Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: Cracks in the Wall, Possibly Also in the Heroine’s Head

Help a Bitch OutThis request comes from Kris, who is looking for a book she read a long time ago: 

 I read this book sometime between 1980 and 1984. Today, it would probably be coded as a Young Adult book.

The main character was a teenager whose parents were moving. All I remember about the new place she moved to was the house was older (it may have been inherited by one of her parents), and there was a woods nearby. I also remember a description that involved the teenager noticing the cracks in the paint on the ceiling or the wall.

The teenager resented the move away From Everything She Ever Knew and Ever Friend She Ever Had. She hated the new place and felt really isolated. Seems like she had a younger sibling, they were always fighting, and her parents always sided with the Younger Child, as the younger would Could Do No Wrong.

When she went exploring in the woods, she carried her sketchpad and drew stuff despite her angst. At some point, she meets a mysterious boy that appears to be about her age, and they become friends. In fact, he is Her Only Friend.

Here's the twist: at some point in the story, we find out the boy died in the house where she lives.

Her parents found out she thinks she's talking to a dead boy (I think because she drew him in her sketch pad so well someone recognized him). Of course, Dead Boyfriend is nowhere to be found to prove she's not making it up, and so her parents ground her and send her off to counseling.

She feels even more isolated and angsty. At some point, she ran into a rain storm to find him, because she felt despite his early demise, he was the only one who ever understood her. Of course, she falls on a slippery bank and is knocked unconcscious. Her father finds her in the ditch, and she's cold and unresponsive. She hit her head, and has caught a terrible cold from being in the storm.

Here's the part that's making me nuts, because I can't quite remember the ending. It seems like, in her fevered delerium, Dead Boy visits and gives her a choice: to join him, or to stay in the land of the living with people who obviously love her even though they Don't Understand Anything. Or maybe, in her delirium, she realizes her family loves her, and that they're right, she made up Dead Boyfriend, and she needs to be more committed to her living relationships than imaginary ones.

Or I'm totally crazy wrong and Dead Boyfriend was a vampire, or a descendant of the dead boy, or he really was imaginary.

The parts I remember about the story that I really liked were the main character's indpendance and her determination to believe in what she knew had happened despite people telling her she was nuts. I liked the way the author described the way the lead looked at the cracks in the paint, that is, the way someone who sketches things would see it.

And for the life of me, I can't remember the title, author, of even if I'm making up the part about the cracks in the wall. I'm like to find the book and find out if she really was nuts.

Thanks for any help or suggestions.

I'm so curious about this book – it seems like the kind of thing I'd have loved as a teen. Do you recognize this book?


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  1. 1
    Catherine says:

    Doctor Who Season Five?

  2. 2
    Sybylla18 says:

    I haven’t read it in a long time, but it sounds a lot like the title story from A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley.

  3. 3
    TuraLura says:

    I, too, have read this story. I read it sometime in the early or mid 1990s. I probably bought it at a used book store and may or may not still have it. If I do still have it, it’s in storage somewhere.

    I don’t remember the title or author, unfortunately, but I did want to let Kris know I remember those same details, including the cracks in the walls. I really wish I could be more help. Now I’m wanting to reread this, too, so I may have to go dig through the storage shed. (Not right now as it’s a bit after midnight. Maybe later today if it stops raining long enough.)

  4. 4
    kris says:

    Definitely not the McKinley, although I appreciate the attempt.

    And I’m so happy TuraLura remembers it, too—if someone else remembers, at least I know the cracks aren’t in MY head!  (The age I was when I read it, I was more likely to remember pictures and plots than I was the names of things.  It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized that those trivial details, like titles and author’s names, were kind of important.)

    I’m so excited you recognized it.  Thank you so much, in advance, whether this book is out there or not.

  5. 5
    HeatherS says:

    Could it be “Ghost Behind Me” by Eve Bunting? It was published in 1984. ISBN 0671622110

  6. 6
    Anne says:

    Possibly “Tuck Everlasting”.

  7. 7

    It doesn’t sound like Tuck Everlasting because the Tuck family is still very much alive after drinking from that well in the woods: they can’t die; that’s their problem. (I have fond memories of the film with the immortal turtle at the end …)

    Just checked my copy: not a turtle, but an immortal toad. :-)

  8. 8
    Sandra Schwab says:

    It was an immortal turtle in the 1981 film and an immortal toad in the book. :-) (Sorry, got sidetracked.)

  9. 9
    Rebecca Price says:

    This sounds an awful lot like Tryst by Elswyth Thane, only more modern. And in Tryst, she dies and they live – er, exist – happily ever after.

  10. 10
    Laura Probst says:

    @HeatherS:  It’s not ‘Ghost Behind Me’.  (As an Eve Bunting fan, that was one of my childhood favorites for which I searched for many years until I managed to remember the title and snag a copy.)  ‘Ghost Behind Me’ revolves around a girl named Cinnamon—yes, Cinnamon—who moves into an old house, which is similar to the description above.  But then Cinnamon finds a bunch of old love letters from a guy named Felix to a girl named Emily.  Soon Felix’s ghost comes along and asks for Cinnamon’s help in finding his long-lost Emily.  As far as I can remember, Cinnamon doesn’t carry around a sketch pad.

    As far as this other book, it sounds so familiar, I swear I read it sometime in my youth.  Sadly, for the life of me, I can’t think of the author or title, so I’m not much help in the HaBO department.

  11. 11
    Marjorie says:

    Argh, this is making me crazy! It sounds familiar to me too. I looked up a ton of books by Joan Lowery Nixon, Betty Ren Wright, Lois Duncan and Eve Bunting—nothing sounds right. Bleah.

  12. 12
    kris says:

    Not the Bunting book or Tuck.

    If anyone could find it, the Bitchery would.  My faith in our collective superpowers remains unshaken.  Even if we don’t find it, I appreciate the effort.


  13. 13
    Laura Probst says:

    @Marjorie:  I know, I tried looking up those authors as well, along with Cynthia Voigt, with the same lack of luck.

    @kris:  I tried posting this yesterday, but it wouldn’t take.  I found this website website, which you may have run across in your search as well.  If you have, sorry it’s not more help.  If you haven’t, it may take some work, but perhaps she has your book in there somewhere. :)  (Man, I hope the link takes.)

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