The Memory Book by Lara Avery
Genre: YA Contemporary
Synopsis: 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.
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion of the book in any way.
Let me just start this review by saying that I took just over a month to finish this book. However, that is not a reflection on my enjoyment of the book, but rather my apparent inability to work full-time and read (I’m working on it).
But anyway, let’s get on with the actual review.
I had seen a lot of people raving about The Memory Book on Twitter. I was eventually lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of the ARC, and I’m glad I did. This is a well-written and emotional novel, without being OTT cutesy and quirky like other YA Contemporaries with similar themes (I’m looking at you, The Fault In Our Stars).
It follows the story of Samantha (Sammie, or Sam, and for the purposes of this review I’ll go with Sammie) McCoy and her diagnosis of Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC). It’s a degenerative disease with symptoms similar to dementia, caused by a build-up of cholesterol in the liver and spleen, eventually causing a blockage in the brain. It usually affects young children, but can sometimes be seen in teenagers and adults. It isn’t curable, and results in the loss of motor and cognitive functions, before eventually resulting in death.
Sammie struggles with her diagnosis at first, convinced that she won’t die and will fulfill her dreams of making it to New York for university and becoming a human rights lawyer. Sammie is willful, headstrong, confident in her intelligence, but not so socially confident. However, thankfully, she isn’t that typical YA Contemporary protagonist who moans all the time about being ugly when really she’s secretly beautiful.
The book is written from Sammie’s POV as she describes her day-to-day life for ‘Future Sam’. It’s a diary intended for the Future Sam who will be experiencing the main symptoms of NPC (ie, loss of memory) and so is an aid to help Future Sam remember what her goals are and what’s recently been happening in her life. This mode of story-telling was definitely unique. It’s a POV that could have bombed, but Avery crafted a strong and recognisable voice for Sammie, and I really got to know who Sammie was. Sometimes she annoyed me, and other times I really liked her, but that’s because she was a well-rounded and flawed protagonist. She also learnt from her mistakes, and so by the end of the book anything that had slightly grated on me about Sammie’s personality had been worked on, and I really loved her as a character in the final third.
The plot itself was interesting too. It wasn’t the most exciting in terms of drama for a Contemporary, but I was never bored and still enjoyed seeing the story meander along. In all honesty, I think any major plot drama would have overshadowed the quiet, honest and lyrical nature of the story, and would have turned it into some soap opera. So, for that, I’m glad that there was only really one scene of proper ‘drama’, and that towards the end of the book. Everything else was just the usual workings of life, but seen through the eyes of a girl succumbing to a genetic disease.
I thought the portrayal of the disease was handled sensitively. I can’t attest for how accurately it was handled, as I have no real experience of NPC and neither does the author, but it didn’t feel exaggerated to me or used solely as a plot device. As I said, this book is more about how Sammie discovers who she truly is, rather than being only about the disease. It was quite hard-hitting to read the occasional chapters where Sammie would have what she describes as an ‘episode’. This would be where her cognitive functions aren’t working normally, and so Sammie would be trying to type about her day but would just sound very confused and child-like.
As for the other characters, I wasn’t totally enamoured with them, but they didn’t feel flat. There is a romance in this book. I wasn’t all for it, but it’s what’s important to Sammie at the time, which is understandable, and it doesn’t dominate the whole book. The love interest is Stuart Shah, who’s a little older than Sammie and who she’s had a crush on for a long time. I didn’t think he was all that Sammie cracked him up to be, but I soon realised that was the whole point. I won’t give away any more, as it’d spoil the plot.
There’s also Sammie’s friends Maddie and Cooper. Maddie featured heavily at the beginning and middle of the book, but she just drifts off towards the end for no real reason. As for Cooper, Sammie and Cooper had been best friends as children, but went their separate ways in high school. However, their friendship soon begins to return, and I enjoyed the chapters with Cooper. He was funny and thoughtful and just who Sammie needed.
But what about the ending? Well, I sobbed. It’s very emotional and creeps up on you, even though really you see it coming from the beginning of the book. The ending definitely made me feel a sense of appreciation for where my life is right now, and thankful for what I have. That sounds really soppy but it’s true, and that’s what the book was aiming for; Avery definitely pulled that off well.
Also, I’d just like to add that the book is quite inclusive in terms of diversity. Stuart Shah is an Indian-American, Maddie is a lesbian and Sammie is a strong feminist who doesn’t make assumptions about people’s sexuality. So, those were definitely plus points.
Overall, The Memory Book was a solid 4/5. There was room for a few improvements, such as the pacing and tenses were a little off for the first third of the book, and I mentioned how the character of Maddie just faded into the background for no obvious reason towards the end. But, I really enjoyed it, and it was an emotional and bittersweet read. Sammie was a great protagonist and I loved her POV, and I thought the writing was fresh and raw. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of Lara Avery’s books in future.
Have you read The Memory Book? What did you think? Or do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!