Confronting grief with a touch of magic, Natalya Newman
June 18, 2021
To her dismay, Em Rogers (or Emilia, but as she points out; just because her mother likes the name doesn’t mean she has to) has a detention. But, really, it isn’t all her fault that she was talking at the same time as her teacher. It happens to everyone, right?
Nevertheless, Em is stuck in detention after school and – like any other student – she texts Mum to come and pick her up. What she doesn’t know is that she has inadvertently become part of a small chain of events that will lead to something much bigger. Something that will bring her world crashing down. When Dad dies in a car crash on the way to pick her up from detention, Em is in shock. If she hadn’t had detention, he would still be alive, right?
It was all her fault.
As her Mum starts forgetting how to function in everyday life, Em must move from her home in Dunedin to live with her Nan, who lives all the way up in Matapōuri. Faced with a new school where she is completely unknown (with the wrong school jumper, shoes, and skirt) and with the constant reminder of her Dad everywhere (the nikau tree, the beach, the Mermaid Pools, and Nan’s house), Em feels herself becoming numb. But when she finds a small, obsidian stone at the beach, her life is thrust into a completely new light and path. Suddenly, magic does not seem so impossible, and she must find a way to return the obsidian stone to its rightful owner. Unfortunately for her, a certain watchful eye is on Em’s destination that will twist her quest to return the stone into a very different tale.
Em is determined to return the stone and give herself some closure. But will it be enough?
Published in 2021, Donna Blaber’s Just Remember follows her previous book, Just End It, in a series that presents magic in everyday life, and in places that many New Zealand readers will be familiar with. This book looks into recovery from trauma, survivor’s guilt, grief, loss, and all of the complexities that arise – both mentally and physically – when a loved one passes away. Just Remember does not sugarcoat the grief that Em’s family goes through after the death of her Dad, and proves to be an eye-opening warning to drivers.
This novel puts heavy emphasis on the strong connections forged between family members and friends, and also how the faintest touch of magic can bring it all together in ways that can be unexpected. Magic in the modern world can be anything. Perhaps it’s getting home to see your pet waiting for you, or even finding something you lost a long time ago. Experiences can forge beautiful memories and connections between people, and Blaber expertly highlights the support that can be found within those connections throughout the duration of this book.
Blaber uses the rāhui on the Matapōuri Mermaid Pools to her advantage and both uses it as a platform to bring her own form of magic into the world and to encourage people to respect the pools and keep them clean. Combined with including the Department of Conservation and the illegal selling of native plants, Blaber uses her platform and her writing to promote the safety and vitality of the environment in a way that connects with readers.
The cover design of Just Remember utilises soft shades of blue, green, and gold combined in a way that resembles sunlight reflecting off the waves. The cover features a mermaid illuminated by an unknown source of gold light contrasting with the darker shades of green surrounding it. The font used for the title reminds me of signs found at the beach, which fits well with signs displaying the rāhui on the Mermaid Pools and aesthetically complements the rest of the cover. The title is also stark white and stands out against the background, a reminder that cannot be ignored.
Although Just Remember follows Blaber’s previous book, Just End It, I decided to read Just Remember as a standalone without having read Just End It beforehand. I thought it would be interesting to see how my experience could differ from that of others, and I can honestly say that I still very much enjoyed the book! The second book was in no way dependent on the context of the first book, although I believe that the added context of the first book could have been useful to have as a few characters from Just End It appeared in Just Remember.
I really enjoyed the innocent, natural way that magic flowed through the story. This can often be hard to achieve in books where the plot is based in a realistic setting and in a location that exists. Because of this, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, as both authors insert magic into the modern world in ways that flow and work well with our time. Something that I found interesting was that without the last page of the book clearly stating that the end pages indicated a new book would be coming out in the series soon, I would have thought it was a time loop. Without that clarity at the end, I believed that the final pages showed something that happened earlier on in the book from the perspective of the same character, but instead she was standing somewhere else watching herself.
Overall, this book is a heartfelt, comforting read as it reinforces the importance of family and learning to heal after traumatic experiences. Blaber covers topics that include wanting to fit in, finding closure after grief, new friendships, and the effect of society on New Zealand’s native wildlife. This book is a soft read that I would recommend if you want a break from everyday life and a touch of magic.
- Natalya Newman lives in Whangārei.