The 1991 YA horror novel, Whisper of Death, tells the story of Roxanne and …. Pepper.
That’s right, Roxanne’s boyfriend is named Pepper. Actually, Pepper is just a nickname but still. Personally, I don’t think I could have ever dated anyone with an nickname that bad. I did once dated a frat boy who was nicknamed Smiley and my sisters have never let me live that down. I will say that I steadfastly refused to call him “Smiley” which is one reason why we broke up. (The other reason was that he was a member of a frat. Drinking beer and smiling all the time is not a substitute for a personality.)
Anyway, Roxanne and Pepper are two teenagers in love. Pepper’s a rebel. Roxanne’s a hard-working seamstress who only has one night a week free. When Roxanne loses her virginity to Pepper, she gets pregnant because this is a YA novel from the early 90s and no one loses their virginity without either getting pregnant and being stalked by a judgmental madman or both. Though Roxanne wants to keep the baby, Pepper wants her to get an abortion. In fact, he’s pretty adamant about her getting an abortion. Reluctantly, Roxanne agrees. Pepper and Roxanne drive out to another town and then, on the way back, refuse to pick up a redhead hitchhiker. (Booo! Anyone who would leave a redhead stranded in the desert deserves whatever karma does to them.) When Roxanne and Pepper return to their hometown, they discover that the entire place is deserted!
Well, actually, it’s not totally deserted. They search around the town for a while and they discover that a few of their classmates have apparently been left behind. There’s the nerdy guy who may not be as good-looking as Pepper but who, at the very least, doesn’t have as stupid of a nickname. And then there’s the beautiful quirky girl who rebellious Roxanne can’t help but like despite the fact that she shouldn’t because Roxanne is poor and has to work as a seamstress 6 night as week. And finally, there’s a delinquent who has an even worse nickname than Pepper. His name is …. seriously, I’m not making this up …. Helter Skater.
Anyway, it’s all connected to yet another classmate, Betty Sue. Betty Sue killed herself at the gas station and it turns out that her diary is conveniently available for anyone who wants to read it. Is it possible that the strange disappearance of the world is somehow connected to Betty Sue’s suicide? And is it also possible that maybe Pepper has more of a connection to Betty Sue than he’s willing to admit?
Of course, it is!
Whisper of Death is an odd little book. Since the entire plot, more or less, is set in motion by Roxanne getting an abortion, it’s interesting to witness the amount of effort that Pike puts into not coming down on either side of the issue. Roxanne makes the point of saying that both the hardcore pro-lifers and the hardcore pro-choicers are too extreme for her tastes. I actually agree with Roxanne but, as the story progresses, it feels more and more like Pike is trying too hard to keep both sides happy. And, as we all know, that’s an impossible task. Suggest that women have a right to choose and you get accused of being a baby killer. Suggest that partial birth abortion is barbaric and you get accused of being Serena Joy Waterford.
That said, the story itself was effectively creepy and the fact that it featured a shadowy force of evil called Fat Freddy is definitely a point in the book’s favor. Most of the characters were petty annoying but, then again, the majority of them were dead by the end of the book so it’s all good. Whisper of Death held my attention and it made me think about issues of life, death, hitchhikers, and terrible nicknames.