Walk Softly, Rachel

Published September 2003

Fourteen-year-old Rachel remembers little about her brother, Jake, except that he died in a car accident when she was seven and he was seventeen. Her parents rarely talk about him, but his presence in the family can be felt and his room has been left untouched. It’s by means of Jake’s journal that Rachel begins to know her brother and learns that his death was a suicide. With candor and humor, Rachel filters Jake’s anguished journal entries through her own experiences – her relationship with her parents and grandmother; the departure of her best friend, Adrian; and her growing involvement with the likable son of family friends who may be as troubled as Jake. In unraveling her family’s secret and examining her own shortcomings, Rachel gains sympathy for her parents, realizing that they are all survivors.

Walk Softly explores inner lives with exquisite sensitivity and precision. Sometimes funny, often sad, but painfully true, Walk Softly, Rachel is a story of love, loss, and letting go.

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School Library Journal

Rachel, 14, is saddened when her mother, a judge (called “Rachel two” by the family), announces that she wants to move because she believes that her mother (“Rachel one”) will soon need to live with them. When the teen asks why her grandmother can’t move into Jake’s room, all become uncomfortable. For Jake is the forever heroic, 17-year-old brother who died when “Rachel three” was only seven, and his room has been preserved as a shrine by his mother. Rachel finds his journal and fills in the gaps of her memory, discovering that the record-breaking track star and Princeton-bound scholar lived in a quiet blackness of despair. Unable to bear his depression, this perfect son and adored brother committed suicide. During this unraveling of family mystery, an act of arson destroys a historic landmark, and Rachel begins to wonder if her fire-loving friend could have something to do with it. As this is a psychological novel, the plot is necessarily spare. What matters is the drama going on in Rachel’s head. The conversations among the three Rachels are endearing and revealing, with Rachel one passing on comforting chestnuts of wisdom gathered over a long life, and Rachel two offering conflicting, sometimes slightly skeptical views, leaving Rachel three to winnow out that which will be of use to her. In spite of all this talk, left undiscussed is what is driving the real family dynamic. As in Dillon Dillon (Farrar, 2002), family relationships and love among the living lead to personal growth and a hopeful ending. While Banks’s poetic prose may consist of simple words, its effect on the ear and heart is remarkable. –Cindy Darling Codell