Thursday, July 2, 2015

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The concept of this story was something that has intrigued me for a long time. It was an idea that I always wanted to play around with and maybe work up into a short story, but never got around to it. When I came across this book, it seemed like I was about to read everything I imagined it could be.

The idea of a person losing years of their memory, forgetting their friends, their connections and interests, even their family and their own recent life-details is really poignant to me. That’s when you would learn who your true friends are and how much people really care. There’s so much material and an amazing potential for characterization. The labor of reclaiming your life and trying to figure out who you are or were… Well, there’s just a lot to work with.

But unfortunately, this book fell extremely short of the mark. On the surface, it appears to have done everything I wanted. Re-befriending your old friends, adjusting to the changes in your family, rediscovering self, figuring out who you are and who you want to be – it was all there. There’s just one flaw. This was one of the shallowest books I’ve ever read.

Less than one chapter in, I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Naomi, a 17-year-old girl, has just been taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and is waiting for her father. The young man who called the ambulance is waiting with her, and she asks him if he is her boyfriend. He hesitates and then tells her he is not. A few moments later, she asks him why he had hesitated. His reply? “I was wondering if I could get away with letting you think I was your boyfriend…I also wondered if it would be wrong to kiss you – not on the mouth, maybe on your forehead or hand – while I had the chance, while you were still thinking you were mine.” And then he tells her how wrong he decided that would be. Thank heaven for small miracles.

This really creeped me out. Especially considering that it can’t even be explained away by a secret crush or hidden feelings on his part. To even think about taking advantage of a girl in such a vulnerable position that way, is repulsive. Something that an antagonist or villain should do. But this was a character you’re supposed to like. Yes, it turns out he’s unstable, but it just wasn’t an encouraging way to start out the book.

And my problems with it continued. Naomi is continually manipulating and deceiving her father, cold-shouldering her mother, and even calling her names. She is selfish, self-absorbed, foul-mouthed, disrespectful, and just generally foolish. Even cutting her slack, for having just gone through major trauma, she was not my idea of a sympathetic character. And in the course of this novel, she went through boys so quickly I was in danger of whiplash. No sooner does she break up with one than she’s falling deeply and passionately in “it’s-different-this-time” love. One was a jock, one a brooding emo, and the third an endearing nerd. And only one of them earned any of my respect.

That, coupled with the foul language and the cliché broken-home family setting made the book a bit of a drag. Really, the only reason I finished it was because it absolutely kills me to start a story and not finish it. I feel pretty much any book deserves the chance to redeem itself by the end. The best things I can say about it, are that it was a fast read; Naomi’s father was a sweet character; the unbalanced emo was certainly…unbalanced – well-written if that’s the sort of thing you like; and Naomi’s best friend Ace was incredibly patient and sweet. Overall though? Not one I would reread and definitely not one I would recommend without several cautions. Books like this are the reason I started avoiding YA fiction.

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