Friday, 20 January 2017

'The One Memory of Flora Banks', by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks
Author(s): Emily Barr
Release Date: 12th January 2017
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Publisher (ARC)

Synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora's brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora's fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words "be brave" inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must "be brave" if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

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As soon as I read the blurb of this book I was immediately reminded of 'Before I Go To Sleep', whose main character forgets everything that has happened the day before once she wakes up in the morning, and I was hooked by the concept. I've always been intrigued by characters who suffer memory loss, especially if the narration is done from their point of view, because that immediately makes them very unreliable narrators, even if at no fault of their own.

In Flora's case, her amnesia is even more severe, as she can forget things that have happened a mere hour before. She remembers everything up until the age of ten, but after that everything is a blank. She relies on writing everything she does on her skin, notes or her trusted notebook, which starts with a letter written by her mother that explains the tumor she had as a child and caused her amnesia. As she often finds herself in stressful and anxious situations, it is that letter that brings her up to speed to her very unstable existence.

Flora's story begins at a party, where Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, is saying goodbye to everyone as he is moving to Norway to study. As she attempts to situate herself when she does not recognize anyone and only has the notes in her arms to explain what is happening, she ends up on the beach with Drake, who kisses her. And, the next morning, Flora still remembers.

From the very beginning, Flora is a very unique, compelling narrator. This story is told in first person present, which sometimes can be confusing, but in this case it really was the only (and best) way to present Flora: she has no other way of living than in the exact moment she's in. Seeing her world through her eyes as she looks at everything as if for the first time was fantastic. Emily did an amazing job at capturing Flora's voice, as she is a ten year old girl in a seventeen year old's body. Flora has to repeatedly remind herself that she is not a child anymore, but that innocence and naivety was present throughout in a very believable and non-exaggerated way. That balance of almost two different personalities was brilliantly achieved, and made for a one of a kind character.

I was worried that Flora's obsession with Drake and the kiss would overtake the narrative completely and make this a 'you need a boy to save you' story, but while it is the inciting event that starts it all, Flora's story is about so much more. I can't get too much into it without revealing plot details, but seeing Flora slowly tackle such an overwhelmingly disarming situation within herself and brave the outside world with a definitive sense of purpose definitely makes this a journey that is hers alone.

As I said earlier I love unreliable narrators, since they make you doubt everything that is said or done, and this is definitely one of those books. Since we follow Flora throughout, we are inside her jumbled brain as she figures things out, and sometimes what she learns is not necessarily the truth. People can easily take advantage of someone that will definitely forget what happens to them, or she can easily convince herself of anything, as she has a blank slate every single time. This allows for a very compelling mystery, as it takes you until the very end to unravel Flora's true story.

That being said, I did have a couple of gripes with this book. Paige, Flora's best friend since they were 4, gets incredibly mad at her for kissing Drake, even though they were broken up since he was moving away. I understand an annoyance, but in this particular case it felt very off. Paige has been the one person that has been with Flora through everything, and the attitude she adopts with Flora for most of the book does not make much sense, especially with the change that happens towards the end. It didn't feel like it was in character and was more of a 'plot needed' event, because otherwise the sequence of events that allow for the story would not have happened. Along with this, the ending, while great, fell a bit short of what I thought would happen considering the last stretch of revelations in the story. I wish a certain decision had been stuck with throughout, but in the end both of these are nothing but personal pet peeves that take absolutely nothing away from this mesmerizing, compelling story.

Flora is a girl that needs to constantly remind herself to be brave. This is the story of how she achieves just that, with a brain that may not keep anything, but a heart that gives so much. A fantastic and unique story that should definitely make its way into your reading pile!

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