Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Review: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

The Memory Book by Lara AveryNetGalleyThe Memory Book by Lara Avery (eProof) - “They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.”

Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she's going to win the national debating championship, then she's going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she'd planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won't wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.
From Goodreads.

I have wanted to read The Memory Book by Lara Avery ever since I first heard about it, sometime last year. How intriguing to read about someone who would lose their memory? Someone young even? I was gripped by this novel, but I finished with mixed feelings.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, I did. I just don't think the way the story was told worked well for me. The book is Sammie's document where she writes about all that has happened as her life changes after being diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C, like a diary, rather than us reading things as they happen. For me, this caused a distance when it came to getting to know and caring for other characters. Because she's writing the book, there's a lot more internal monologue than actual action (by which I don't mean fight scenes, just things happening, rather than just Sammie's thoughts).

However, The Memory Book is still an interesting story. Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) is a disease down to mutated genes, and it affects more than just memory. It can affect movement, speech, movement of eyes, can cause tremors, seizures, dementia, hearing loss, hallucinations, and so much more - and it's terminal. But all Sammie really cares about is her memory. She actually talks about how it can do what it wants to her body, as long as she has her memory. Sammie has dreams - no, more than that, Sammie has plans. She's going to ace her exams, and be Valedictorian. She, and her friend and debate team mate, Maddie, will win the Nationals, which will get her into NYU, and become a human rights lawyer. All of this, all of it, requires her memory. She needs to remember the answers in exam questions, she needs to remember what to say during her debates, she needs to remember her speech for graduation. She needs her memory. And, because she's a rare case in that she's been affected by NPC at an older age (most children start showing the affects of NPC under the age of ten), she's convinced herself that she'll live longer than other suffers, that it won't affect her as badly, and she can still do everything she wants. She's in massive denial for such a long time, and is so stubborn and determined to do all she wants to. It was completely understandable - how do you come to terms with having a disease that is going take away your control of your body and eventually kill you? - but it was also so frustrating. NPC will kill her, and her family just want her to slow down, accept that she won't have the life she wanted, but enjoy whatever time she has now, rather than push, push, push herself.

But when things do start to go wrong, it gets heartbreaking. Again, it's mainly the affects on Sammie memory that she writes about. When she forgets where she's going, how to get there, or where she is. When she forget her youngest sister. They're episodes, ones she can recover from and remember again, but in the moment - as at these times, Sammie is writing as they happen rather than after - they are so upsetting, both for Sammie and the reader. As sometimes goes hand in hand with episodes of memory loss, she also experiences what is medically described as mild retardation - basically, she reverts to a child, a child who is scared and confused and doesn't know what's happening. This is shown through how she writes; the run on sentences, the lack of punctuation and capitals, the actual thoughts she has that she writes being the thoughts of a child. It's just so terrible.
'No Matter what plans I make, no matter how much I help my parents,, I feel like my body is failing me, and I don't know how to stop it.' (35%)
Running alongside her trying to cope with NPC is a romance. A love triangle even. There's Stuart, an Indian American she has had a crush on forever who is back in town during Summer break at NYU, and then there's her old school friend Cooper who is suddenly showing an interest. I didn't really care about her relationships with either of them, but that's because of how the story was written, as I said at the beginning. There's more internal monologue and telling us about her time with each guy, rather than seeing it happen, and that distance meant I didn't really feel like I got to know either of them. To me, it felt unnecessary to the story; not to Sammie, because of course she's going to be interested in guys and that's not going to stop because she has NPC, but to the story that Avery was trying to tell, it just felt extra, something added - because of how the story was told, there wasn't enough for me to feel that the romance was pivotal to Sammie's story.

The ending kind of came out of the blue, also because of how the story is told. Sammie wasn't writing about every bad day or bad moment, so what seems kind of gradual to the reader isn't so gradual for her. So we're seeing only every now and then a episode of some kind, but then all of a sudden, boom, things are really, really bad. It happened so quickly, and then it ended. And again, because of how it was written, I was as affected emotionally as I would have expected - and wanted - to be. There wasn't really enough time to be. I would much prefer this was being told in first person narration rather than being the actual book she was writing, I feel I would have got a lot more out of it and enjoyed it more if it was.

Even so, The Memory Book is really gripping, and gave such an insight into a disease I had never heard of before.

Thank you to Quercus Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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Published: 26th January 2017
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books
Lara Avery on Tumblr

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