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Break My Heart 1,000 Times

October 29, 2012

Now that my kids aren’t reading much YA literature, I’m not reading as much of it either, but I made an exception for Daniel Waters’ new YA novel Break My Heart 1,000 Times because we all liked his Generation Dead series so much, and because it’s about ghosts, and we all have a new interest in ghosts because of watching Supernatural, with its meta-episode revealing that we live in a “mojo-free zone,” its warnings that a ghost is about to appear when the lights begin to flicker and a character can see his breath, and its iron-clad rules (see what I did there?) that work in the fictional world for getting ghosts to leave the living alone (salt also works).

What I like about Supernatural is what I like about this novel—the characters use legends to help make sense of what’s going on in the imaginary world, and the characters think about issues surrounding death with an immediacy few of us experience anymore (as Bess Lovejoy notes in Sunday’s New York Times).

In Break My Heart 1,000 Times, the world has experienced an Event so disastrous that afterwards, ghosts become a part of everyday life. Some people think that “the ghosts are the worst part.” However, the main character of the novel, Veronica, “found it incomprehensible that the worst part of the Event—which had taken the lives of anywhere between one and four million people, depending on whose statistics you read—could be a few ghosts. The ghosts, much like the sickness and lingering death, environmental damage, and general chaos that followed, were merely the unfortunate by-products of the horror of the Event itself.”

Veronica sees the ghost of her father for a few minutes lifting a coffee cup every morning at breakfast, and a ghost is combing his hair in the bathroom mirror each day when she steps out of the shower. On her daily walk to school with her friend Janine, they see the ghost of a girl coming to the door of one of their teachers. Gradually you find out that there are ghosts who appear at certain times all over town, many of them re-creating the moment of their death at a set time and place every day.

As Veronica and her friend Kirk begin photographing the ghosts and learning what their teacher, Mr. Pescatelli, thinks about why they appear, the reader learns more about the ghosts that are haunting the teacher with the ghost who comes to his door, Mr. Bittner. The ghost stories dovetail with the story of a human predator, until the ghosts become Veronica’s potential protectors while the human is the thing to fear most.

As is this author’s wont, he makes the supernatural stuff—which is real, and a part of the plot—also a reflection of what is going on in his characters’ psyches. Veronica’s would-be boyfriend, cursing himself inwardly for not having been bold enough to speak to her, thinks “everybody’s haunted by something.” Later, when he gets in a fight with another boy, it stops because of the living boys’ reaction to Kirk’s mirror-image ghost boy:

“Kirk watched as invisible hands tore glasses from the disheveled newcomer’s face, then watched as an unseen blow doubled the boy up. A moment later the boy’s nose was smashed nearly flat on his face, a spray of dark blood spewing forth, disappearing once it hit the snow. The boy’s legs flew out from under him, and he fell heavily but soundlessly onto his back.
‘Jesus,’ someone whispered. ‘They’re kicking him.’”

The most haunted places in the world of this novel are “hospitals, factories, schools, and libraries” (the obvious Ghostbusters joke about the NYC public library never emerges, however). As Veronica and Kirk learn more about ghosts, they start to wonder about their nature, and speculate about whether there might be different types:
“there were no less than four ghosts in the bakery when she’d picked up the cookies—three patrons and a baker. It was the most ghosts Veronica had seen in one place before, and she wondered if the smell of fresh bread had the power to summon ghosts. Of all the senses, smell is most connected to memory, so if the ghosts were memories made visible, it only made sense that they’d be drawn to such a place.”

But the bad guy, Mr. Bittner, believes that the ghosts are only memories, so readers know they must be something more. Mr. Pescatelli, on the other hand, is writing a book that Kirk summarizes for Veronica:
“He’s got a chapter on ‘old-time’ ghosts and ghost hunting. He said people used to beliee that ghosts drew electrical energy from applicances and batteries and stuff to get the energy to manifest….Pescatelli tells these stories to debunk the traditional ideas of ghosts. Think about the images you’ve seen: do they seem to do anything like suck energy? Your dad? Do the lights flicker, or does the coffeemaker go on the fritz? Nope. Nada. The images don’t have any physical effects at all. They are like movie projections.’
‘Brian makes the bathroom cold.’”

The climax of the story comes as you find out why Brian’s ghost is willing himself to manifest to Veronica in the bathroom mirror, how the ghost of one teacher’s wife is not a “real ghost” but something he has created inside his own head, and why Veronica’s mother says, about her father, that she would “rather he break my heart one thousand times, like he does every morning, than go through a day where I don’t see him or think about him.”

Memories, images, or all that is left of the soul and will after the body has departed, the ghosts in Break My Heart 1,000 Times are only as scary as suddenly being able to see into the souls of those who surround us every day could be. This one may well haunt you long after your other Halloween reads have been forgotten.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2012 3:04 pm

    Does the book tell you what the Event is? Or is it like that Meg Rosoff book where you mostly just have to use your imagination?

    • October 29, 2012 3:55 pm

      It’s like the Rosoff disaster in How I Live Now, where you don’t know exactly what happened.

  2. freshhell permalink
    October 30, 2012 12:24 pm

    I’ll have to find this for Dusty. She loves anything to do with ghosts.

    • October 30, 2012 3:27 pm

      It’s brand new, so you might have to get on a list, but it would be great for her.

  3. October 31, 2012 5:00 pm

    I stared Supernatural earlier this year and was totally hooked (though I could only watch it during the day because I’m a wimp). I agree that the fact that it’s based on legends was what makes it so fascinating. I’ll have to check out this book. It sounds like something I would enjoy.

    • October 31, 2012 5:10 pm

      When my daughter started showing me episodes from Supernatural I would only watch them in the morning. After awhile, though, I found that the formula became reassuring: someone usually dies before the credits, and if a main character dies, he will come back to life (although clearly necromancy doesn’t pay, unless you count a couple of hacked gold cards and a 67 Chevy Impala).
      I like imaginary rules derived from fictional characters’ observations when it comes to ghosts. This book is full of them.

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