Angela Prescott pulled up stakes, leaving behind the teaching job and the students she loved, to run halfway across the country to escape an abusive ex-boyfriend. All alone, she's struggling to find her footing in a strange new city until she meets twelve-year-old Tommy T. This streetwise kid helps Angela find a new job and an apartment, while becoming the only friend she has. Angela bonds with the young, homeless comic book artist, giving him a little of the security and guidance he's been lacking in his life. When Angela is attacked one night by some street thugs, the person Tommy runs to for help is the mysterious recluse whose face he's never seen but who inspires his superhero fantasies.
Jesse Brown Wolf came to the city to escape his own tragic past, an event that fractured his spirit. By day, he's the handsome, mild-mannered handyman who fixes up Angela's run-down apartment; by night, he roams the streets as the vigilante dubbed Dark Dog by Tommy T, trying to make the neighborhood safer for the kids. After rescuing Angela and nursing her back to health following the attack, Jesse comes to her in the dark of night in disguise, whispering words of love and comfort. But even after she figures out that her handyman and her mystery savior are one and the same, he has difficulty integrating the two sides of himself to fully be with her. Can these three broken, lonely people find a way to heal one another and become the family that each of them deserves and longs for?
It's been quite a while since I'd read a Kathleen Eagle book. I chose The Night Remembers to reintroduce myself to this author, because the cover blurb hints at a superhero theme, and I absolutely love superheroes. The story does have a touch of a superhero vibe, although more of the vigilante sort, along with some interesting Native American mythology. But at its heart, this is the story of three broken people coming together to help heal each other's past hurts and form a bond that turns into a family by choice. Our hero and heroine are both running from their pasts, he in more of an emotional sense, and she in a physical sense. They're brought together by their twin desires to help a homeless, streetwise kid who's captured their hearts and to rid their neighborhood of the criminal element that's taken up residence there. The plot and the characters are a bit slow to develop, but overall this was a good story that I enjoyed reading.
In her previous life, Angela was a talented teacher who loved her job and cared very much about her students, but she fell into a relationship with an abusive man who held a position of power that made it nearly impossible to get free of him. The only family Angela has left is her sister, who didn't really believe her claims of abuse, and thought that even if they were true, it was worth her staying with the guy because of his prestige. So, Angela decided to run far away where he hopefully wouldn't find her. She moves to a new city and finds a crappy apartment in a bad neighborhood, gets a dead-end job as a waitress to pay the bills, and has mostly been trying to keep to herself and maintain a low profile. Her only friends are her little dog, Stevie, and Tommy T, the streetwise young boy who helped her find her job. That all begins to change one night when some street thugs beat her up late at night after work and she's rescued by a mysterious stranger who takes care of her. At first, Angela isn't quite sure if he was real or a dream, but then he begins visiting her in her bedroom late at night, coming and going like a phantom. She also meets Jesse, the handyman who comes to fix the broken things in her apartment, and develops a liking for him as well.
I liked that Angela was smart enough to eventually figure out that Jesse and her mystery night visitor are one and the same. She's very patient with his seeming inability to integrate the two sides of himself, giving him the space and support he needs to heal. She also begins to make friends with her downstairs neighbor, a woman caring for a bevy of kids, some of whom aren't her own, and the two become involved with the Block Watch program. Through all of these things, Angela gradually gains the confidence she needs to overcome the past. Her ex briefly comes into play toward the end of the story, and she's able to bravely stand up to him this time. My only small complaint here is that her past is talked about very little, when I think it might have helped to deepen her characterization if it had been a bigger emotional part of the story. I also really would have liked more of a comeuppance for the ex. IMHO, he really needed to be taken down a notch or two, but I guess they had enough on their plates already, dealing with the local drug dealers and gang bangers.
Jesse is an ex-cop who lived through a major tragedy in his life that fractured his spirit. As a result, he's basically living two lives. By day, he's a mild-mannered handyman who picks up work wherever he can get it; by night, he lives in the shadows, somewhat reluctantly trying to protect the neighborhood kids from the drug dealers while in disguise. After Tommy T witnesses Jesse's heroics, his imagination runs wild, compelling him to give Jesse the superhero name Dark Dog. Jesse prefers to be left alone. He suffers from debilitating headaches, and doesn't feel like he's fit company for anyone, so he lives the life of a hermit in a hidden "lair." But when Tommy, who views Jesse as a hero, keeps coming to visit him, he gradually gets drawn into Tommy's imaginary world. When Jesse rescues Angela from the hooligans who beat her up, she stirs something inside him he hasn't felt in a long time. But he can only bring himself to interact with her in a romantic capacity as Dark Dog. Even after Angela figures out that Jesse and Dark Dog are one and the same, he still keeps the two sides of himself separate until certain events start drawing his twin personae together. As I mentioned before, most of Dark Dog's heroics are of a vigilante sort, but it's not the kind of vigilantism that includes violence. He carries no weapons and always manages to subdue those who would do him harm by deftly turning the tables on them, which I loved. He also has an odd connection with dogs. Canines seem to love him, and with a few Sioux words and hand signals, he can tame the wildest of beasts and bring them under his control. Since this strange ability is never really explained, it could be taken as a type of superpower. I really liked Jesse, and I think the only thing that might have made him a little better for me is if his past had been revealed a bit sooner and the steps he took to reintegrates the two sides of himself had been explored rather than being something he did off-page.
Tommy T is a streetwise twelve-year-old who's going on twenty because of the time he's spent on the streets. He's half Native American, half African American. His father is gone and his mother has disappeared, presumed to have gone back to the reservation, leaving Tommy and his older brother, Stoner, to their own devices. Stoner has fallen in with gangs and drug dealers, while Tommy is trying to stay clean. He's a smart kid who genuinely wants to go to school, but he doesn't have a parent around to give him the guidance he needs. So, he ends up befriending Angela who slowly begins to fill that role for him. Tommy is a talented artist, who loves comic books. He makes up his own superhero characters and stories, and when he watches the mysterious stranger subdue some thugs, not once, but twice, it fuels his imagination. When Tommy helps rescue Angela, the stranger takes him to the cave where he lives, swearing Tommy to secrecy. Tommy keeps going back to the cave to communicate with his hero, giving him the name Dark Dog, and imagining himself as Dark Dog's sidekick. Tommy is a great kid, who's easy to like. He's very independent and strong for one so young, but he's had to grow up fast. And speaking of growing up, an adult Tommy becomes the hero of the second book of the Night series, Night Falls Like Silk.
The Night Remembers was a good story that was very well-written. In fact, it was a Rita award finalist. There are two reasons I gave it four stars. First is that it's a pretty slow-paced story, and sometimes I was feeling a bit impatient for things to get moving. The second is that the romance itself is fairly subdued. There are a few romantic moments, but with Jesse keeping the two sides of himself strictly segregated it was a little harder to feel the love growing between him and Angela. The love scenes are extremely mild, more euphemism than anything else, which might not have been a detractor, except for the emotional connection not being quite as strong as I would have liked. The Native American mythology was a nice touch, and as always with this author's work, the Native American elements are very well-done, which I would expect given that she's married to one. I also thought the battles being waged to keep an inner city neighborhood free from the criminal element rang true as well. Overall, The Night Remembers was a nice story and one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend for anyone who might enjoy a little slower-paced, but slightly suspenseful tale of three very different people finding solace and family with one another.
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