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Reading Challenge: Memory, All Alone in the Moonlight (AKA Theme)

Remember learning about theme in your English classes? It was one of the most annoying topics to learn. I can almost hear the hard eye-rolls of 30+ students in a classroom every time a teacher starts a lesson. Before I dig into The Saturday Night Ghost Club, let’s start with a more universally known story: Titanic.

I know it’s a movie, but so what, it’s still a work of fiction, right? Titanic is about a poor guy who meets a rich girl (a very star-crossed romance since, as we all know, the boat sinks). We’re clear on the plot, but what’s the theme? Think about the classes of passengers on the ship. The poorest were treated extremely differently than the rich. This story offers a way to explore the concept of social inequality back in the 1900s. Boom, there’s our theme. By using their love to engage the audience, the viewer becomes invested in a very real, relatable story.

Switching gears, which means spoilers are imminent!

In Craig Davidson’s, The Saturday Night Ghost Club, we have a coming-of-age story about Jake Baker recalling the summer of his 12th year on this planet when he befriends a pair of siblings and his Uncle Calvin initiates them into the “Saturday Night Ghost Club.” Tada, that’s our plot!

Now for the theme—like with the other prompts for the WriterIgniter Reading Challenge, I was wracking my brain for what it could be. My initial thought was, “Secrets can’t stay secret.” But then I realized, it was even more obvious than that. Just like The Wizard of Oz’s theme is “There’s no place like home,” the theme for this book is:

“Memory becomes what we need it to be.”

That’s a line straight out of the book and sometimes it’s that direct. It encompasses everything that adult Jake, who's narrating the story is trying to explain—that everything he’s told us is true, but it’s also because he wants it to be true.

So how is this represented throughout the book? Things called thematic elements are what we’re looking for here. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s love for her family is her motivation to make it back home. In The Saturday Night Ghost Club, there’s a lot of focus on brains, memories, secrets, and imagination. All of them connect back to the first though because none of them are possible without the brain.

There’s a scene in particular that illustrates the theme and thematic elements well. Young Jake has found some drawings Uncle Calvin did. Each one alludes to memories that Calvin can’t remember, but they’ve manifested in awful visuals that plague him. Adult Jake remembers these when he has a patient that does something similar. Her drawings refer to real people in her life, that she can no longer recall. While her conscious awareness fails, her memories are still intact in some way—secrets only our brains know how to do to offer crumbs of comfort in the wake of tragedy.

I never expected this theme when I picked this book. I was anticipating monsters and ghosts, but the truth is . . . real life is full of them—no Necronomicon required.

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