Sammie McCoy is an ambitious teenager with big plans for her future. She's part of the debate team, on track to compete at nationals, and she's going to go to university in New York City. That is, until she finds out that she has a rare genetic disease that will force her memories to slip away from her. Not only that, but it also gives her seizures and her life expectancy shrinks considerably – making a normal life and university suddenly seem impossibly far away.
With the independence she craved for so long completely out of reach, rather than worrying about debate championships she now worries about getting lost on the way home from school. In an attempt to maintain normalcy as long as possible, Sammie creates a memory book. In this she records the people she loves, her daily routines, and anything that she can remember that her future self might need to know.
Through her journal entries, and additions from her family members and friends, we get to know Sammie as she comes to terms with the impossible, all while battling normal teenage anxieties, school stress, and even first love.
While I know it sadly happens, I've never read about such a young character with dementia and it provided a whole new insight into this horrific disease. It's awful when it affects someone nearing the end of a long life, but when it impacts a teenager who hasn't even had a chance to make decades of memories? Heartbreaking.
And Sammie is such a brave and inspirational character throughout. She is far from perfect, as there is understandable rebellion from her after the diagnosis. But when everything is tainted by the anger and frustration that the perfect plan you mapped out for your future is impossible, wouldn't you want to hit out against the entire world? And while Sammie has her moments where it gets too much, it doesn't stop her from living or pursuing her dreams, for as far as they're still possible.
What made this book particularly hard-hitting is that the moment of diagnosis didn't immediately change everything in Sammie's life, instead we see the slow break-down of her independence as her world shrinks to the confines of her own home. But before it gets to that stage we get to know her wonderful family, her friends, and her first boyfriend.
As a reader you can't help but feel incredibly close to Sammi and that intimacy makes finishing this book even more difficult. It was beautiful to share all those special moments with Sammi and her family throughout, but also devastatingly sad.
Though one thing that is worth mentioning is that this is as much a book celebrating all those special firsts as it is one standing still by all the lasts. And I feel privileged to have been with Sammi for all of those. Her journey, heart-breaking it may have been, was also beautiful and inspirational, especially because of the strong person Sammi is throughout.
Thank you Lara Avery for not only writing a highly unique and eye-opening young adult novel, but also for creating such a wonderful and memorable character in Sammi. I fell in love with her this year, and I am sure I won't be the only one. Though perhaps add a tissue warning to the start of the book, because I needed lots and lots of them...
The Memory Book is published by Quercus and you can get your copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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