Guest Post: A Return to Old Haunting Grounds: Shaili Reviews ‘Remembrance: A Mediator Novel’ by Meg Cabot

Remembrance Meg Cabot CoverRemembrance: A Mediator Novel by Meg Cabot
Format
: DRC provided by HarperCollins through Edelweiss
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Genre: Fiction, romance, paranormal, supernatural
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Back Cover Summary: All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva). But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight. From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child to ghosts of a very different kind—including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself—Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night. Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later. But what happens when ghosts from her past—including one she found nearly impossible to resist—strike first?

It’s a strange moment right now where pop culturally-speaking, we’re revisiting a lot of fan favorite series from the 90s to early 2000s that were cancelled or ended prematurely. The Mediator series by Meg Cabot has long been a fan favorite, both in the U.S. and internationally, and in my opinion, is Meg Cabot’s best series. The original series, for those who don’t know, is about a teenage girl who is a Mediator, a person with the ability to see ghosts and help them cross over to the afterlife/other side. Because it was written in the early 2000s, we’ve seen many more ass-kicking heroines come our way, both on our TV screens and in YA fiction. (As another reviewer pointed out, Suze is indeed Buffy’s ghost-busting twin!) But as Meg Cabot has said, it’s been the repeated interest from fans about another installment of the series that’s really behind the inspiration for this new book.

Looking back, main character Susannah Simon has always struck me as an original: feminine and stereotypically “girlie,” she’s always hitting up the latest online sale and worrying about her hair; on the other hand, she sneaks out of the house to visit cemeteries and places of worship after hours and doesn’t hesitate to do battle with the noncompliant undead, which often involves a lot of careful sleuthing. She’s aggressive and doesn’t take shit from anyone; she cries at sappy commercials and gets annoyed when a spook ruins her dress, all while maintaining her sense of humor. Even at her most reckless (like confronting potential murderers), she’s charming and quick-witted and manages to pull it off (with some help from Jesse, of course). Oh yeah, and the eclectic assortment of side characters certainly makes her life interesting, like the priest who becomes her mentor/friend, her hilarious high school Scooby gang, and most importantly, the delectable 19th century Spanish-American cowboy who haunts her bedroom. So when I found out that Meg Cabot was writing a 7th book (and novella), my teenage fangirl heart could not take it: I HAD to read about what happened to Suze, Jesse, and the gang and where they ended up.

Which is why reading Remembrance was both a wonderful nostalgia trip and a disappointing case study of arrested development. We return to our original cast of characters seven to eight years later back in Carmel, where strangely everyone from her high school life still seems to be–but they’re not without their own surprises (which I won’t spoil in this review). Suze’s unsuccessful job search (a nod to the current state of affairs for millennials, which means working for free just to maybe get a job) takes her back to her old high school, the Mission Academy, for an unpaid internship with the school guidance counselor. It turns out Suze has been studying for a Master’s in Psychology, although for some reason she still talks like an insensitive teenager rather than understanding counselor-to-be. I can see what Meg Cabot was trying to do in painting Suze as a very effective counselor with counterintuitive methods, but mainly it just came across as immature and abrasive. I think I actually winced when I read her first exchange with Becca, a troubled teenager who, as it turns out, is being haunted by a 7-year-old little girl named Lucia.

It’s while she’s at this internship that she hears from former nemesis, Paul Slater, who despite having generated a vast amount of wealth since then still seems to have yet another blackmail plan up his sleeve, another revenge plot against Jesse whose very existence annoys him. That, and he still inexplicably has a thing for Suze–psychopath or sociopath? Suze (ever ready to psychoanalyze these days) at one point ponders. It’s still up for debate. In any case, the novel opens with Paul contacting Suze to tell her that he’s bought her house, which may cause demonic possession of Jesse due to an Egyptian curse…Yeah, you read that right. I don’t even know, you guys.

Aside from this random plotline that rehashes a lot of the sixth book drama, there’s a lot that’s fun about this book: we’re introduced to some interesting new characters, and I enjoyed seeing what happens to all the characters we encountered in previous books, like best friends Gina and CeeCee. The ghost mystery introduced in the beginning not only is complex and much darker that the books usually get, but also makes us question the ethics of both Suze and Jesse’s methods for handling this case, which I wished Meg explored further. The whole book felt a little rushed, like a story that was designed to appeal to fans because it felt so familiar. Yet we didn’t really see how Suze and Jesse worked out their old communication issues (like keeping secrets from one another) nor did we get more than a gesture toward Jesse’s PTSD nor his abrupt moments of violence, an impulsiveness that he hardly ever showed in the previous books. And later, an important plotline gets dropped entirely, which was a little baffling.

Another main problem is that Suze hasn’t grown much since she was a teenager; it was hard to believe that she was in her mid-twenties. More like a less grounded caricature of herself, it was as if she’d been given the same treatment as Buffy, where she’s suddenly not allowed to be good at anything other than this “one calling,” such as any subject she studied in college, even though the other mediators in the books have other talents. Case in point: a running joke throughout the book is that Suze just can’t seem to retain a word of Spanish, not even for the LOVE OF HER LIFE, even though she’s been studying the language for FOUR years and despite the fact that she speaks French well (it’s the same part of the brain for language acquisition, people! How is this even possible?). I also found myself skeptical that she’d be a good counselor at times, although hopefully we’ll get to see her grow more.

But oh, the nostalgia. Suze and Jesse remain one of my favorite fictional couples, and this book had some utterly delightful scenes between them, full of sexy banter as they learned (or sometimes, didn’t) how to negotiate their new life together. I missed Suze’s confidence, and her constant snark about Jesse’s old-fashioned commitment to the “straight and righteous path” (no premarital sex) was hilarious. I would’ve liked to see more fish out of water shenanigans as Suze attempted to explore twenty-first century experiences with Jesse, but it was great to see Jesse as a living human with his own life and as a more complex character rather than just Suze’s devoted (and really hot) ghost-guardian.

THE GOOD

  • Suze and Jesse solving ghost mysteries together!
  • The unexpected turns some of the characters’ lives took
  • A light and sexy read full of humor

THE BAD

  • The voice/style was a little immature for characters who are adults now, so that was weird
  • The plot was too similar to previous books (did Paul even need to be there?)

Overall, it felt like in trying to capture the magic of the first six books, Cabot overlooked several plot elements and character-based issues in trying to give the fans all the familiar elements of the books. This one made me feel nostalgic and excited to see Suze and Jesse’s relationship progress as they deal with ghosts and big life changes, but ultimately disappointed when it turned out that things were mostly the same. I expected more from this book, but it’s escapist fun, and I’d still read future installments if Meg Cabot continues to write them.

Shaili is also a former English major. She works as a UX designer and publishing assistant, and enjoys writing and reading books from practically any genre, making collages, improv, and seeing live music. She may have a focus problem, but she is okay with this.

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