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by Sandra SG Wong
HarperCollins, June 2022
352 pages
ISBN: 1443466042

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sandra SG Wong's IN THE DARK WE FORGET begins with a fairly common suspense-novel scenario: a young woman wakes up with amnesia and has to figure out who she is, who put her in that condition, and how to avoid them. Quickly, however, IN THE DARK WE FORGET morphs into a truly original, gripping, and urgent novel, as much a meditation on the kinds of cultural forgetting required of Asian-American Canadians, young women, and everyone who is struggling to find out in less literal ways who they are and whom they can trust.

Intriguingly, when Cleo awakes, she remembers one thing very clearly: that she is Asian-Canadian, or, as she puts it, "Chinese." She has not seen herself in a reflection, she clarifies, she just knows that collective identity even when her personal identity is lost. What has happened to her to make her sense of cultural identity overshadow any hint of personal identity? This is one of the real mysteries of IN THE DARK WE FORGET.

Another is the nature of native and found families. When Cleo Li starts to piece together her forgotten identity, she finds that she has a brother, who has been on-and-off-again estranged from her family. Dr. Cassius (pronounced "Cashus," and he goes by Cass) Li wants to help Cleo, but, again, can she trust him? Particularly when the police learn something else about the Li family that puts both siblings in danger of suspicion of kidnapping and murder. Is Cass really her family? Especially if she has no one else left? And if so, is this because of forgotten native ties, or because his present actions make him a deserving "found family" member? Cleo's navigation of this relationship gives the novel an intense emotional resonance, as well as suspense. What do we risk when we go home to our families--or try to create new ones?

Wong throws up a red herring or two, but the solution to the mystery is ultimately detectible. Really, Cleo detects it in advance--and does not want to. Its detectibility increases the atmosphere of dread and percolating rage.

Finally, many recent mysteries have featured LGBT and, particularly, bisexual characters who cannot be trusted; who commit infidelity and murder at the drop of a hat; who are tragically, theatrically suicidal and take others down with them. I am delighted to report that IN THE DARK WE FORGET has a bisexual characters who fulfills none of these literary cliches, who is defined by a range of traits other than their sexuality, and who ultimately comes through for our heroine in a quietly heroic way. That alone makes IN THE DARK WE FORGET memorable and Sandra SG Wong a writer to watch out for.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, July 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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