Everyone knows the story. Teenager in a car on a lonely road stops to pick up a girl alone, shivering, scared, just wanting a ride home. She gets out of the car and leaves something behind. Teenager, in this case a boy named Mike, turns around and takes her belongings (saddle shoes) back to her house. There her mother opens the door and tells him her daughter is dead and has been for years, but every year someone shows up with a pair of saddle shoes. There are variations of the story, but is a common one and it is with this premise that Candace Fleming begins her book On the Day I Died: Stories From the Grave.
Mike, needing to be sure, takes the shoes to the cemetery where, sure enough, he finds a grave covered in years of saddle shoes. And he finds ghosts. Nine of them ready to tell him their death stories if only he will listen. All of them died in their teens and all of them need to have their say before moving on. This is the premise for the collection of tales Fleming has combined here.
The tales themselves are varied. What I like about this book is how wonderfully typical of camp fire stories it is. Each story is as different as the character voicing it. There are predictable tales, absurdly corny tales, chilling tales, and tales that are based on old stories. Not all of them have the same affect, just like ghost stories told at a slumber party will have a different affect based on who is telling them. I love the nod that Fleming has given to this age old tradition. I think it might be a dying art. So yes, there is a sense in which all of these are familiar, and some are downright silly, but I really enjoyed it. Partly for those very reasons. I liked the Edgar Allan Poe reference, "The Monkey's Paw" story being included, the utter campiness of some of the other stories. The way Fleming grounded each one in Chicago history is also fascinating. The Author's Note here is interesting in and of itself. The stories of Gina and Edgar were my favorites and, I think, the most creepy.
On the Day I Died is the perfect read to enjoy on a chilly rainy October day. I can also see putting it to good use in a Creative Writing class. As it is not too terribly gruesome it would make an excellent October read aloud for the older end of the MG spectrum. Whatever you might want to with it, if you are a fan of good old fashioned ghost stories this is a must read.