Book Excerpt: The Recall Paradox

By Julian R. Vaca

This piece is a book excerpt from The Recall Paradox by author Julian R. Vaca. The Recall Paradox is a sequel to The Memory Index available everywhere April 11.

As I climb into Dean Mendelsohn’s rental, invigorated about the answers that lie ahead, I’m met with intense panic.

It’s sort of like this: Sometimes, in the dense darkness just before dawn, when everything outside my window is just as still and quiet as everything inside my bedroom, I wake up and forget where I am. Two things happen then, and in this order: (1) I anxiously look about the shadowy room, and (2) I spot my foster sister, Nicole, sleeping soundly in her bed. Then I remember: I am a student at Foxtail Academy in Tennessee, but right now I am a foster kid on fall break, at home in California. In those predawn moments of forgetting where I am, seeing Nicole anchors me to reality, and I’m able to fall back asleep, if only for a little while.

But the panic I feel right now in Dean Mendelsohn’s car is different from the one that sometimes visits me before daybreak. It’s not that I forget where I am but rather why I’m going where I am going, as in, After all this time, am I really ready to face the answers about Dad’s mysterious death?

Of course I am. This shouldn’t even be a question. But panic cares little about logic. Panic can’t be reasoned with. It comes and goes as it pleases, and sometimes I need a life preserver to cling to so I don’t drown in it.

The picture shows the cover of The Recall Paradox by Julian R. Vaca. The text on the top says, "In this war, memories are weapons."

I wish Fletcher were here, holding my hand from the back seat of the dean’s rental. I can weather this on my own, sure, but I want him here.

“Are you still dizzy?” The dean’s voice, soft and cautious, cuts through the silence.

I can’t talk about this right now. If I do, I’ll be forced to dwell on my latest vision … the one of Fletcher lying motionless in —

No. Stop, Freya. Not now … not yet.

I distract myself by fishing out the voucher from my back pocket. Dean Mendelsohn gave it to me just before we left, and it grants me a cognition wheel upgrade. I stare at the words on the piece of paper, trying to decide how I feel about becoming a recollector … an elitist. Part of me despises the thought — if the two-quarter mark was good enough for my dad, it’s good enough for me. But the other part of me wonders what kinds of doors this could open.

There’s definitely a lot to consider.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask, putting the voucher back in my pocket.

“We’re almost there.” He glances at the digital clock above the speedometer. “He agreed to meet us at Shoreline Aquatic Park.”

He? I shrug this off, figuring he is either some social worker or private investigator Dean Mendelsohn hired to find answers about my dad. But the question sits with me like a pesky fly that quickly becomes intolerable, and so I ask, “Who is he?”

The dean sighs. “I’m sure this is all very . . . complicated. I spoke with your foster parents ahead of time, and they agreed you should take as much time as you need.”

He’s not answering my question. Why isn’t he answering my question?

“Okay. Fine. But who is he?”

The dean scrunches his eyebrows together. What isn’t he telling me?

“Freya, I . . . I’m confused.”

“That makes two of us.”

“We’re going to see your father.”

“You mean we’re going to see about my father.”


“We’re going to see about my father since, you know, he’s dead.”


“Yes, dead, as in no longer alive. You said you had answers about his death.”

“I said I could get you the answers you sought, as in the answers to his whereabouts.”

This is quickly becoming one of the most confounding and frustrating conversations I’ve had in a long time, and I once lived in a foster home with not one but three six-year-olds.


“Dean Mendelsohn.”

“Who, um, told you that your father died?”

My frustration rises to an angry boil, and I just might snap. Who told me? Really? What is Dean Mendelsohn implying — that my dad staged his death and then, from the shadows, just let me fall into the state’s fractured foster system so he could watch from afar as I popped from one foster home to the next for over two years?

Before I can push back, the dean rolls to a stop in an empty parking lot, and I see a lone figure sitting on a bench beneath some palm trees, his back to the car. The man, backlit by the twilit sky, turns toward us.

“Do you … do you want me to come with you?”

Dean Mendelsohn’s words are garbled, like he’s speaking underwater, but instead of replying I unfasten my seatbelt, get out of the car, and walk toward the approaching stranger — all the blood in my body rushing to my head.

The tall stranger and I meet on the lawn.

The man has a sad, tired face. It’s the kind of haggard face a lonely
person wears, a person who lives a sequestered life.

“Hey, mija.” His voice is as tired as his eyes.

This man is clearly not my dad. And yet … and yet his eyes … the shape of his nose and ears … the way his chin curves up, like it’s trying to get away from his face …

“You’re not my father,” I say defiantly, but then I gasp and all sound and smell and sense of where I’m standing evaporates.

Memories of my childhood crash into me, a tropical storm rushing a fortress, threatening to crush me into fine powder. The water washes the dirt off the photographs in my mind. Now I see the gallery of my past with newfound clarity: This man, this coward who stands before me, left me when my mother died, forcing my older brother to raise me. All this time I had been misremembering my brother’s identity. Because he raised and cared for me, because he was more than I ever could have asked for in a dad, my subconscious skewed some details and rewrote my past.

No … it can’t be …

Hot tears materialize in the corners of my eyes.

“We got a lot to catch up on,” the man says, his frail voice quivering.

Julian R. Vaca is a first generation Mexican American and a first generation college graduate. He was a staff writer on season three of PBS’s Reconnecting Roots, a nationally broadcast show that drew in millions of viewers over its first two seasons. His writing has appeared in The Nerd Daily, Writer’s Digest, and more. He is a PEN/Faulkner Writers in School author, a member of the SCBWI, and a Hey! Young Writer mentor.

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