Ruth is Susie's age, fourteen, when Susie dies. She and Susie had recently become friends, connecting over Ruth's art. Ruth is ghost-Susie's Earthly counterpart. Susie wishes she were alive and is constantly pressing against the Inbetween, trying to break through to Earth. Ruth, would prefer to be on the other side of the divide and is pressing on the Inbetween from the opposite direction.
Ruth sees the dark side of Earthly life. She isn't suicidal, but she sees Earth as place with more bad than good. After Susie dies, she tells Ray, "Well, as my dad would say, it means she's out of this shithole" (6.119). Does Ruth change her opinion of Earth by the end of the novel? What do you think?
Ruth and Susie were developing a friendship on Earth, but their relationship intensifies when Susie dies. Susie touches Ruth's shoulder when she's escaping Mr. Harvey to the afterlife. Ruth sees her, and it changes her life forever. She becomes obsessed with Susie and with women and girls who died of violent crimes. She also turns to vegetarianism, instantly drawing parallels between Susie's slaughter and the slaughter of animals. Her obsession with Susie transforms her art. Before Susie's death, she focused on drawing. Afterwards, however, she gets into poetry and journal writing.
Ruth becomes a memorialist, a chronicler of what's been hidden or forgotten. She sees New York City as a map of the dead – one which needs to be charted, recorded, and remembered. This devotion is what makes her a superstar in heaven, where the victims of the crimes Ruth discovers watch her like an afternoon soap. This is what makes her welcome in heaven. It gives her the unique privilege of going to heaven and giving talks before she dies. Her generosity in loaning Susie her body also rates big applause among the inhabitants of Susie's heaven.
Ruth is also something of a ringer for her author. Like Alice Sebold, she dresses all in black, is pale, slender, and left her suburban home for New York City upon graduating high school. Like Sebold, Ruth is inspired to beautiful, terrible art by the very persuasive ghost of Susie Salmon. Like Sebold, Ruth feels like a total alien growing up in the suburbs, and like Sebold, she can't get away from it fast enough. Sebold writes,
Who would have thought that the place I most despised growing up - where I felt like the weirdest freak and the biggest loser - would turn out to be a gift to me. (source)
Like Ruth, Sebold must return, at least in imagination, and she must chronicle what she learns.
"I'll make you a deal," Ruth said. "You can pretend I'm Susie and I will too." (16.28)
Ruth is still in the process of forging a sexual identity. The unique bond between Ray, Susie, and Ruth make for an interesting love triangle. Ruth and Ray practice kiss, even though they claim not to be interested in each other romantically. Ray is still in love with Susie, and Ruth might or might not prefer women to men, or she might be bisexual. Susie and Ruth are little ambiguous on this point. Susie says,
It was not so much, she would write in her journals, that she wanted to have sex with women, but that she wanted to disappear inside them forever, to hide. (10.26)
We aren't exactly sure what Ruth is hiding from, other than the general horror or the world, or if she ever does have a sexual relationship with a woman. It's hinted that she and Ray continue their sexual relationship, or, perhaps, that both of them simply have their eyes open to the healing properties of sex, which Susie (and Marvin Gaye) are both so big on.