The Memory Book by Lara Avery

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The Memory Book by Lara Avery

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: First person story of a progressive neurological disease told by the sufferer. Delicate, moving and beautifully written with a credible, interesting central character.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1784299243

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Sam McCoy has her life all planned out. She is going to win the national debating competition, go to college in New York and become a human rights lawyer. She is so sure of this that it almost feels ordained. And she has worked for it too, sacrificing relationships and friendships in the service of ambition. You can imagine, then, that Sammie views a diagnosis of Niemann–Pick type C as little more than a rock in the road. She won't let a pesky health condition stand in her way.

The thing is, Niemann Pick type C isn't your average rock. It's a progressive neurological condition similar to dementia. Sufferers experience slurred speech, limb weakness, seizures, and, most significantly, progressive memory loss. And it's terminal.

The Memory Book charts Sam's battle with Niemann Pick in the form of a journal written by Sam to her future self. The entries are full of the things she wants to remember. They start out defiant and lucid and determined and, as the disease takes hold, less lucid passages follow. Some are contributed by her friends and family. Some are clear and some are confused. But the narrative flows nonetheless.

After The Fault in Our Stars, there have been many stories of teens with terminal illness and, hard-hearted as it sounds, I do wonder whether the market is becoming overheated. But The Memory Book was lovely to read and didn't feel like a cookie-cutter novel at all. Sam is a great central character. She's so driven and determined to succeed that she has ended up quite isolated. She isn't, as we find so often, the victim of high school mean girls. She's brought her isolation on herself in that she has deliberately sacrificed popularity for success. You've no time to be a good friend if all you care about is winning the debating final and becoming class valedictorian. Part of Sam's Niemann Pick journey is coming to terms with this and mending some fences. So throughout the book, she blossoms as she fades and it's really tremendously touching.

The format is clever: because it's Sam's journal and Sam's memory is disappearing, it's clear that a great deal is happening that we don't get to read about, only infer. Avery handles with this great delicacy and grace and this first person view of things makes the book genuinely moving without ever succumbing to the saccharine.


If The Memory Book appeals to you, you could also look at Before I Die by Jenny Downham, which tells the story of the final few weeks in the life of a terminally ill adolescent. It's frank and open, dealing with every possible taboo subject, but it has great beauty and at times touches on profundity. There's also The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, a spectacular exploration of memory, first love and family secrets. How can you find the boy you love if the only thing you can remember is kissing him?

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Buy The Memory Book by Lara Avery at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Memory Book by Lara Avery at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy The Memory Book by Lara Avery at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Memory Book by Lara Avery at