Book reviews

Review: Two YA books about memory loss

I was fortunate enough to have my requests for two YA new releases on NetGalley approved this month. They both have a focus on memory loss and so I thought it would be a good idea to write a joint review for comparison purposes.

In The One Memory of Flora Banks (Penguin, released 12th January) we follow 17 year old Flora who has anterograde amnesia, meaning that every couple of hours her memory resets itself and she has to piece together who everyone is and what she was doing. To help her do so she writes reminders on her hands and arms, as well as in a notebook which she carries with her at all times. Everything changes however when one night she kisses someone she shouldn’t and the next day she can still remember it in full. Believing that he has the power to end all her memory problems, Flora is determined to keep him in her life (and in her heart) for as long as possible. There’s just the small problem of him moving to the Arctic Circle…

The Memory Book (Quercus, released 26th January) is exactly what the title suggests – a book which 18 year old Sammie is writing to her future self in order to deal with her recent diagnosis with Niemann Pick Type C. The debilitating disease not only affects her memory but also causes body tremors, slurred speech and problems with vertical eye movement. Despite all this Sammie is unwavering in her belief that she’ll still be able to attend NYU in the fall as part of her journey towards becoming a human rights lawyer. She just needs to win the National Debating Championship first, whilst trying not to get too distracted by the return of her long-time crush.

Both books are told in first person, meaning that the reader has to rely on the narration of the two protagonists. Due to the difference in type of memory loss Flora Banks has more of a mystery element to the plot, and with gaps in the narrative as well as the suggestion of false truths I decided to keep a record of all my theories as I went along (I was pretty accurate all round). Whilst there were moments in The Memory Book where it was clear that Sammie’s memory was failing her, the reader has a much more concrete idea of what is going on. With this in mind I preferred the approach of Flora Banks which is a first as I’m not really a reader of mysteries.

As is the norm with the majority of YA fiction, each book has a romance storyline that is inevitably affected by the characters’ memory difficulties. Given that it is the first new memory that Flora has been able to retain for seven years it is no surprise that she is so focused on chasing a relationship with Drake. However it all starts off on a slightly unsuitable manner and as the story progressed I found myself increasingly questioning how appropriate it was (there was one particular incident which made me feel particularly uncomfortable with where it might lead). This did get resolved as the plot wrapped up but as a result I never truly bought it. The romantic relationship between Sammie and Stuart in The Memory Book was considerably more stable and it was interesting to see how it unfolded as her condition worsened. I did find Cooper (Sammie’s childhood friend) to be a better character though and so I was much more invested in her relationship with him than I was with Stuart.

For some quick comparisons I preferred:

  • Sammie’s personality (whilst I appreciate it was the result of her condition I grew a little tired of Flora’s childlike character)
  • the scene setting in The One Memory of Flora Banks (I couldn’t visualise anything in The Memory Book)
  • the hopeful ending of Flora’s story (the ending of Sammie’s story felt too rushed and so left me a little underwhelmed)
  • Sammie’s narration (it reminded me a little of Mia from The Princess Diaries)

As you can see from above they’re pretty much balanced, and are even more so when considering their length (320 and 368 pages) and the number of days it took me to read them (3 days each). It probably won’t come as a huge surprise then that I rated them both 3 stars. If I was forced to choose between them though then The One Memory of Flora Banks would just about have the upper hand, merely because I was a smidgen disappointed with the ending of The Memory Book (although I suppose it didn’t help that I had to speed-read it in order to finish before the series finale of Sherlock started).

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