Two weeks before Susie’s death, she leaves the house later than usual one morning, and arrives late to school. To avoid being written a tardy slip by the hall monitor, Susie uses a secret way in that she heard about from Clarissa—the back door to the stage in the auditorium. Susie carefully creeps through the backstage area before pausing to set her book bag down and brush her hair. She hears a disembodied voice: “You are beautiful, Susie Salmon,” it says, and she looks up to see Ray Singh sitting on top of some scaffolding just above her. Susie’s heart “plunge[s] to the floor.”
Watching Lindsey receive her first kiss triggers Susie’s memories of the events that led up to her own. Love, sex, and romance are a big deal to Susie—she is, after all, a fourteen-year-old girl, and even despite her traumatic rape at the hands of Mr. Harvey, positive remembrances of her reciprocated crush on Ray Singh continue to bring her comfort and even joy in the afterlife.
Ray invites Susie to climb up on the scaffolding with him—he is cutting class. Susie does not want to be a “bad kid,” but she climbs up anyway. Susie reprimands Ray for skipping English class, but Ray insists that, while living in England as a child, he saw every Shakespeare play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has nothing left to learn. Ray and Susie discuss Othello to pass the time—Ray is foreign and smart, which Susie notes makes him a “Martian” in their suburb of Norristown. After the bell rings, signaling the end of class, Ray leans forward to kiss Susie, but they are interrupted by a noise. The two of them tuck their feet up onto the scaffolding and go silent.
Ray is smart, exotic, and, in this passage, revealed to have a rebellious streak—all of these things make him more attractive to Susie, even though they make him something of an outsider in the small enclave of Norristown. As Ray and Susie explore their attraction to one another, they are interrupted—as attraction so often is—by more pressing issues. Dramatic irony is at work in this passage, as the reader is aware that Susie only has two weeks left to live—and so two weeks left to fulfill her dreams of romance with Ray.
Three people walk into the auditorium—two teachers and a student. The student is Ruth Connors, and she is being chastised for drawing a nude woman in art class. As a result, a student Xeroxed copies of the drawing and spread them around the school. Ruth argues that the students were instructed to draw people from wooden models, and that adding breasts is no different than adding facial features, but the teachers warn Ruth against making “unnecessary additions” in the future. The teachers leave the auditorium, and Susie and Ray overhear Ruth Connors crying.
Ray and Susie’s burgeoning feelings of sexual attraction are mirrored by Ruth’s own solitary exploration of fascination with the body and its sensuality. Neither Ray nor Susie is close with Ruth, but they both take pity on her as they overhear her being unfairly berated for a simple act of self-expression and artistic experimentation.
Susie attempts to climb down quietly off the scaffold, but Ruth sees her, and calls her name. Susie has the hat her mother has knit for her in her hand, and Ruth tells her that the hat is stupid-looking. Susie agrees. Susie asks to see the drawing—she is impressed. Ruth shows Susie her notebook, which is full of even more sketches. Susie admires Ruth’s talent, and finds herself both “frightened and excited” by Ruth’s drawings of women’s genitals. After this encounter, Susie sees Ruth as special rather than weird.
As Susie and Ruth experience a moment of connection, their conversation is charged with feelings of excitement. Susie is impressed by Ruth’s drawings and exhilarated by her devil-may-care attitude towards the administration and her earthy interest in the human body, whereas Ruth is grateful for the attention and the kindness.
Weeks later, after Susie’s death and the ensuing police search through the cornfield, Ruth begins walking through the field mornings before school, and even during it—she has noticed that her teachers do not complain when she cuts class, as “her intelligence [has always] made her a problem” in the classroom. One morning, when Ruth finds a pair of gloves—which Lindsey had purchased for Susie for Christmas, and placed at the edge of the cornfield—she looks up to the sky and says, “Thank you.” Susie grows to love Ruth, and feels that though they are on opposite sides of the Inbetween, they were “born to keep each other company.”
Though Susie is dead and gone, her relationship with Ruth Connors continues to grow. The two of them are connected by Susie’s touch as her soul departed from the Earth, and as Susie looks down on Ruth, Ruth wonders incessantly about Susie. Their desire for one another is reciprocate, and it seems to echo across the divide of the Inbetween.
Ray, who has been coming and going from school without lingering in the weeks since Susie’s death, due to the rumors still swirling about him, has often seen Ruth Connors walking alone on the soccer fields. One morning, he waits for Ruth there, and offers her tea from his father’s thermos when she arrives. Ray asks Ruth if she is going to Susie’s memorial service, but Ruth says she hadn’t even known there would be one. These morning meetings then become a “ritual” for the two of them—they bond over their shared feelings of loneliness, read poems, and discuss their dreams for their futures. Often, they talk about Susie. Ruth shows Ray the gloves she found where the soccer field meets the cornfield, and the two of them wonder if Susie is in heaven, or if there even is a heaven at all.
Ray and Ruth begin a tentative friendship based almost entirely, at first, around their mutual obsession with Susie Salmon. They are both reckoning with Susie’s loss in very different ways, for very different reasons—Ray had feelings for Susie while she lived, and Ruth developed a relationship with Susie at the moment she died. Their musings on the afterlife, and what Susie’s place in it might be, speak to their own anxieties about death, as well as their fears of letting go of the girl who has absorbed so much of their attention.
One afternoon, Jack Salmon knocks on the door of the Singh house. He is “struck dumb” when Ray’s beautiful mother Ruana answers the door. She invites him in and offers him something to drink. He tells her that he is looking for Ray, and wants to speak with him; Ruana tells Jack that she surely must realize that Ray is still at school. Jack reveals that he wanted to come by and catch Ruana first, in order to assure her that he means Ray no harm. Ruana tells Jack that Ray “loved” Susie, and Jack tells Ruana that he is happy that a nice boy like Ray cared for her.
Jack has some business with Ray, but first needs to go through the straightforward yet aloof Ruana Singh. Ruana is fiercely protective of Ray, and careful to keep her family protected against outsiders. She and her family, it is implied, have not really been welcomed in Norristown, and she is wary of Jack despite his apparent good intentions.
Jack asks Ruana if things have been hard for Ray, what with the policemen’s investigation of him. Ruana, however, tells Jack that he cannot have any sympathy for Ray and her family—she does not want him to try to understand their lives. Ruana tells Jack curtly that Ray will be home in twenty minutes, and that after talking to Ray first, she will allow Jack to talk with him about Susie. As Jack and Ruana wait in relative silence, Jack thinks about his own family, and about Abigail. In the two months since Susie’s death, Jack and Abigail have been moving in opposite directions from one another. If one stays in, one goes out, and they rarely sleep in the same room anymore.
Jack seems to be experiencing some kind of attraction to Ruana. It is not explicitly a sexual attraction, though he does find her alluring; it is an attraction, perhaps, born of the knowledge that he and his wife have been moving away from one another over the last several weeks, and that the idea of striking up a new closeness with someone who is in many ways a blank slate gives Jack a hope for some much-needed connection.
Jack tells Ruana that he knows who killed Susie. She asks if he’s informed the police, but he tells her that the police have found nothing to link Jack’s suspicion to the crime. Ruana asks what Jack is doing on his own, and Jack says he’s following up on leads of his own—he confesses that he hopes that by talking to Ray he’ll be able to get some more answers. Ruana asks Jack what the man’s name is, and Jack tells her—it is the first time he has admitted that he is suspicious of George Harvey to anyone but Len Fenerman.
Though Ruana and Jack have just met, there is something about her that he seems to trust implicitly. He shares his most secret theory with her despite knowing little about her or what she believes—whether this is due to his intuition about her or merely his desperation to share what he believes to be true with someone who might listen is unclear.
Ruana silently gets up and goes over to the window. She announces that Ray is coming down the street, and that she will go out to the street to meet him, and tell him that Jack is waiting for him inside. Before putting on her coat and boots, she tells Jack that if it were her child who had died, she would do exactly what he is doing now. She adds that when she was sure, she would “find a quiet way, and kill [the murderer].”
Ruana’s fierceness frightens but enlivens Jack. As she tells him that she would do anything to obtain justice for her child, Jack believess that this is what he, too, must do in the face of an incompetent police force, a flawed system, and an unshakeable intuition.
Susie describes Len Fenerman, who is “different from the rest of the force.” He is small, quiet, and thoughtful, and above all, he is an optimist. He has told Abigail that he believes that in time, Susie’s killer will do something else “uncontrollable,” and reveal himself. Fenerman has come over to the Salmons’ while Jack is at the Singhs’. Abigail tells Fenerman where Jack is, and Fenerman agrees to wait for him until he gets home. Buckley and his friend Nate come into the room, and Abigail helps them color on white butcher paper. Len watches Abigail, and after a few minutes tells her that she reminds him of his late wife.
Len Fenerman is an optimist—he believes in the good in people, and also believes that his work will have a good outcome and will matter. Despite his job, which requires him to deliver terrible news again and again—and in spite of his past, which seems steeped in pain and violence, just like Abigail’s present—he believes in the good. In this way, he is a lot like Susie.
Susie reveals that Len Fenerman keeps a stack of photos in his wallet of the victims whose murders he has investigated. Once the case is solved, he writes the date of its resolution on the back. There is no date on Susie’s, and none on his wife’s. Jack comes in, and hugs Nate and Buckley. He greets Len Fenerman, and Abigail sends the boys upstairs, explaining that Jack and Detective Fenerman need to talk.
Susie is obsessed with the living, while Len is obsessed with the dead. Both of them are trying to learn about the realm opposite to the one they inhabit, and both are constantly foiled in their attempts to understand the intricacies of each other’s worlds.