Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Square Fish, 2009, 304 pages
In Gabrielle Zevin’s Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, co-editor of the yearbook and high school student Naomi might as well have been born yesterday. After falling down the stairs of her school, Naomi has lost all of her memories. Dealing not only with the stress of typical high school drama, Naomi has to rebuild her life from nothing. Whether or not she’ll get her memories back is up in the air. She focuses, instead, on creating new memories. With a few shocks along the way, Naomi discovers her boyfriend Ace, her best friend Will, and the guy whose past is as murky as Naomi’s feelings for him, James.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac simply wasn’t all that memorable. Granted, I did read it a while ago, but I had to look up quite a bit about what this book actually was about. Details came floating back the more I read, but overall, this book didn’t really stand out. It’s strange, perhaps, because the book was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and, generally, I find books that receive awards or other professional recognition (New York Times Bestsellers and iterations thereof aside) tend to be pretty good. I trudged through Memoirs because, even now, I’m reluctant to truly give up on a book. But despite the intrigue of the title and the publisher-approved summary, Memoirs just didn’t wow me.
Zevin packs a lot into Memoirs. There’s Naomi’s amnesia, of course, Will’s “Nice Guy” persona (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about), the oddly-fitting jock stereotype that is Ace, James’s uncomfortable history and mental health, Naomi’s family situation, and certainly a few other things I’m forgetting about. All of this in just three-hundred-four pages. With so many tragedies occurring, each on a different level than the others, the book, from a conflict-load perspective, should have been two books with two different stories, preferably with different sets of characters. It’s possible Zevin was attempting to convey the same sense of overwhelm Naomi felt at the loss of her memory; but the number of conflicts in the narrative didn’t overwhelm so much as just make the book feel weighed down with material, despite how relatively short it actually was.
Naomi, as a character, did little to help. As she’s figuring out who, exactly, Naomi is, the reader gets little sense of who Naomi is. She spends so much of her time asking, “Who am I?” that the reader can’t invest in her much and come to care about the outcome of her problems. Zevin kicks it up with supporting characters, who are sometimes too colorful, such as Naomi’s step-mom-to-be, who just seems unreal, and Will, who, even as the “Nice Guy,” walks around like, not some sort of exaggeration, but more like a cartoon. James is the most interesting character of the bunch. Frankly, I’m surprised Zevin hasn’t (to my knowledge) written a spin-off novel about him. While James has some cliché features as far as YA novels go, he does seem the most real of all the characters and that sense of reality gives him an edge that similar characters in other novels don’t have as much as. This is especially evident toward the end of the novel.
It’s hard to pin down Memoirs. One moment, it’s light-and-fluffy; the next, for a briefer moment, it’s heavy and intriguing. Sometimes the “heavy” is done well and other times, it’s obvious that this is a book written with words about people who don’t exist. Personally, I like to forget that I’m reading when I’m reading. If that’s what you’re looking for, too, you won’t find it here in Memoirs.
❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤