I’m not sure how to write this opening paragraph only to say that this soulful book sucked me right in. If you want to know more, read on.
How We Remember* by J.M. Monaco begins with Jo O’Brien returning home after her mother’s death. She is shocked to learn of a large inheritance but also the fact that her mother kept a diary. When Jo begins to read her mother’s diary, her dark family secrets come to light once more.
There are a number of different themes in this book: Italian/Irish immigrants, alcoholism and working-class families. These themes were all very interesting and added something special to the overall story. However, the theme of mental health was the big draw for me. How We Remember touches on depression, anxiety and bipolar among other areas of mental health and does so in a tasteful and, more importantly, a realistic manner. Through Jo and some other central characters like her brother and father, we see the many ups and downs somebody living with a mental illness can go through. My pet peeve with some books writing on the topic is that mental illness can be easily cured and very often on the first try. That is not always the case and this book showed that. I especially liked the message that you shouldn’t give up if your first experience with a therapist is a bad one.
How We Remember is mostly focused on Jo and we are provided with snippets of her life from her childhood until the present day (I think she is in her 50s somewhere). Jo’s life certainly alternates between darkness and light. What I liked most about how the author presented this is that she doesn’t dramatise the events by inserting various twists and turns and she doesn’t undermine the low points by concluding them with happy outcomes. This is a no-frills story, a simple story of a person’s life but still is one that engrosses the reader. I liked that it was realistic in Jo’s feelings and coping mechanisms. Similarly with her brother Dave who suffers from bipolar and manic episodes throughout the book. It was particularly interesting to see how he dealt with the hand life had thrown him.
Of course, when a book touches on areas like these it can be tough on the reader and there certainly are points in How We Remember that are hard to read. I would actually say that the bright cover is somewhat deceiving because this book is much deeper than it implies. Yet, on the other hand, this book has an underlying feeling of hope and the possibility to change your life for the better or, at the very least, have some sort of acceptance for the past. This theme is hidden at first but is there and brings a more heartfelt element to the story.
If you are looking for a book that is filled with rainbows and unicorns then How We Remember is not the book for you. However, if you appreciate a well-written story about normal people with flaws that hold them back, this is a wonderful choice.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.