Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Whisper of Death (Christopher Pike)
Whisper of Death holds a fairly special place in my heart because it once got me in trouble. My little group of sixth grade friends and I chose the book for our reading group and made the mistake of discussing it in the classroom. A classmate (damn you Luke!) ran and told our teacher that we were reading a book about abortion, cussing and sex. The teacher took one look at the book and banned all Christopher Pike books from our classroom for the rest of the year. It’s kind of sad when you think about it…
Anyway, Roxanne is your typical high school student: she doesn’t give a damn about anything, but she does have red hair and “great legs”. We know this because Pike tells us every few pages. She meets Pepper, they go on one date and she ends up sleeping with him in his aunt and uncle’s barn loft. This leads to a great line about how she “got a thorough examination from Dr. Pepper”, a line I never forgot. Oh yeah, and he almost lands on the pitchfork, yikes.
Roxanne discovers that she’s pregnant, but wants to keep the baby, which she thinks is a girl. Pepper disagrees and she decides to have an abortion because that’s what he wants. Way to make a strong female protagonist Pike. They head out of town to an abortion clinic and Roxanne ends up on the table alone, while Pepper waits outside. She remembers Betty Sue McCormick, a girl they went to high school with, who recently committed suicide. The poor girl drove out to an abandoned gas station and lit herself on fire.
Roxanne decides not to have the abortion, gets dressed and leaves with Pepper, only telling him the truth once they’re on the road. He gets quiet and then falls asleep on the ride home. Roxanne sees a girl with bright red hair on the side of the road, the same color as Betty Sue (gasp) and contemplates stopping before the figure disappears.
They stop at a gas station, but after seeing an open register and no one around, Rox gets freaked out because she assumes the store was robbed. Pepper calms her down, they drive back and she finds herself alone at home. She doesn’t think it’s odd because her dad drives a truck and is often gone, but she does think it’s weird when there’s only static on the television/radio, no one is in the streets and no one answers their phone.
Roxanne wanders through town, but doesn’t find anyone. She runs into Pepper, who has a brilliant idea about the town being evacuated while they were gone. Just then Stan Reese shows up. All we really know about his is that he has a weight problem, is super smart and everyone seems to like him, especially Rox, though Pepper apparently doesn’t know him.
Stan tells the couple that he talks with a few people on short wave radio every Saturday morning and they weren’t there this morning. He guesses that a satellite went awry after a warhead hit it. The group decide to rob a bank and skip town, but Rox ends up shot in the leg (kind of) by a guy already inside. Enter Helter Skater, also known as Helter Skelter. He’s a pain in the ass and always in trouble, but Pepper knows him and he’s kind of cool. They break into the drugstore to get help for Rox and run into Leslie Belle, a gorgeous blonde from their class. Screw Rox, because suddenly Pepper wants some blonde ass.
The little group heads to the ice cream store where they talk about what happened and Rox talks about Betty Sue. They all have an opinion on her, except for Pepper who says nothing and they decide to check out her house. On the way, they learn that Leslie and Betty were best friends, but stopped talking several years ago. They find her diary and when they read a passage about Betty kissing Pepper, Pepper puts the journal away.
They then find a stack of stories she wrote, including one called Lati Ball Puts on a Mask. The story is about a blonde girl who dies when the candles on her birthday cake go crazy. Leslie freaks out, runs off, burns some of the papers and tears up more. The group manage to rescue some and Leslie decides to leave town with Helter, but not before propositioning Pepper. At the gas station, she’s filling up the car and smoking (though no one ever saw her smoke before). She accidentally drops the cigarette and that’s the end of Leslie.
Stan keeps reading the diary and refuses to let Rox have a peek. There’s a passage about Betty Sue making Leslie a beauty and Helter waxes nostalgically about the days when the beauty was a grotesque girl he threw rocks at. Stan realizes that Betty Sue did something to make Leslie pretty. He tells the group that Betty used to trap butterflies and slowly watch them die, but no one notices any similarities to their situation. Instead they wander around and grab pieces of the stories, until Rox sees a shadowy figure. Helter and Pepper run after her and Stan tells Rox that in the diary, Betty revealed that Helter raped her.
They also read a story called Holt Skater Takes a Walk where a boy named Holt walks a thin wall, eventually falls straight down and is slices through the middle. They follow the boys to the school gym, where Rox remembers an experience with Betty. The girl gave her a bar of soap in the shower one day that was carved into a baby. Later she saw her drawing a jar around her stomach in the school mirror. Creepy much?
They hear Helter screaming and discover that he accidentally shot himself in the groin. Rox steps up to the plate and decides to help him end his life. Seriously, he has no penis and he’s in a hell of a lot of pain. The other two leave and he admits that he raped her, but says that she was in his mind and forced him to do it.
Stan puts the pieces of paper together and reads the story Soda Radar Goes to Sleep, which is about a court jester that tells an old story and is stabbed by the queen with a needle. Stan decides to sit by himself for awhile and Pepper picks up a newspaper from a box. The lead (and only) story is about the five teenagers, who all “accidentally” died on the same day. When Rox reads about Stan, she runs off to find him and discovers that he slit his wrists. He tells her that Betty was pregnant when she died.
They finally read the last story Salt and Pepper for Supper. The story is about Salt and Pepper who spend the day with the queen, Salt shoves Pepper and he falls on the queen’s fork and dies. They then head back to the hayloft, where she asks him about Betty and he finally admits that they slept together, including once after he was with Rox. She shoves him off the loft, he falls on the pitchfork and tells her he loves her before dying.
Rox goes back to Betty’s house and the girl walks inside. Betty claims that she was Rox’s baby and that she planned to kill her when Rox has the abortion. Rox claims she didn’t have it and Betty talks about how she loved Pepper and saw them together. Betty then reveals that Rox is still going through the procedure and dying. She then stabs Rox through the stomach.
Whisper of Death then cuts to Pepper, who’s sitting in the waiting room. He thinks about how he almost told Rox not to go through with it the night before because he loved her so much and how he hates himself for what he did with Betty. Then he learns that Rox is dying and hears her telling him one last time that he loves her.
On the way home after Rox dies, Pepper stops for a redheaded hitchhiker. She stabs Pepper with a fork and he tells her to stop. She tells him that she’ll make it right by cooking him dinner that night and when he disagrees, she claims that she can make him change his mind…
Zoinks! That was a long ass review. The long and short of it is that I still like Whisper of Death, even as a 29 year old, though maybe not as much as my 12-13 year old self did, back when all these topics were taboo. Pepper was an ass and Pike tried to redeem him in the end, but I still think he was an ass…