Finding Answers in the Mysteries Around Us by Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Saying goodbye to summer this year is unquestionably harder than in non-pandemic times. However, I still can’t suppress my love for autumn, with its campfires, ruddy cheeks and Halloween shivers. It’s the season to walk through crunchy leaves, drink cider and hide under a blanket with a flashlight to indulge in the best kind of books: spooky, dark, and sometimes ghostly mysteries.
I have always loved stories that make my mind question, my heart race, and my gut twist. As a child, I gave myself a few nightmares that my parents probably wished I hadn’t, but that never stopped me from going back for more.
Now, as an author of mysterious and fantastical books, I revel in giving my readers this same thrill (hopefully without the nightmares). It is my goal to create stories that not only let kids peer into murky and dusty corners, and tiptoe to (or over) an edge that they would never approach in real life, but also to find that the answers to some mysteries speak to very real truths.
When I speak at schools, the number one question I am asked is, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” and I always tell them the same thing: I don’t ‘come up’ with them. I find them. Real-world mysteries and peculiar events are all around us—in books, online, and in the news—regularly sending my mind spinning with questions. I encourage students to find something real, something that sparks their curiosity and imagination, and then to craft it into something completely their own. My debut novel, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly, started this way, with a news story about a missing child. And when I began writing my new novel, The In-Between, I went in search of another puzzle, a seed that I could grow into a full-fledged spooky tale all my own. That is how I found the story of the Charfield train accident.
In 1928, in the middle of the night, a train bound for Bristol, England failed to yield a red signaling light and slammed into another train at the Charfield station. The collision caused tremendous damage and the resulting blaze was seen for miles around, consuming much of the wreckage.
Over the next many days, fourteen of the sixteen victims were identified by their families. The remains of two children, however, were not claimed. They have never been claimed despite a nationwide search for their identity. An emblem on the expensive clothing of one of the children looked to be from a school uniform, but no match was ever found. To this day, the monument erected to honor the dead still reads “Two Unknown.”
In reading this, questions poured out of me. How was that possible? Who put those children on the train? Who bought their tickets? Why wasn’t anyone missing them? Even if they were stowaways, they must have had a past, a history. Where were their people?
Though the real-world answers to these questions will likely never be known, fiction—and a little magic—allow me to craft an explanation to the unexplainable, reason for the unreasonable. More importantly, a mystery like this demands an exploration of some very fundamental questions: What is the value of one person? Who among us is deemed forgettable and who is worthy of memory? And most importantly, who gets to decide?
At a time when darkness feels like more than a simple change in the season, ghost stories and mysteries can help answer these otherwise unanswerable questions. They can speak to injustices and righting wrongs. Or maybe they’ll simply supply a little chill down the spine. That’s okay too.
Rebecca K.S. Ansari is the author of The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly (now in paperback) and the forthcoming The In-Between, publishing January 26, 2021. A former ER doctor, she lives in Minneapolis with her husband, her four sons, and two big oafs masquerading as dogs. You can visit her online at http://www.rebeccaansari.com
ABOUT THE IN-BETWEEN
Cooper is lost.
Ever since his father left their family three years ago, he has become distant from his friends, constantly annoyed by his little sister, Jess, and completely fed up with the pale, creepy rich girl who moved in next door and won’t stop staring at him. So when Cooper learns of an unsolved mystery his sister has discovered online, he welcomes the distraction. It’s the tale of a deadly train crash that occurred a hundred years ago, in which one young boy among the dead was never identified. The only distinguishing mark on him was a strange insignia on his suit coat, a symbol no one had seen before or since. Jess is fascinated by the mystery of the unknown child—because she’s seen the insignia.
It’s the symbol on the jacket of the girl next door.
As they uncover more information—and mounting evidence of the girl’s seemingly impossible connection to the tragedy—cooper and jess begin to wonder if a similar disaster could be heading to their hometown. Thus begins a dark, twisty adventure about the forgotten amongst us and what it means to be seen.
“The plot twist will hit readers in the gut, and makes this book unforgettable.” School Library Journal
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Published by Walden Pond Press, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers