In The Reminders, Val Emmich’s debut novel, we meet Gavin Winters, a police detective on a TV series, and a man mourning the loss of his partner Syd. In an excess of grief, he tries to burn all the things that remind him of his grief, nearly burning his house down. He flees to stay with his friends, the couple that set him up with Syd. There he meets their daughter Joan Lennon Sully, a ten year-old girl with highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) which means that, she remembers every detail of everything she experiences. Her memories are everlasting. Gavin finds comfort in her memories of Syd, bringing him alive in vivid detail.
For Joan, life is not going the way she wants. Her musician father is shutting down his studio, giving up his career for more stable work. She is also troubled by her grandmother’s death and the loss of her memories to Alzheimers. She is concerned with being forgotten so decides to write a hit song, win a songwriting concert, and be remembered forever like her hero John Lennon. Gavin used to write songs with her father and she proposes they team up.
In a profound way, the two of them help heal each other. It’s a moving story, full of warmth and humor.
I enjoyed Val Emmich’s The Reminders. It made me laugh. It is easy to like. Although it’s considered adult fiction, it feels like young adult to me, there a lightness and a resistance to going too deep that make it enjoyable, but less meaningful. This is a book about grief, but when the grief becomes too painful, the story shifts. It is told in alternating chapters by Gavin and Joan.
Joan is adorably literal. She’s smarter than the average ten year-old, but then she does have a superior memory. She is realistic in many ways, not able to effectively express her emotions, trying to fix things with magical thinking–such as the idea that winning a songwriting contest will solve everything.
Gavin is more complex. He is grieving and while Joan is giving him new memories of his lost love, her memories reveal that Syd was hiding something from him. Is he mourning someone who lied to him? With Joan, he explores the past and finds out how deep and lasting love can be.
I love that this story explores friendship, an adult/child friendship that is kind and pure. Gavin’s grief is realistic, and his efforts to work through it, the swings into despair are real. There’s real wisdom in The Reminders, wisdom about memory, loss, and grief. It’s a book full of love.
The Reminders will be released on May 30th. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.