Achingly sweet and unexpectedly nuanced, Emmich’s clever debut follows the unlikely bond between a grief-stricken actor and a gifted 10-year-old girl in Jersey City.
Joan Lennon Sully is a 10-year-old with a startling gift: she can remember, in exacting detail, everything that’s ever happened to her. She knows how many times her mother has said “it never fails” in the past six months; she remembers the date and reason for every time she’s ever cried (Wednesday, March 25, 2009: the day Pepper was put to sleep; Wednesday, May 15, 2013: the day Mrs. Dresden called time on a test before she was finished). But she knows most people do not have her memory; most people, she understands, forget things, and Joan Lennon does not want to be forgotten. So when she spots an ad in the paper for “The Next Great Songwriter Contest,” she sees her answer: a good song is like a permanent reminder, she reasons. If she can win the Next Great Songwriter Contest with a Joan Lennon original, then she’ll never be forgotten. She just needs to find the right collaborator—and that’s where Gavin Winters comes in. An old friend of Joan’s parents, Gavin is a successful actor in Los Angeles overwhelmed with grief after his partner Sydney’s sudden death. After he has a very public breakdown (fire was involved), Joan’s parents invite Gavin to take refuge with them in New Jersey, where he and Joan strike up an unusual deal: he’ll help Joan with her song if, in return, Joan will recount her memories of Sydney, snapshots from his few visits to the family over the past several years. But what starts as a source of comfort for Gavin takes an unsettling turn when Joan unknowingly reveals details that force Gavin to contemplate the possibility that Sydney may have been keeping secrets of his own. Overwhelmingly tender, sometimes verging on saccharine, the novel gets by on its profoundly likable pair of leading characters: what the book lacks in bite, it makes up for in charm.
Heartfelt and charming; a book that goes down easy.