there may be spoilers*, but mild and gentle ones, not “it was earth all along” spoilers. this is a book i was reading for school, not because i am a big fan of realistic teen fiction. if you are a teen girl wondering if you should read this book, this is probably not going to be the review for you. in fact, you should stay away from most of my reviews because i am careless and i don’t want to be responsible for shattering any beautiful innocence about life or anything. stay gold and all that.
the brain is a complicated organ. duh. well, it is. and i can only assume that gabrielle zevin did her brain-research to get all the facts about amnesia and memory loss and its potential for recovery into fighting shape. but amnesia in general seems like such a contrivance—a staple of soap operas and romantic comedies, it never seems real, even though it happens every day. how does the brain selectively lose chunks of information but retain others? please don’t tell me—this is just a rhetorical musing—my brain does not even want to begin to think about it. instead, i am choosing to interpret amnesia here as more of a metaphor for the formlessness of adolescence, where a girl can fall for the tennis jock one day and see no conflict in then developing feelings for the moody and tortured artist and then deciding her goofy best friend is the next logical move. where hobbies are acquired and dropped with regularity and friends change with the season. i mean, obviously the character in this book has actual amnesia (mind those stairs, kids!) but i’m am talking big-picture, the value of this book to readers. i mean—who is the most logical audience for this book?? amnesiacs?? they won’t even remember having read it, so too bad for them.
the audience is just everyday teens, either exercising their schadenfreude muscles, or who can relate to the feelings of confusion and freedom that this amnesiac experiences. adolescence is already filled with infinite possibilities—where so many things are still new and untried, but imagine starting over within this already emotional and hormonal time and being given a free pass to do anything and be able to blame it on amnesia? score!! she writes this part exceptionally well. and i love teen fiction with flawed protagonists. most teens i come into contact with are selfish assholes—it’s just that stage in development. i’m pretty sure i was a selfish asshole at fifteen as well. so i appreciate it when the characters aren’t all noble virgin peacemakers. i think that the discovery of the unreliable narrator is one of the joys of development as a reader, and there are not many in teen fiction—it marks a transition into adult literature, like “look at the possibilities.” this narrator isn’t unreliable per se, not intentionally so, but she is awfully unlikable, presumably contracting a heavy dose of jerkiness with her head trauma.
so at the end of the day, i think she wrote a fantastic book about being emotionally unmoored. whether she wrote a great book about amnesia is debatable, but i think the emotional ups and downs of youth are captured well, and it is a book teen girls will probably eat up with a spoon. (because i know you guys are still reading this, just because i told you not to)
* a note on spoilers from my textbook (literature for today’s young adults—nilsen and donelson 8th edition) that i think puts it well:
The more you read, the more your pleasure will come not so much from being surprised at how a book ends but from your recognition of all the things the author did to bring you as the reader to the end of the story. As discussed in the following section, “Stages of Literary Appreciation,” reading is similar to a journey where what you experience along the way is often as important as what you experience at your final destination.