Author and native Mobilian Colleen D. Scott evades the “sophomore slump” with her second novel “Everybody Needs To Remember,” a bucolic reverie that lures in readers, then focuses on the perils of social stigma.
Scott’s first young adult (YA) book, “Everybody Needs A Bridge,” takes place in an unnamed Alabama city that is obviously Mobile. It centers on self-discovery and our counterproductive yet self-enforced racial and social divisions.
This second work follows Connie, a reflective eighth grader who lives in a rustic coastal town with her creative, eccentric and divorced mother. Connie and her best friend, Tara, stay occupied fishing, wandering the woods and walking crushed-shell roads under Spanish moss-draped oaks alongside the bay.
They befriend a reserved but moody new boy, Mason, who relocated from a blue-collar bayou town over the bay. The trio are content hunting blackberries, constructing hideaways or painting and making jewelry on Connie’s screened-in back porch.
Early chapters sound part-Mayberry, part-Mark Twain, especially a funny incident involving a four-footed interloper who enters an open church window during Sunday services.
“And then, with Pastor Rob’s words ‘… and all will be forgiven’ still hanging in the air, all hell broke loose,” Scott begins the bedlam.
It isn’t all enchantment, though. Connie is aware of her mother’s emotional spells that keep her in bed for weeks while the youngster manages the household as best she can. And as small towns are, there’s always the gossip, the rumors and nosiness.
With a rash of robberies, town suspicions turn to the newest arrival and easiest target: Mason.
Before long, a high-profile murder occurs and those closest to Connie are in the middle of the scandal. Drama heightens as arrests are made, characters disappear and a jury is selected.
These events aside, the book’s themes are inner turmoil and those who need help but don’t seek it. There’s a wonderful analogy as Connie sits onshore watching locals madly scramble during a jubilee, a spontaneous phenomenon where hypoxic conditions drive sealife into shoreline shallows.
“The panic of the sea creatures made me queasy … what bothered me was how they were caught … driven to their death by an unidentified force. Their only mistake was their attempt to escape it. To me, taking advantage of their desperation felt wrong.”
It later becomes obvious those without gills are also driven to destruction by circumstance.
Though Scott’s writing was fine previously, it is tighter in this novel, more focused. Her storytelling is better and she’s content to let some loose ends dangle, just as life does.
Initially it feels timeless, with setting and activities that could have taken place anytime over the last century or so. It’s not technology dependent, with only the barest mention of even television.
Scott drew on her own 1970s childhood vacations with relatives on Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore, even the aforementioned church chaos.
“Downtown Fairhope was just a little-bitty town with an ice cream shop and shoe store and all that stuff,” Scott said.
Then I realized its appealing technological absence also dated it. Sociological warts — small-town gossip, adolescent bullying — weren’t as pervasive or vicious as they’ve become in the social media age. As the rise of anti-bullying campaigns and child suicide testify, it’s worse now.
Other parts will ring familiar to locals, too, especially the murder case and its components. Hint: Lagniappe drew from the same well years ago.
What’s best is the book’s illustration of mental health pitfalls without didacticism. It shows, not tells.
A 2017 National Institute of Mental Health report estimates one in five Americans (44.7 million in 2016) lives with a mental illness of various degrees in any given year. Of them, only 43 percent (91.2 million) seek help. Treatment is lowest (35 percent) among those aged 18-25.
“It’s still difficult for individuals to be forthcoming about their emotional challenges,” clinical psychologist Dr. Brooke Myers Sorger told NBC News in 2018 in a segment about stigmas.
“I wanted to focus on internal struggle — ‘Can I be mad if relatives are mentally ill?’ ‘Can I be mad at people who died and we don’t know why?’ And being mad at people who try to help, because that can be a small-town thing too: ‘let me help you so I can get all up in your business and tell everybody all about it,’” Scott said.
Owing to the ages of its protagonist and her friends, the book could appeal to middle schoolers. Heartbreaking stats indicate the story would prove just as vital as reading about a school for witches or sparkling vampires.