The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Janie's son Noah is an unusual child. He is four years old and refuses to bathe. Not just the usual temper tantrums either, but full-fledged terror-filled panic attacks. She does her best to keep him clean with hand sanitizer and diaper wipes, but that only goes so far. Then his preschool/daycare calls her in to let her know they are going to call child protective services because of some of the stories he's been telling them, and she has to explain that ever since he learned to talk, he's told stories of places he's never been, people he's never known, and about things he's never seen. Every night, like clockwork, her sweet boy has nightmares where he begs and pleads to "go home" and wants to be with his "other mother."
Janie is exhausted, frustrated, broke, and in despair. She has taken Noah to an endless series of doctors and psychiatrists, and the only diagnosis they can come up with is schizophrenia. In desperation, she contacts a doctor she would otherwise consider a loony-tunes quack, Dr. Jerome Anderson, whose life's work has been to document cases of children remembering past lives and past traumas. Janie doesn't know it, but Dr. Anderson has been diagnosed with aphasia--he's losing the ability to speak and remember words--and he needs one last case in order to publish his book before he's too far gone to write. Or care.
They embark on a journey that upends Janie's worldview and alters the lives of two families.
It took me a couple of chapters to really get into the story and figure out what was going on, but once I did, I was hooked. Haunted, really, and not in the "scary-ghost" sense of the word, but in the "can't-stop-thinking-about-it-long-after-lunch-breaks-ended" sort of way. Reincarnation isn't a new idea, but this novel had me thinking about the possibility in an entirely new light. Hoping, in fact, that it might be true, and that these reborn souls might be able to bring peace to themselves and their previous families if we would just listen and help reunite them.
The intense, palpable pain and despair felt by each and every character broke my heart--even the killer's. I'm amazed that Ms. Guskin managed to make the book feel ultimately hopeful, given all that anguish and loss. It struck me that not a single character seemed to have a support network of any type--no really close friends, family, or faith community to rely on in any way. I think that fact is crucial to the story; if any one person had been less lonely, isolated, or in the depths of despair, I think the novel would have collapsed or at least gone in a different direction.
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. There are some crude situations and language, including some profanity and teen drug use. There is also love that survives anything, even death.
My thanks to Bookbrowse.com for the free advanced reading copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.
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