I am not a big fan of books about Mothers of Missing Children. There are so many out there, they should probably have their own section in the bookstore. They're all the same: the child is kidnapped, or maybe goes missing on the way to the corner store, and the rest of the book consists of the mother's angry, self-pitying inner monologues, with plenty of sleepless nights and maybe an eventual affair with the crusty but caring detective assigned to the case. The mystery of what happened to the child and if he or she will be found alive isn't usually enough to get me through all the shrill hand-wringing.
Because that's not why we show up to read, is it? I don't want to trudge through somebody else's worst nightmare if all I'm hearing is the voice of the person who knows the least about what's going on. That's why I loved Remember Me Like This—it's so much more than just the story of a mom whose son has been kidnapped. It's about an entire family, and how far they will go for justice.
Johnston gives us his story from so many different angles, all of them fascinating, all of them devastating. Justin disappeared at age eleven. The family he left behind did everything they could to find him, papering their Corpus Christi suburb with flyers, organizing search parties through the dunes, taking out a second mortgage on the house to offer a reward for his return. Still, all their efforts turned up nothing but thin air.
Four years later, the impossible: Justin has been found alive, just miles from home. His parents Laura and Eric, shocked back to life by his return, are instructed not to press Justin about what happened during his captivity. Their younger son Griffin is thrilled to have his brother back, but he often doesn't know what to say or how to act around him. Eric's father Cecil also figures prominently, a fount of simple wisdom and righteous anger. (I'm having a hard time describing him in a way that doesn't make him sound like a cliché, but he's not, trust me.)
Justin's sudden return is only the beginning. Everyone has so many questions, and not one of them has an easy answer. What happened to Justin while he was being held? Why didn't he try to get away? If the case goes to trial, will the man accused of taking him go to jail? Will he be able to hurt Justin again? What could they have done to prevent the abduction? Will Justin ever be able to live a normal life after suffering such an ordeal? Will any of them?
It's those questions that make up the bulk of the book, and they're what kept me reading late into the night. Each character is realistically drawn, so clearly teetering on the edge of control that the suspense just builds and builds. Every single member of the family seemed capable of anything. I read the final pages with my heart in my throat.