I Know You Remember

I Know You Remember was written by Jennifer Donaldson and first published in 2019. It is a mystery novel which focuses on a teenage girl’s search for her missing best friend. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Following the death of her mother, Ruthie Hayden is forced to move to Alaska to live with her estranged father and his new family. Although she is not happy about this, the one thing that she is looking forward to is seeing her childhood best friend, Zahra Gaines, again. Although Zahra and Ruthie have grown apart over the years, Ruthie has nothing but fond memories of their childhood and the fantasy stories that they wrote together.

However, Ruthie arrives in Anchorage to learn something terrible. Zahra had a fight with her boyfriend and stormed out of a party three days previously, and no one has seen her since. As Ruthie tries to find out the truth about what happened that night from the people who were there, she starts to learn disquieting things about Zahra. Her friend is no longer the creative artist that she once was, instead having become an athletic, party girl with no interest in books.

Yet Ruthie’s investigation uncovers uncomfortable truths about her friend and it’s not long before she realises that Zahra hides a dark secret. Something has happened to her over the time that Ruthie has been gone, and that thing changed her forever. As Ruthie delves deeply into her best friend’s past, she finds that nothing is quite as it seems and learns that some truths are better left buried…

This review is likely to be a lot shorter than my usual ones, as I Know You Remember is one of those novels that it is difficult to talk about without spoiling everything. In fact, I’ve spent the last few days mulling over exactly what I want to say, as my feelings towards the story are quite mixed and I feel I need to explain why in the most careful way possible. So, here it goes…

Let’s begin with the positives. I know You Remember is a breezy read for older teens. Although the novel does touch on some dark themes – including child abuse, evangelical Christian dogma, and murder – the novel was written in a way that was easily accessible. This is, in part, due to Ruthie’s narrative. The novel was told almost entirely in first person from Ruthie’s point of view, and she is an eloquent and expressive narrator. Donaldson nicely captures her patterns of natural speech, which makes it feel as though Ruthie is always talking directly to the reader.

The novel also does a great job of emulating the feel of small-town America, with closely-knit family groups and diverse neighbourhoods. Over the course of this story, we see the differences between the very richest people Anchorage, and the poorest. We also see the way that affluence does not breed better people, as Tabitha lives in a mansion but is basically ignored by her parents, while Zahra’s trailer park family feel warm and close. While Donaldson delicately touches on themes of poverty, addiction and casual racism, these elements just give Ruthie’s world a more realistic feel and are never truly dwelt upon.

The plot is slow-burning, but certainly kept my attention throughout. Zahra’s disappearance is revealed early in the tale, and the mystery as to how this came about gradually revealed as Ruthie delved into the reasons why this happened. However, I did feel that I Know You Remember lacked focus at times. The novel does not present a clear and linear mystery for Ruthie to uncover and so her investigation does not really have any structure. While Ruthie does a lot of wandering around and talking to people, she generally just seems to trip over clues and her ultimate discovery of the truth virtually falls into her lap in the climax.

Yet, my biggest issue with I Know You Remember is the way that the story advertises itself. Due to the fact that the blurb on Amazon makes a big deal about its plot twists and unreliable characters, I had actually figured out the twist before the half-way point of the novel. And I wasn’t wrong. This is a problem that I have with many mystery novels, but perhaps if the blurb hadn’t put me on the lookout for these things, the final reveal would have come as more of a surprise. I also felt as though the ultimate twist is likely to divide readers, but I won’t spoil it for you by saying anything more here.

In terms of characterisation, I also felt that the novel was a little bit varied. Ruthie is a fantastic protagonist, being sympathetic and engaging throughout. I loved the way that the story slowly gave us glimpses into her past with Zahra, and allowed the reader to feel her pain as she realised how much Zahra had changed. This is easy to relate to for any reader who has ever grown apart from a close friend.

Yet, due the fact that Ruthie is so focused on finding Zahra, it was disappointing that the supporting cast did not get so much development. Due to her admiration of Zahra, Ruthie has put her on a bit of a pedestal and does not really let any of the other characters close to her. This means that she is annoying dismissive of the likes of Ingrid and Tabitha. Although some of the intricacies of these characters are made clear to the reader (even if Ruthie seems totally oblivious to them), they still a felt a bit wooden due to the fact that Ruthie is so uninterested in them. Because of this, Donaldson doesn’t really grow these characters as much as I would have liked.

I think that I’ve going to leave this review there, as I certainly don’t wait to spoil this one for you. If you enjoy a mystery, I would certainly recommend giving I Know You Remember a try. I would certainly be very curious to know what you think of it.

I Know You Remember can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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