Vivian Vande Velde Main Page
Remembering Raquel
Ages: 12 & up
Publisher: Harcourt
Book Description:

Various people recall aspects of the life of Raquel Falcone, an unpopular, overweight freshman at Quail Run High School, including classmates, her parents, and the driver who struck and killed her as she was walking home from an animated film festival.

This book is currently nominated for: 

  • the 2010 Charlotte (New York State) Award in the Young Adult category

 

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Awards/honors
Where do you GET those ideas?
Excerpt
More Stuff

Awards/honors

  • ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Where do you GET those ideas?

This book came from seeing those roadside memorials people set up after someone has died. Sometimes you see them on a school's lawn; more often they're by a road to mark the site of a fatal accident. Often there is a cross and flowers, sometimes pictures, balloons, candles, personal notes, or a stuffed animal. Thinking about the outpouring of grief that went into creating these shrines made me want to write the story of one young person who has died--but I wanted to tell her story indirectly, through the voices of the people who are left behind.

Most of my books are science fiction or fantasy. Remembering Raquel is not--meaning Raquel never comes back, meaning Raquel isn't there to tell her own version of her life. You have to get to know her and what happened to her through the words of those who remember her: classmates, family, neighbors, witnesses to the accident, even the woman who was driving the car that killed her. Some of these stories will seem contradictory because--as with all of us--different people react to her differently. Each one of us is too complicated for any one person to ever describe us in our entirety.

Excerpt

VANESSA WEISS, CLASSMATE:

It's amazing how much dying can do for a girl's popularity.

I mean, I'm sitting here in the funeral parlor watching Erin McCall and my other classmates standing around Raquel Falcone's dad, each one of them acting like Raquel's best friend. I don't know if Erin's just doing her usual center-of-attention thing, or if she's actually trying to make Mr. Falcone feel better. That's what you do for a dead person's family--tell them she'll be missed even if you never once had a nice word for her or about her.

I know what I'm talking about: I was there in homeroom when Mrs. Bellanca broke the news. She told us all to sit down, and I have to believe that was at least partly so she could see where the empty desk was--I don't think she was exactly sure which one to connect Raquel's name to. Certain kids have a tendency to be invisible.

“I'm afraid I have some bad news for you,” Mrs. Bellanca said.

Her plan to prepare us did the opposite. I couldn't have been the only one who suspected that another standardized test was about to be announced. Or an assembly, because the administration had decided that the first springlike day of the year was a good time to talk to us about the evils of drugs, alcohol, bullying, or sex. Or maybe, since it was a nice day, there was going to be a fire drill; a certain number are required each semester, but the principals in upstate New York generally try to schedule them for days without snow and ice rather than run the risk of personal-injury lawsuits.

A little chatter of speculation started as people tried to guess what the bad news could be.

Mrs. Bellanca rapped her knuckles against the desk to get our attention--one step up from middle school, where they have this little rhythmic hand-clap thing they do to get the students to quiet down.

“I'm sorry to have to tell you,” Mrs. Bellanca said, “that the school has suffered a loss.” Which still could have been something minor. She might have meant that one of the teachers was going on maternity leave--or one of the students. (Though usually there's no official word on those situations.) But then she finally came out and said it: “Raquel Falcone was killed in a car accident last night.”

People glanced around. Even after seven months of classes together, they had to look to see who was missing, who Mrs. Bellanca meant.

I knew immediately. Not that Raquel was a particular friend of mine or anything. I sit behind her in homeroom, so I'd already noticed she wasn't there, because I could see Mrs. Bellanca without having to crane around Raquel's bulk.

My first thought, on hearing that Raquel was dead, was: Oh, crap. That makes me the class fat girl.

Which lets you know--just in case there was any doubt--exactly how nice I am.

So now, all those kids who couldn't have been bothered to talk to Raquel when she was alive are leaving flowers at the little impromptu shrine at the street corner where the car hit her. They're taking up a collection to buy a Raquel Falcone memorial park bench to put on the school's front lawn. And they've even started a letter-writing campaign to get the speed limit lowered on that stretch of Poscover Road to prevent further accidents--even though nobody's 100 percent sure what happened. Why should not knowing what happened stop anybody from commenting... or crusading?

They say she was leaving a movie, talking and laughing. Maybe Raquel stepped off the curb without watching what she was doing.

Maybe someone jostled her--which leads to two more questions: Was it accidental? Or intentional?

Or maybe Raquel knew exactly what she was doing when she stepped in front of that car. Maybe she'd had enough of being nobody's particular friend, of being “that fat girl” in ninth grade.

A fast, fatal step to popularity is a possibility to keep in mind.

But meanwhile, I'm happy to note that Lindsay Lapjani might actually look wider than I do. She says she's not fat--that it's a cultural thing. And I'm certainly not going to be insensitive enough to bad-mouth anyone's culture.



More Stuff

Raquel's classmate, Mara Ravenell, is a crusader, interested in a wide variety of causes. Except for her “Keep Our Streets Safe Campaign” to get the speed limit lowered on Raquel's street, the other projects she mentions are all real--and worthwhile. Learn more about them here: