Sunday, March 8, 2015

Book Review: Remember Me Like This - Bret Anthony Johnston

 A gripping novel with the pace of a thriller but the nuanced characterization and deep empathy of some of the literary canon’s most beloved novels, Remember Me Like This introduces Bret Anthony Johnston as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today. With his sophisticated and emotionally taut plot and his shimmering prose, Johnston reveals that only in caring for one another can we save ourselves.

Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.

Then, one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away, in the neighboring town, and, most important, he appears to be fine. Though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears—and offers perhaps the only hope for recovery—each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.

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I won this book from Goodreads. I'm very picky about books that I pick out for "pleasure reading" and I don't think that this would have been a first pick for me. However, after two days of staring at it's cover from where it sat in the floor next to my couch, I picked it up and thought I'd casually read a chapter while waiting on dinner to cook. Thanks to Bret Anthony Johnston, dinner almost burned. I was hooked from the very beginning. 

As a writer, one of the first things I notice when reading a book is the writing style. Johnston's style reminded me of a mix between Gillian Flynn and maybe John Grisham? It's honestly hard to put Johnston in a box with other authors that I've read. I really liked how well he painted the Texas shore town of Corpus Christi and how he developed the characters. 

I will say that if you read the reviews on Goodreads like I did after I read the book, you might see some disappointed readers. I *HATE* to be one of those people that says, "Well, you just didn't get it," but in this case, I really can't help it. If you think that this book is going to give you gory details about the abuse and relationship this missing child had with his captor, keep moving. Don't even waste your time flipping through the pages of this book. Remember Me Like This is not a story of abuse and torture ripped from the headlines. It will leave you with several questions about Justin and what happened to him. And if you just HAVE to have a gory detail, well, Johnston does a good job of alluding to what happened towards the end of the book. 

The point of this book is not about Justin, the missing boy. It's not about his time away from his family for four years. It's not about what happened to him during those four years. It's not even about HIM when he comes home. It's about the lives around him that were affected by his disappearance. It's about how his parents' marriage fell apart after he disappeared. It's about how his little brother spent four years lying to the police and his parents and blaming himself for his brother being gone. It's about his father losing himself in an affair in order to get his mind off of his missing child. It's about a grandfather who feels like he's failed his family. 

Until I read this book I've honestly never thought about what the families of kidnapped children go through. Like most people, I focus on what the media puts out about the kidnap suspects and the details of what happened to the child. And of course, I feel happy and excited when a child is actually returned home. But I have never once thought about how those families carry on their day-to-day lives all while wondering where their missing child is. I've never once thought about how difficult it might be to adjust to having that child back home. Until reading Remember Me Like This, I always thought that the happy ending was just that; happy. I never thought that maybe it wasn't that simple. 

A lot of the reviews I've read about this book really ripped it apart because even though Johnston gives you the point of view of all of the other family members in Justin's life, you never get to see his point of view. That reason is one of the biggest reasons why I loved this book. By focusing on Justin and the events surrounding him, you lose the point of the story; the family. They're too scared to ask why he came home with a limp or how he overcame his fear of snakes. They don't want to think about what terrible things he might have gone through while he was gone for four years. They are scared if they ask him too many questions he might disappear again. And that, in my opinion, is what Johnston wants you to feel with this story. He wants you to feel like you're walking on eggshells when Justin is in the scene. He wants you to feel the tension between him and the rest of  family. He wants you to feel their uneasiness and guilt. 

I highly recommend Remember Me Like This if you are interested in reading a story about the effects having a child kidnapped can leave on parents and their other child and grandparents. Johnston's writing evokes several emotions all at once that give you that same mixed up feeling that Justin's family has while trying to adjust to having someone they missed for four years entering back into their lives. His writing gives you that same sick, nervousness that his parents walk around with because they once thought that their son might have actually been dead. Just keep in mind that sometimes a happy ending isn't always happy....

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