I Remember You: A Review

I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt BellLucas and Juliet have nothing in common. Juliet is an overachiever who, even as a junior, already has plans for college and law school. Lucas knows that at the end of his senior year he will enlist in the Marines–just like his father and countless other relatives.

Still, Juliet finds herself drawn to Lucas even as common sense tells her she should be afraid. Despite just meeting, just starting to know each other, Lucas says he remembers their entire relationship from their first kiss to their first fight and even how they break up.

Juliet doesn’t know if she should be more worried about Lucas or herself when she starts to believe him. As they grow closer, Lucas’ memories begin to come with more frequency and much more foreboding. Juliet wants desperately to keep Lucas safe with her in the present but she doesn’t know how to do that when she has already lost him in the future in I Remember You (2015) by Cathleen Davitt Bell.

I Remember You sounds like a fantasy. It is not. Instead I Remember You reads superficially as a contemporary romance with one (supposedly though with no explanation given) supernatural element. Except it’s technically historical because most of the book is set in 1994. (It becomes clear early on that Juliet is relating past events from a point in the future as an adult which also raises questions about whether this book even is YA in the truest sense but that’s a different discussion.)

Upon closer reading, the problems in I Remember You begin to mount. A lot of how readers react to I Remember You depends on how they feel about Juliet and Lucas (both separately and as a couple).

Working from the initial fact that Lucas and Juliet have nothing in common beyond proximity in Physics class (the only class they have together since the rest of Juliet’s schedule consists of Honors classes), it’s incredibly hard to believe these two characters would ever embark on a relationship, let alone an epic one that seems poised to defy time and space. This uncertainty about the two main characters ever connecting casts the entire initial premise of the book in doubt but if you can get past it, then maybe this book will work for you.

That is assuming you can also get past the fact that when Juliet and Lucas first begin to talk, Juliet is afraid of him. It’s important to point out that Juliet is also drawn to Lucas and there is definitely mutual attraction. But the key point here is that Juliet is afraid of Lucas when he starts to talk about remembering their relationship. If you can get past fear being as key to this relationship as attraction, then maybe this book will work for you.

Plot-wise, I Remember You is going to be familiar because it reads like countless other romantic first love stories.

Character-wise, there are also a lot of familiar faces. Juliet is the calm, focused, over-achiever-with-her-eye-on-the-prize. Lucas is the jock with a surprising amount of depth but also the boy who is going to leave everything behind to enlist. Add to the mix a single mother (Juliet’s), a disillusioned father and harried mother (Lucas’s) and you start to check off a lot of character archetypes.

Juliet’s best friend Rosemary also features. Rosemary–sometimes Rose–is gorgeous and she knows it. She also uses it at every opportunity to manipulate men (men because she is 16 and dating college students) to give her gifts and adoration. Rosemary’s outlook on life seems to be “love ’em and leave ’em” which would not raise any eyebrows if she were a boy and it is an interesting choice here. Except it all leads to rather disastrous consequences for Rosemary (and Lucas and Juliet) as one relationship escalates into stalking territory. Furthermore, without actually discussing that Rosemary is trying to parlay her looks into agency the entire thing falls flat and we are instead left with a one-note character who is manipulative and often quite mean.

Then we have Lucas’ best friend Dexter. Poor, hapless Dexter with his sad, hopeless crush on Rosemary. Dexter is used and abused in this story when he appears seemingly out of nowhere so that Rosemary will have a new guy to chew up and spit out. Dexter is shy. He has bad hair and he wears baggy clothes. He is also almost certainly white. Dexter eventually gets his day which comes in the form of a good haircut that highlights his inherent good looks. So far so good. Then Juliet says the haircut makes people notice things about Dexter including the fact that he has cheekbones like a Lenape warrior. There is no scenario in which that description can be interpreted as anything but the worst kind of cultural appropriation.

In addition to these problems, I Remember You often handles the fact of Lucas’ imminent enlistment very poorly. Juliet never truly accepts that being a Marine is something Lucas very deeply wants and not something he is being forced into. (There is a hint of familial obligation here since Lucas likely wants to gain approval from his father. But at the same time Lucas has two younger brothers who do not seem to share his aspirations so maybe there isn’t that much familial pressure after all?)

Later in the novel, Juliet describes herself as a pacifist. She goes on to talk about Lucas’ decision to enlist with what can only be called disdain. This disdain is especially troubling given the fact that the book has already established that Lucas is not as smart as Juliet (per their classes) and perhaps from the wrong side of the tracks (or at least the bad part of town).

Juliet’s friends are horrified by Lucas’ choice and have an even more pervasive dislike not only of him but perhaps the entire military as they clearly see Lucas (and by extension anyone who joins the military) as somehow lacking. Both viewpoints seemed reductive and distasteful. Is it not possible to be a pacifist while also holding at least some respect for our troops and the risks they take to protect our country?

In terms of unlikely romance, I Remember You is about as unlikely as it gets. I Remember You may appeal on a surface level to readers looking for a book to transition into YA as well as fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife or Nicholas Sparks. Readers who give their novels closer inspection may find more to fault than to praise.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, How to Love by Katie Cotungo, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West

The Impossible Knife of Memory: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse AndersonHayley and her father Andy have been on the road for the past five years. Sometimes riding in Andy’s rig. Sometimes laying low while Andy tries to hold down a job and Hayley does her version of homeschooling. But then everything stopped and Hayley has been moved back into a life she doesn’t want in a childhood home she refuses to remember.

Being home gives Hayley a chance at a normal life with friends and maybe even a boyfriend. Unfortunately the more the Hayley lets down her guard and allows herself to imagine a future, instead of living day-to-day, the more obvious it is that Andy is still haunted by memories of all the demons and friends he left behind after his last tour over seas. With monstrous memories looming for both of them, Hayley begins to wonder if having a normal life is something she and her father are even capable of in The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Hayley is an unreliable who lies both to the reader and herself as pieces of her past unfold in memories that cut like knives and unwanted visitors from her past. Slowly, with flashback-like memories from both Hayley and her father, the story of how they returned home unfolds. At the same time, Anderson manages to ground this book in the present with a fledgling romance and a grocery list of other problems that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, would feel trite as the perfect facades of Hayley’s friends also fall apart.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an interesting book. But it’s also an incredibly difficult read at times. My mother was very sick last year and it took a toll on both of us–so much so that, as I read this book, I saw much more of myself in Hayley than I would have liked. That said, Anderson’s writing is excellent and returns here to the quality found in Speak with the same surprises and another fresh, surprising narrator. Although Andy is deeply troubled it was also nice to see a parental figure in a book with genuine affection for his daughter and interest in her well-being–even if it is mostly mired in the hardships that come with dealing with his own psychological traumas.

On the outset The Impossible Knife of Memory sounds like an issue book with its focus on Hayley’s father’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anderson, however, brings her usual skill to this topic offering a well-rounded story that encompasses more than this one timely topic. I probably won’t re-read this book because of the personal slant that made it hard to read. I am actually painfully certain I don’t even want a copy in the house. That said, The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that is never heavy-handed or obnoxious. Instead Anderson offers an honest, unflinching portrayal of one family’s difficulties with PTSD as well as the promise of not just a way through but also even a chance at a happy ending.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut