I've been a fan of Miranda's since I read Catching Jordan, and I will definitely read anything that she writes. Still, I must admit that I entered on Things I Can't Forget with a certain amount of trepidation, having heard some talk of the focus on themes of religion and the personality of the main character. I feared I might not like this one much, but, actually, Things I Can't Forget has turned out to be my new favorite of her three books.
There is no doubt that Kate will rub a lot of people the wrong way. She is unforgiving, judgmental, prudish, hypocritical, and often downright rude. She wears her faith like an excuse to look at others and deem them lesser than she is. However, Kate never really bothered me, because I could completely see where she was coming from, especially since I had insight into her church, where her young mind and values were shaped, from Stealing Parker. I pity her for not knowing any better than to believe what she's only been told, for having been stuck with such manipulative, close-minded people during her youth. I feel for Kate, because it's so obvious that she's confused and that she'll be working through these issues.
Flawed as Kate is, annoying as she can be, I identify with her so much more than Jordan or Parker. Despite the rather glaring difference of religious beliefs, I was a lot like Kate in high school. I had a really strict sense of values, stricter I think than even I realized. I judged others based off of that and as a defense mechanism, because I felt so lonely and it's better to reject than be rejected. Like Kate, I put off a vibe of not wanting companionship when there was nothing that I wanted more. When I went to college, I had a lot of the same struggles with my own personality and moral code that she has working at this summer camp before her freshman year. Learning not to hold other people to the standards that work in your own life is one of the most important lessons that I think I learned as I came of age, and Kenneally handles it beautifully.
Kenneally also tackles the subject of sexual relations, and, more specifically, their relation to the Christian faith. Can a "good girl" have sex before marriage? Where's the line between and acceptable physical relationship and sin according to God? Kate's best friend, Emily, had an abortion and was kicked out of her parent's house. Kate helped her, but is now haunted by the thought of what she participated in, and said some very unsupportive things to Emily. Her judgment of Emily's sexual relationship stems from a lack of understanding, and she gains additional insight into just how complicated love and sex are when she begins a relationship with fellow camp counselor Matt. In all of this, Kenneally does not preach for or against sex, but about making careful decisions when ready, not feeling forced by society or a boyfriend.
In Kenneally's prior books, I admired her development of friendships, and she shines with that again, but this time it's a female friendship. Parker of Stealing Parker is a significant character in Things I Can't Forget. Because of Parker's somewhat racy past (according to Kate), the two do not start off well, but, over the course of the summer, they learn to understand one another and become real friends. Both Jordan and Parker struggled to find female friends, and I was so happy to see Parker find that. Their relationship really helps Kate grow and understand things from a viewpoint not her own, since Emily's mindset changed too suddenly for Kate to be able to adapt. By coming to understand and accept Parker's choices, Kate is able to reevaluate her relationship with Emily.
Surprisingly enough, given how touchy I am on the subject, the religion in Things I Can't Forget never irked me. Kate's beliefs are very much her own, and not preached in any way. Other characters put forth their own religious views that do not necessarily match Kate's. The tone is one of self-discovery, tolerance, and respect for the beliefs of others, messages I agree with wholeheartedly. The way Miranda turns the creation of arts and crafts into a metaphor for beliefs and the right way to live life is so subtle and perfect.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The one element I would have liked to see developed a bit more is the supporting cast. Kenneally creates such vibrant characters, and you learn a good deal about the secondary characters as well as the main. However, at the end, the whole plot line with the exacting Megan seemed somewhat unresolved. I really want to know what her motivations are, and if they're really based on some sort of dislike of other women, which is how she came off to me. On top of that, I'd really like to know more about what was going on with Brad. Obviously, I still loved the book, but having these characters a bit more fleshed out would have bumped my rating to the full five stars.
The Final Verdict:
Things I Can't Forget will not be an easy novel for every reader, but it's a very powerful one. Miranda Kenneally has written yet another book with a cast that comes wholly alive to the reader. I don't think Kenneally can write a book I won't like. If you like contemporary fiction and haven't read any of her books, what are you waiting for?