Monday, December 21, 2015

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Casella and her eighteen-year-old brother, Daniel, are on their way from their home in Arizona to live with their grandmother in Elko, Nevada. The decision to have Audrey and Daniel spend the summer with their nearly eighty-year-old maternal grandmother was made by their father after the "raucous party" Audrey held at home.

Like the rest of her family, Audrey is having a hard time coping with the sudden death of her mother, who was a counselor at her high school. By her own admission she "was busy self-medicating with all manner of troublesome behaviors; Daniel was retreating into avoidance and denial." Meanwhile, her father seems to have stopped living the day of Audrey's mother died. 

However on their journey to Elko, their father stops at a mysterious hotel called Hotel Ruby, hidden from the road in the trees. Ornate iron gates lead to a driveway lined with trees, a "courtyard, a circle of stone benches and statues, low manicured shrubs with tiny lights brightening everything." The actual hotel is huge - "A white stone front, huge archway with ivy crawling up the walls." Inside is even more impressive: "The lobby is an explosion of grandeur: rich wood furniture, fringed velvet fabrics, and an impossibly large chandelier hanging above it all. Paintings and tapestries decorate the walls, which must be at least three stories high."

In the hotel they meet Kenneth, the concierge, who on the surface seems friendly. Audrey's father asks for three rooms just for the night. Kenneth tells Audrey's father that he and Daniel can have rooms on the sixth floor, while Audrey's room will be on the thirteenth floor. After learning about the various amenities available at the hotel, Daniel decides to join the ongoing Anniversary Party-1937 while Audrey and her father take the elevator to their rooms.

Audrey finds the atmosphere of the thirteenth floor mysterious and "heavy. Like the air is too thick." But her gorgeous room quickly removes any ominous feelings she might have. Audrey returns to the lobby and following the music discovers the grand ballroom where there is a large party in progress. Like the rest of the hotel, the ballroom is magnificent. "The room is three stories tall, with massive chandeliers, golds and yellows splashed through the room, heavy deep-red drapes framing the doorway. On the walls are panels of intricate tapestries, gold frames." At the party Audrey meets dapper Elias Lange whom she finds herself drawn to. However, it appears that Elias has a girlfriend when he is angrily confronted by Catherine, a beautiful but somewhat cynical woman of Audrey's age. Elias offers to take Audrey on a tour of the hotel, but that doesn't happen when Kenneth questions Audrey, telling her the party is invite only and firmly requesting she leave the ballroom.

Back in her room on the thirteenth floor, Audrey notices the faint but continuously playing background music which she cannot quite place. Investigation of the thirteenth floor only creeps her out with its chilliness and vacant rooms. In the morning Daniel comes to Audrey's room. She learns that he received an invitation to the ballroom party but hasn't gone yet. Instead, he spent the night with a beautiful but strange blonde girl, walking the hallways of the Ruby. That girl turns out to be Catherine, Elias's friend. At breakfast Audrey notices her father looking markedly better. Unexpectedly, he decides they will stay another two nights. As they are eating breakfast Audrey suddenly sees their waitress, Tanya, with blood oozing from her side. The vision is only momentary but very upsetting to Audrey who quickly brushes it off as her imagination. Later on Audrey meets up with Elias who convinces her to let him show her around the Ruby.

During their tour, Elias is vague about why he is staying at the Ruby. When they meet Daniel in the lobby, he complains that he can't get a cellphone signal. They also meet the housekeeper, Lourdes Fuller, who has just returned from leave. Lourdes is upset that Elias has taken Audrey to the basement, fearing that this will make Kenneth, who is in charge of the Ruby, angry and that she will be punished again. Lourdes seems upset when she learns where Audrey's room is located. Lourdes takes Audrey back upstairs and invites her to a party on the rooftop of the pool to celebrate her return to the Ruby.

At dinner that night, Audrey notes the remarkable change in her father. "His wavy salt-and-pepper hair is tamed with gel or mousse, making it flat and old-fashioned. He's clean-shaven, rosy cheeked. But strangest of all, he's interested in our lives again." Her father informs them that he has now "received an invitation to the party in the ballroom tonight."  Daniel plans to attend the party that night, but Audrey cannot as she still does not have an invite. The family dinner does not go well however when her father brings up Audrey's irresponsible behaviour that led to her and Daniel being sent away for the summer. Audrey and Daniel leave with Audrey going to the rooftop party with Lourdes. Many of the Ruby's staff are in attendance including the waitress, Tanya, the valet, Jerome, Joshua and also Elias. When she suggests that Elias skip the ballroom party, Tanya reminds Elias that there are rules they must follow to avoid being punished. Elias promises to meet Audrey after the party.

Lourdes tells Audrey the story of the Ruby and the fire that destroyed the ballroom on its first anniversary, killing sixty-seven guest who were locking in the ballroom to prevent the fire from spreading. The hotel was rebuilt and "In honor of those who perished, the Hotel Ruby holds a party every night in that ballroom." At the party Audrey learns that the workers have house rules: "No talk of work in the off-hours,...no talk of Kenneth, no talk of our lives outside of the Ruby." 

The group decides to initiate Audrey by scaring her with talk of ghosts and taking her to the memorial buried deep in the forest surrounding the Ruby. After the scary situation, Audrey notices her arm hurts again but she refuses to take the pills Lourdes gives her. Instead Audrey goes to the lobby and confronts Kenneth about not having an invitation to the party. He tells her to get some rest and then points out the bleeding gash on her forehead. Completely freaked by this, Audrey notices she can barely walk and sees the blood on the handkerchief. But once in the elevator, her head looks fine. This event completely unsettles Audrey.

The next morning at breakfast Audrey's father apologizes for his behaviour at dinner the night before and tries to assure her that things are now going to be fine. He tells Audrey that Daniel was also at the party but didn't want to be there and left early with Catherine. Daniel arrives for breakfast, disheveled and in obvious pain. He tells Audrey he blacked out after leaving the party and he now feels like his head is split in two. When Audrey looks at him, she is horrified at what she sees. Neither Daniel nor her father see what Audrey sees, further upsetting her. This experience along with her seeing Tanya bleeding from her side leave Audrey now questioning what exactly is going on. Little does she know the reality of what has happened to her and her family and what the Hotel Ruby really is.

Discussion

Hotel Ruby is a novel with a fascinating premise that almost works except for the fact that the clues to the mystery of the hotel and to what is happening to the Audrey and her family are easy to discover. The Casella family is struggling to deal with the death of their mother and wife; both children are acting out and their father is unable to function as a parent and therefore provide a base for them. Instead of seeking help, the father decides to place the children with their grandmother but nothing is revealed about what he plans for himself. On the trip to the grandmother's home, he crashes the car, fatally wounding everyone.

This sets the stage for the family to enter the Hotel Ruby, by all appearances a normal hotel but one with a ghastly history; the deaths of dozens of people deliberately sacrificed to save the hotel during a terrible fire. In fact, the Ruby is haunted by those who died during the fire of 1937. Even worse, the ghosts who work in the hotel are controlled by a very evil ghost, Kenneth, who runs the Ruby on their plane of existence and who has the power to punish them by returning them to the state they were in just before they died. While everyone else is willing to go along with this, the rebellious character of Audrey leads her to push back against Kenneth.

Unlike her brother and father, Audrey is not yet dead, existing on thirteenth floor, able to interact with the ghosts and able to see the living. However, Audrey doesn't remember the accident and believes that they are all alive and have simply stopped at the Hotel Ruby. As time passes, through Audrey's narration, astute readers begin to pick up on the many clues that are peppered throughout the front of the novel as to what really happens at Hotel Ruby.

The hints start early, when the Casella's arrive at the hotel on their journey to Elko. Audrey notices immediately that "There's a haggard desk attendant in the corner, tapping the computer keys while he surfs the Internet. He doesn't even life his head to acknowledge us. I clear my throat to get his attention, but when he still doesn't respond, I sigh..." This seems to suggest that the attendant doesn't actually see Audrey and her family.

The concierge hints that people rarely check out of the hotel suggesting it is something other than what it appears to be. This is also echoed by Joshua at the rooftop party when he states, "At the Ruby...where you can stay tonight. Or stay forever." These hints continue as Audrey is separated from her father and Daniel, in a room on the thirteenth floor - floor that often isn't acknowledged in hotels. The hotel does not seem to have clocks and they are unable to get cell service despite seeing others use their phones.

Audrey also begins experiencing various unexplained transient physical problems. When she gets out of bed the first morning she notes that her "ankle buckles under my weigh, and I stagger back onto the bed." Her arm begins to hurt at the rooftop party,"an ache starts in my arm, deep in the bone." Kenneth reveals to her the bloody gash on her head. She also begins seeing terrible wounds on various people; first her waitress,Tanya, who has a bloody spot on her side and then her brother Daniel, who has a ghastly head wound. Strangely Audrey never mentions these sights to anyone - even her family.

However, the single most important clue involves the invitation to the party in the ballroom. It's not subtle at all. First Daniel, then Audrey's father receive invitations to the ballroom. These invitations really mean they have died. Audrey has not received an invitation and when she presses Kenneth for one he tells her that only the hotel can get her one.

The assignment of their hotel rooms also foretells each of their fates: Daniel and their father are placed on the sixth floor indicating that they were close to death when they checked into the Hotel Ruby. Audrey however, is placed on the thirteenth floor where surviving souls eventually return to the living.

The reality of Hotel Ruby is revealed in Chapter 17 when Audrey finds herself dying on the road two miles from the Ruby. she realizes she has been in a car accident and becomes determined to save her father and Daniel. However, once back in the Ruby she comes to learn that this is impossible.

Eventually she does receive an invitation leading Lourdes to explain what is happening. "Your body is dying, and if you die here, you stay here forever. You'll be trapped in the Ruby with us. The invitation is symbolic. It's letting go." However, readers will already know this - Lourdes is merely confirming their understanding.

Tanya tells her that because she hasn't yet used her invitation, Audrey can still return home. She can live, but living will mean leaving Daniel and her father here to live on a different plane of reality under Kenneth's tyranny. Tanya tells her she and her sister experienced the same situation and that Daniel will understand if Audrey leaves.This leads Audrey to sacrifice her chance to live in order to help her family and those at the Ruby. She decides she doesn't want her life. To Audrey, staying at the Ruby with her brother and her father offer her the chance to be a family again and to heal from the loss of her mother. She feels her life is irretrievably broken, filled with guilt over falling out of love with her boyfriend Ryan and grief over her mother, Helen's sudden death at age forty-three. Audrey believes Hotel Ruby offers her hope.

"My father waits with Daniel, both looking heart-broken. Despite that, seeing them together overwhelms me with a sense of hope. Hope for us. Now that Kenneth is gone, there is no fear. I have my family. Those words are everything: I have my family."

The wealth of hints leads to a climax that is less than exciting; Audrey faces a choice that will either lead her to reclaim her life or to follow her family into eternity at the Ruby. In some ways, the ending was disappointing and depressing. A young girl so overwhelmed with the death of her mother and then the death of her father and brother, chooses reject all the possibilities a full life might give her and to die. She sees no hope in living instead finding hope in being a ghost trapped in a hotel, attending a party in perpetuity. What kind of existence is this?

Although Hotel Ruby is not as suspenseful as one might wish for, the novel is engaging, beginning with its appealing cover and the interesting hook to draw readers in. Recommended for younger teens who like a light paranormal novel.

Book Details:

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young
New York: Simon Pulse 2015
281 pp.

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