Memory has always been a powerful but fragile device—capable of transporting us to the past on the one hand, but notoriously unreliable on the other. Those quirks are what drive THE REMINDERS, Val Emmich’s delightful debut—about a man desperate to forget and a little girl who can’t forget.
Gavin Winters is burning through his memories—literally. The sudden death of his partner has left him bereft, so he decides to toss Sydney’s belongings into a bonfire as a last ditch effort to destroy painful reminders.
On the other side of the continent, in New Jersey, 10-year-old Joan Lennon Sully has a rare brain condition which renders her incapable of forgetting. She remembers every detail of every day of her life — the specific date (and its day of the week), a specific time, who was wearing what, who said what, and who did what. Joan cannot NOT remember.
Remarkable memories have problems all their own. For one, Joan can never wear the exact outfit twice — memories of the first wearing will take over. Nor can she understand why others have trouble remembering. That was especially true of her grandmother who, before she died, forgot who Joan was.
This is Joan’s deepest fear: not to be remembered. So she needs to do something — one big thing — that will make her famous, as famous as her namesake and favorite musician John Lennon. Then no one will be able to forget her, ever. That “big thing” would be a song, a brilliant one. She will write it and enter it into a contest she saw advertised in a New York paper.
In the meantime, Gavin decides to escape both his memories and California by visiting Joan’s parents in New Jersey … change of scenery and all that. But what Gavin didn’t count on was Joan with her prodigious memory. Nor did he count on the unlikely bond the two would develop.
Too young to understand Gavin’s grief, Joan can’t contain herself. Her memories of meeting Sydney spill out as soon as Gavin arrives. At first he is reluctant to listen; after all he’s trying to put some distance between himself and his memories. But amazed by Joan’s uncanny recall, Gavin is gradually drawn in. Soon he demands every detail of the times Sydney visited the family. Joan agrees — but on one condition: Gavin must help her write the song.
So begins their partnership, which is at the heart of this charming novel. Gavin will learn things which are at odds with what he thought he knew about Sydney. He, in turn will share his own memories with Joan — of New York and John Lennon’s haunts in particular. Through it all, intriguing questions about the nature of memory and its role in our lives crop up over and over.
The real star of the novel, though, is Joan. Every other chapter is hers to tell, and Emmich does a terrific job of honing in on her voice: precocious, inquisitive, and insightful but falling wide the mark. She understands everything but reaches the wrong conclusions — just what you’d expect of any 10-year-old no matter how smart. Joan is a funny, delightful creation. She makes the book doubly worthwhile.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.