Think The Fault in Our Stars blended with All the Bright Places – that’s exactly what you get in Lara Avery’s heart-breaking, life-affirming and dazzling novel, The Memory Book. Published last July, it is one of the most underrated books of the year and is a remarkable heart-felt story that will have you laughing and crying all at the same time. It is a story of hope, it is a story of love, but most of all it’s a story will have you thinking about it long after you close the cover.
“They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I’ll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I’m writing to remember.”
Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she’s going to win the national debating championship, then she’s going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she’d planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.
So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won’t wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.
Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it’s not the life she planned.
I was enthralled by this book. Sammie is without doubt a really weird, socially awkward and self-absorbed character, but she’s funny, interesting and absolutely relatable. Her futile attempts to plan her way out of a terminal illness are heart-wrenching, but I can imagine that most people would be the same. She documents every detail of her life, determined not to miss a moment of it, and it’s in those raw and honest moments with herself that we see the best parts of the story.
There are loads of books out there that are about the dead or dying teenagers. But Sammie’s voice makes The Memory Book stand out. Her narrative voice is sardonic, distinctive, wildly intelligent and sometimes outright hilarious. Although the book is absolutely one about a teen with a terminal disease, it’s hard to think of it as a story about death, or a girl preparing for it. Rather, it’s a story about a young woman who is hanging on to hope, learning to live and love in the present when she had previously been far too focused on a future that she was never going to have.
The main thing that drew me in to The Memory Book was the deeper message that I felt Avery was trying to teach her readers. This idea that although it’s good (and to some extent important) to work hard and plan for your future, you can’t forget to actually live your life and be fully present with the people you love, and who love you, in the process.
Near the end of the novel, when the characters are learning to live and love in the present, Avery writes:
“I’ve lived with you right now and those right nows are everywhere, every time, in my house, in your house, on the mountain. I love you. Home is where love is. You’re my home.”
— Lara Avery, The Memory Book
It is one of the most common faults of human beings: to get caught up in working so hard that we forget why we’re actually doing it and forget to live.
We become transfixed with the idea that we need to make a plan, work hard, get a job, earn money and we think that the “living” part of life will happen much later after we’ve done all that. But then what happens is life has passed us by in the blink of an eye and we’re too old and weak to live our life to the fullest. So we look back, and all we see is work.
At the end of the day and at the end of our lives, when we look back what will matter to us most won’t be how much money we made, or what we did to bring it in, it will be the friends we had, the people we loved, the family we created.
Love and living are best parts of life; we can’t work so hard that we forget to actually do these things.
As J.K. Rowling once wrote:
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone