’s dangerous, however, because ghosts who return in that way are targeted by Remnants who devour their souls and turn them into more Remnants. Molly risks returning several times, with Parker, to convince Tatum that she needs to protect herself.
Meanwhile, Tatum researches ghost stories with the help of Scott, the one student at her school who is sympathetic because he knows the truth about Claudette and the teacher. They find out who Molly was and learn that her murderer was caught and sent to jail.
Claudette and two boys kidnap Tatum and Scott and take them to an abandoned barn where a whole group gangs up on them and Scott is knocked unconscious. Molly and Parker arrive in time to stop Claudette from strangling Tatum, but Remnants arrive, attack the two ghosts, and begin possessing the bodies of the students. Parker brings more ghosts from limbo to help fight the Remnants. Tatum is stabbed, but Molly and Parker convince someone to call an ambulance, and she is rescued. Back in limbo, Molly and Parker discover that their determination to help Tatum has created change in their world, and they are able once again to experience feelings.
When They Fade is an intriguing twist on the traditional ghost story. Having Molly as a point-of-view character trying to help the living girl reverses expectations and adds imaginative depth. The limbo of the ghosts is an interesting setting, and the way they overcome the limitations on their existence makes an interesting plot arc.
Molly’s determination to save Tatum drives much of the story’s momentum. Tatum endures her bullying because she feels she has no recourse; her bitterness is off-putting but understandable. Ironically her character comes alive after she decides that she needs to help the ghost and throws herself enthusiastically into research.
The two supporting characters, Scott and Parker, have believable, complicated motivations, and the slight romances that develop are convincing. The villains are more one-sided: Claudette hates Tatum because she betrayed her secret, but the escalation of that hatred, and the reasons for the other students to be so nasty, are not well-explored.
The narrative’s pacing is hampered by the fact that the events leading up to Tatum’s ostracism and Molly’s murder are told as backstory. Since we already know what happens, most of the tension is lost. Molly’s story, in particular, is one that is easily guessed from the bare outline, so there is no reason to retell it in detail. Tatum’s decision to tell on her friend could have been developed into a suspenseful dilemma, but it is glossed over in a distancing flashback.
Because of the parallel story structure, it’s not a very spooky ghost story—there is no mystery about Molly’s appearance because we see it from her point of view. Most of the suspense comes from the increasingly vicious bullying, but since we don’t see the reasons for the escalation, it feels arbitrary, more a plot device than anything.
The violence is quite brutal, though not graphically described. Teens who have experienced bullying or abuse may find it difficult to read, particularly because the climax is simply a fight, and the resolution is just a reversal of Tatum’s and Claudette’s positions, with no opportunity for understanding on either part.
Readers who like ghost stories and crime stories will enjoy this merger of the two genres.
Recommended with Reservations.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor and mother of three living in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.