When I was nine years old there were a series of commercials for Time-Life books—these were the days before the 3 a.m. infomercials advertising things you absolutely could not live without—about the paranormal. The commercial’s a little hazy in my memory. Something to do with a man on an airplane knowing the plane was going to crash and the flight attendant telling him about the Time-Life books, which deal with all things supernatural, including people who dream that planes are going to crash.
What I actually remember from that commercial was the attendant saying Time-Life operators were standing by for my phone call and me thinking, “What are they standing by? A desk? The fridge?”
But I digress.
In Emily Arsenault’s In Search of the Rose Notes 11-year-olds Nora and Charlotte are best friends. Charlotte is obsessed with the paranormal and keeps her collection of Time-Life books in a shoebox in her closet. Nora is more or less along for the ride. She indulges her friend’s need to contact the other side and to prove that they are both psychic. Their 16-year-old babysitter, Rose, often helps them out with their paranormal adventures. But when Rose disappears, Charlotte’s obsession with the supernatural and with Rose herself begins to split the two friends apart.
The novel bounces between Nora and Charlotte as children and as adults. Nora comes back to her childhood home one summer, gets in touch with Charlotte and crashes on her couch. They haven’t spoken much since high school and are awkward with each other, but their common memories still bind them. Charlotte still lives in the same house she grew up in and teaches at their old high school. Nora finds that Charlotte’s obsession with Rose’s disappearance hasn’t waned in the last 15 years. Charlotte is quick to remind Nora that she was “the last person to see Rose alive.” Everyone from police to schoolmates think Nora must have seen something that could tell them what happened to Rose. Was she depressed? Did she kill herself? Did she run away? Is she living a happy life somewhere while her family and friends ache to know what happened to her?
One evening, Charlotte calls Nora to tell her that bones have been found. DNA tests conclude that the bones are Rose’s. But the questions linger. Did she hurt herself? Did someone hurt her?
In In Search of the Rose Notes, Emily Arsenault invites us to go back to childhood and to re-examine events with adult eyes. No need to dust off your Time-Life books to get into this paranormal story.