Noah is a 4-year-old boy who often wakes screaming from nightmares in which he plays with guns and is held underwater until he blacks out. His mother Janie is even more distressed when her son insists he wants to go home to his "real mother".

No one seems able to explain Noah's strange behaviour, until Janie comes across Jerry Anderson, a troubled academic with problems of his own. His obsession with reincarnation has put him at odds with his scientific colleagues, and now, as he nears the end of his career, he hopes Noah's story will be the big splash he needs to give validity to his life's work.

But his answer is not one Janie is ready to accept: is it possible her son Noah is the reincarnation of Tommy Crawford, who disappeared from his home when he was 9 years old? Anderson certainly thinks he is.

After a false start, the pair track down Tommy's grieving mother, with earth-shattering results for everyone. The story is interspersed with reports of "real life" reincarnations that serve to awaken interest in this controversial subject.

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Whatever your thoughts on reincarnation, Sharon Guskin's debut novel probably will not convert you either way, but this story will certainly be a springboard to some passionate debates in the nation's book clubs.

The Forgetting Time is an engaging read, although if you are a doubter, you may need to suspend your belief to get through it. Guskin goes on a smidge too long and puts too much emphasis on threads that are irrelevant but it's a thought-provoking read.

THE FORGETTING TIME
by Sharon Guskin
(Mantle, $35)