“That’s how it is with people’s brains. There’s only enough room for the most important memories and the rest gets thrown away.”
Joan Lennon Sully is a ten year old girl, normal in every way except one. She was born with a rare ability to remember most days of her life. It isn’t photographic memory where she can recall every little thing. But most memories and days are as easy to recall in her mind as playing a video on YouTube. Her dad is a musician and her mom is a teacher, and to Joan, nothing is more important than writing a song so that the world remembers her the way she remembers the world. That and saving the family studio.
Gavin Winters is a long-time family friend to the Sully family. When tragedy strikes his partner, all Gavin wants to do is burn everything that reminds him of Sydney. So he does. In the backyard. In front of the entire country.
Needing an escape, he flees across the country and finds refuge with the Sully’s. But refuge isn’t exactly what Gavin thought it would be. Because he finds that while he wants nothing more than to forget everything about Sydney, he also can’t stand how much he misses him. So when Joan offers him a bargain, her memories for his song-writing help, an alliance is born.
“And I hardly noticed that somewhere along the line, I had adopted a trusted sidekick.”
I cannot capture how much I loved this novel. It is so sweet and heartfelt and genuine. I was moved to tears multiple times by the raw honesty that Emmich captures in his characters. Parents struggling to find their way, not just as parents but as adults moving through their careers and life. A little girl trying to figure out how to fit in when her ability makes it so hard. And a man, struggling through the pain and heartache of grief, so intense you feel the loss of his partner in every page.
As Gavin relives each Sydney experience through Joan, he also faces a hard truth. What if his quest for more uncovers something he doesn’t want to know? Grief takes us on strange journeys. We want to relive our memories, and hear everything everyone has to say. But at the same time, we want to close that piece of ourselves off, because it’s too painful, too big, too hard.
“He seldom opened his mouth at home and yet he managed to take so much sound with him when he died.”
People in our lives leave so much more than a physical absence when they die. They close the door to possibility. This sentence to me is so bittersweet and beautiful, because it captures that gaping hole and the silent slam of that door. No more will he walk in the room, or answer the phone, or snore. The emptiness isn’t only emotional, it’s visceral and physical and real.
But rather than end up with a novel that is heavy with grief, Emmich added Joan. Her chapters are full of the vibrancy that a ten year child would have. She is smart and capable and so funny.
“I’m learning that when Gavin says something nice, there’s always something else that comes after it, so I think from now on, I need to listen to only the first thing he says and then quickly run out of the room.”
Her sharp observations about what adults do will have you laughing, not just at her, but often at yourself. It is this exact vibrancy that Gavin sees and can’t stay away from. She is his gateway to a view of Sydney no one else can give him, but she is also a window into the world beyond grief. She helps bring him back to life and reminds him that life does go on.
The blend between aching grief and lighthearted tenderness is so well done. Everything is this book is so raw and honest, and yet written in such a way that you find yourself smiling throughout, even in the hardest moments.
My other favorite thing about this book is that it isn’t cynical or bitter. That isn’t to say that Emmich doesn’t dive into some deep topics, or that he shies away from exploring heavy emotion. But it is so well balanced that you don’t feel burdened or bought down by it. After reading several thrillers, this book was exactly what I needed, and I am so happy I got to know Joan and Gavin.
Ok, so I lied, I actually have another favorite thing: the music. Watching the lyrics to the song Gavin and Joan write together was amazing to read. And to get the different perspectives and thoughts on music and how it impacts our lives was so interesting.
Gavin’s struggle is one that is more relatable on the surface, grief has impacted us all on some level in our lives. But even Joan is written so well that her struggles becomes easy to identify with as well. Joan’s memory makes her stand apart, and while people think that she’s special, this ability actually makes her life difficult. She takes memory incredibly personally and gets frustrated that people don’t remember things as vividly as she does, if they remember the event at all. And this is what makes music so important to Joan. The fact that it makes people memorable. It’s long lasting and survives the frailty of people’s memories.
“To win the contest I’ll need a song that 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.”
She is terrified that she’ll be forgotten, and to her, that is the worst fate.
The author, Val Emmich, is actually a musician, and you can feel and hear that throughout the novel. He even wrote the actual song that Gavin and Joan write. If you listen to the audio version, you get to hear it. And no worries! If audio books aren’t your thing, you can find it HERE Listening to the song makes the book come alive in such a beautiful way, I encourage everyone to listen after they’ve finished!
This was easily the most beautiful book I’ve read in 2017. It is tender and loving and so full of life, these adjectives simply can’t do it justice. I really think this is a book that will find it’s way into your heart and you won’t regret reading it!
Thank you so much to Little, Brown for hosting the contest to chat with the author! I won and that interview, along with a chance to win an awesome prize, will be up SOON!!!!!! Stay tuned…..