The Reminders by Val Emmich

You know I hate the term ‘quirky’, right? Anyway, The Reminders by Val Emmich is an quirky off-beat story – not as mad as something like The Portable Veblen but certainly a little odd.

Ten-year-old Joan Lennon Sully has an amazing gift – HSAM (highly superior autobiographical memory). She remembers everything that has happened to her in detail. However, Joan knows that most people don’t have a memory like hers and after watching her grandma suffer from Alzheimer’s, she understands what it means to forget –

Grandma Joan had to throw me out of her brainbox so she could have enough room for the lyrics to all her favourite songs. She remembered those until the day she died (Saturday, October 8, 2011).

Joan wants to be unforgettable and believes that the answer is in music and in particular, in writing the wining song for the local ‘Next Great Songwriter Contest’.

To win the contest I’ll need a song that can make people want to dance or cry. Those are the two strongest feelings music can give you. When people dance they forget and when they cry they remember.

But Joan needs a partner, which is where family friend, Gavin Winters, comes in. Gavin, an actor, is grief-stricken over his partner Syd’s death and having fled Hollywood, he takes refuge with the Sully’s in New Jersey. However, Gavin doesn’t factor in the bitter-sweetness of Joan’s memories of Syd –

“Why did you want to burn Sydney’s things?”
“Because it’s too painful to remember.”
“…Then why are you here now? Why are you talking to me?”
“Because it’s even more painful to forget.”

The pair strike a deal – in return for sharing her memories, Gavin will help Joan with the song writing contest.

The story is told in the alternating voices of Joan and Gavin (including sweet little line drawings from Joan’s journal) and Emmich creates distinct and endearing characters in each.  Although the tone occasionally wavered into the saccharine stuff you find in YA, Emmich’s charming Joan keeps you reading.

The gentle exploration of grief in its numerous forms (through Gavin, through Joan and through Joan’s father who is giving up his own career dreams) is quite lovely. Of course, it’s also a book about memory and, particularly through Joan’s thoughts about her grandma and the meaning of music, the themes become intertwined.

Music features heavily in the book so I was pleased to discover that Emmich has a Reminders playlist. And he also recorded Joan and Gavin’s song – isn’t that spectacular?

3/5 Does that ‘happy sad’ thing very well.

I received my copy of The Reminders from the publisher, Little, Brown & Company, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

We sit on the curb with our massive sandwiches… A Fat Darrell for me and a Fat Sal for her. There can be no doubt – we’ll be sick if we finish these sandwiches. Also true – we will finish them.

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