Remember Me Like This

Bret Anthony Johnston's Remember Me Like This is a staggeringly empathetic novel about a south Texas family's efforts to re-forge their optimism and unity after the return of a long-missing child. Justin Campbell's parents, younger brother and grandfather have all but mourned him for the four years after his abduction. Although Justin's homecoming at the age of 15 brings joy and relief, it cannot instantly make him or his family whole.

With great insight and delicacy, Johnston (Corpus Christi) shows how each family member monitors Justin while simultaneously struggling with his or her own adjustment to the "façade of normalcy," a process made more difficult when the legal process fails to protect them from further psychological torment. Mercifully, Johnston avoids tragedy voyeurism by presenting the details of the crime in oblique shards and by emphasizing the family's forward-moving emotional resolve over its painful history.

Johnston invests the scenes of the Campbells' lives on a small island off the coast of Corpus Christi with so much hue, richness and galvanizing conflict that the novel comes across as a lyrical counterpunch to the assault of abduction. There are Shrimporees and family barbecues, a treasured skateboard terrain, a compelling assortment of family pets, earnest conversations in trucks, shifts at a dolphin rescue center, escapist afternoons, grandfatherly pawn shop wisdom, marital rapprochements and unhackneyed teenage courtship.

The last quarter of Remember Me Like This accelerates some surprising plot elements without sacrificing poignancy. And though the epilogue's twist might have been more effective if integrated into the body of the novel, its cathartic power remains irresistible. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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