BookBrowse Reviews The Memory Book by Lara Avery

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The Memory Book

by Lara Avery

The Memory Book by Lara Avery X
The Memory Book by Lara Avery
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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A journal written to teenager Sammie's future self, so she can die remembering her remarkable life.

Isn't hope the ultimate motivation? We challenge ourselves because we believe that the reward will be well worth the struggle. We fight because there's the possibility that we will win. This feeling of hope, and all of the dreams and promises that surround it, are at the center of Lara Avery's moving novel, The Memory Book.

Samantha "Sammie" McCoy is an overachieving senior at Hanover High in New Hampshire. She's the kind of young person who is a leader – a doer, and she's filled with hope for her future. When we meet her, she says, "I'm going to win the National Debate Tournament, get into NYU, and be a human rights lawyer." She stands apart from her other classmates because she is exceptional on every level. She is intelligent, kind, and fun. In all of her greatness, she's likeable and even relatable. Sammie shows her light side by admitting that she "laughs at SpongeBob and fart jokes even when stupid people make them." If a young person can have a perfect life, Sammie seems to have it – at least from the outside.

But there's something hiding beneath the surface. Sammie has trouble with her memory. She forgets. She stumbles. She can't always process like she should be able to. After undergoing medical tests, she is diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC), a rare genetic disorder that is "always fatal," and, suddenly her bright future appears much less certain.

Sammie, however, has a plan. She'll create a memory book to help her remember, and she'll do everything in her power to not forget.

Avery handles Sammie's inevitable downfall with grace, and she captures Sammie's worries beautifully. Sammie begins to panic when she notices the symptoms occurring more frequently: "If I don't get to finish out the school year, my grades go down. If my grades go down, Hanover will reconsider my valedictory status. If they take away my valedictory status, my parents will realize I'm losing control of things." It's such an emotional and heartbreaking experience to read, but it's one grounded in truth.

Sammie is among the very best (and most well-rendered) YA characters in recent memory. Her love of success is endearing, and her frequent citations of her "favorite feminist icons" list including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Beyonce, Malala Yousafzai, and Serena Williams only adds to her kind and well-meaning spirit. Avery has crafted an infectious young spirit, and readers will fall in love with her.

The supporting cast of characters is also quite remarkable. Stuart Shah and Cooper Lind serve as love interests that create a Twilight-esque Edward versus Jacob dynamic. Stuart is a talented writer and kind spirit who Sammie fantasizes about as having for a boyfriend. Cooper is a rougher, boy-next-door type who also vies for Sammie's attention. As Sammie begins her decline, the boys continue to support her. They will have readers swooning. Maddie, Sammie's friend and debate partner, brings an added layer. She is a friend who isn't willing to let Sammie's illness serve as a crutch in their relationship. Sammie's imperfect parents and frustrated siblings also stand out as enjoyable characters.

The Memory Book has more than its share of pain, anger, and suffering, but it also has plenty of laughter, joy, and especially hope. It's a novel that touches on the full spectrum of adolescent (and adult) emotions. Sammie's story is special. It's the kind of book that readers will share among groups of friends during these last weeks of summer.

For readers looking for a contemporary, realistic novel with an abundance of heart to tide them over until John Green or Jandy Nelson can publish their next books, Lara Avery's The Memory Book is a more than a worthy title.

Reviewed by Bradley Sides

This review was originally published in August 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Niemann-Pick Type C

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