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Story of a woman who internalizes patriarchy, pleads guilty, struggles to have her right

By Maliha Iqbal* 

The book, “Reminders of Him” by Colleen Hoover (Genre: Contemporary Romance. Montlake Romance, 2022, 336 pp) starts with Kenna Nicole Rowan, a twenty-six-year-old woman, being released from prison after five years. As the story progresses, we find that she had gone to prison for involuntary manslaughter. She had been involved in a car accident which resulted in the death of her boyfriend, Scotty. His death was essentially, even though indirectly, her fault and that was the reason for her going to prison.
Kenna didn’t know that she was pregnant until after she was sentenced. Kenna heads out to find her daughter after being released from prison. Kenna’s daughter, Diem, lives with Scotty’s parents. Kenna is very grateful to them for taking care of her daughter but Scotty’s parents hold Kenna responsible for his death. For this reason, they don’t want to share Diem with her. Despite knowing this, Kenna is determined to meet her daughter whom she has never seen before. She wants to do everything possible so that things work out well.
Kenna returns to town and rents a run-down apartment. She faces problems while looking for work because of her record but manages to find a low paying job. Kenna prepares to meet her daughter but before that can happen, she meets a man in a bar. This is where the story starts to unfold. Kenna and the man, Ledger, are attracted to each other but things get complicated when Kenna realizes that Ledger was Scotty’s best friend. Ledger is also very close to Diem because of his connection to Scotty. He lives right across the street from Scotty’s parents and, like them, he has always blamed Kenna for Scotty’s death.
The entire story is a whirlwind of emotions made even more engrossing by the fact that it is a dual point of view. This enables us to know the thoughts and feelings of both the main characters. It helps us to understand them better and connect with them more as the story shifts from one point of view to another.
The protagonist, Kenna, undergoes a lot of development as she changes from a from a victim who blames herself to a women determined to have her right -- the chance to meet her daughter. During the trial for Scotty’s death, all his family and friends are convinced that she is the culprit. They all imagine that Scotty got caught up with the ‘wrong girl’ which led to his death. This is show in the book by Kenna imagining what Grace (Scotty’s mother) must think of her - Grace is proud of her perfect son even when he brings home Kenna. She doesn’t say anything and hopes he will “outgrow” her (Kenna) soon. This patriarchal villanization of Kenna is based on the belief that men are the victims of womanly charms. Women are manipulative and selfish. They think only about themselves. Thus, everyone coping with Scotty’s death ends up blaming Kenna. This has been summed up by Ledger in the book:
“But what if we were just looking for someone to blame because we were all hurting so much? It never once occurred to me that Kenna might have been hurting as much as we were.”
Kenna internalizes this patriarchy. She pleads guilty. She then struggles with the idea that she is the culprit for a long time. This has been shown in the story by Kenna’s words:
“Despite the devastation I’ve left in my wake, I am not a bad person. I am not a bad person. It took five years of weekly therapy sessions to help me realize this. I only recently learned how to say it out loud. ‘I am not a bad person’.”
Kenna tries to stay strong while she attempts to meet her daughter. Battling extreme emotional stress, she pulls through in the end. The people around her realize their fault. Throughout the book, it is easy to form negative presumptions about the characters and their actions. However, the author weaves such a narrative that one is left questioning their own judgements. It places the characters in some very challenging circumstances and the characters react to them in very real ways, leaving the readers with the realization that everyone can make mistakes and that there is more than one side to any story.
The only think thing that the story could have included was a more detailed ending. Although the ending itself was very wholesome, it would have made the story more riveting if the process of Kenna bonding with Scotty’s parents had been elaborated. As one reviewer puts it:
“…With this type of grief and emotions on high, I felt it was way too clean and fast. That kind of processing and reflecting takes a lot longer with some hard conversations. I would have liked to see into the minds of the grandparents or even Diem to hear what these recent events have done to them (knowingly or not). I think there is an understanding that time will unveil more of these but I think they could have started that hard work between these pages.”
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*Student and writer based in Aligarh

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