The Memory Book

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Memory Book Book Poster Image
Engaging, bittersweet story of teen facing serious illness.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Facts about Niemann-Pick Type C disease, including an excerpt from Wikipedia. Structure of a debate team competition and what each part of the competition tries to achieve. Some cultural and geographical insights into life in the Green Mountains on the Vermont/New Hampshire border.

Positive Messages

When all you have is the present, embrace it in whatever form it takes; allow yourself to just be in it. You have to keep trying; what's important is not that you fall but that you get back up again. Feeling successful has to come from within, not just from what others say about how you did; give yourself a pat on the back for working really hard at something.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sammie is high-achieving, self-motivated, and very competitive. She refuses to give up her goals even when she's diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Her intense focus on her own goals make her not a very good friend, but she learns how to be one over the course of the story. She cheats on a final when she loses her memory because of her disease; she feels bad about it but also feels it was justified, and there are no consequences. Parents, siblings, friends, and the love interest are all loving, loyal, supportive, and willing to hold Sammie to account for her mistakes.

Violence

A hard punch to the face, blood mentioned.

Sex

Infrequent kissing and light making out with vague descriptions. One more intense make-out session vaguely mentions feelings between a teen girl's legs and how his fingers made her feel. A big subplot is about Sammie finally meeting and having a relationship with her big crush.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," and variations of each are frequent. Large variety of other strong language a few times each includes "crap," "asshole," "ass" (body part), "BAMF" ("bad ass motherf----r"), "prick" (name-calling), "goddamn," "goddamnit," "damn," "hell," "bastard," "bitch," and "Jesus" as an exclamation. A gay character mentions being called a "dyke" in the past. Sammie refers to being "a person with a vagina."

Consumerism

No greedy or materialistic characters, but several specific mentions of Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper to set some scenes. Other mentions of clothing brands, car makes, candy, or snack products establish mood, location, and time period.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Once, Sammie has several swigs of gin in advance of a party where teens drink from Solo cups, and some teens exhibit drunken behavior. She imagines a future that includes weekly cocktail gatherings. Getting kegs for a high school party mentioned. Sammie mentions an episode four years earlier when she got drunk and threw up. An important character is frequently mentioned with marijuana, either smoking it, smelling of it, or with paraphernalia such as rolling papers and plastic baggies; he was kicked off a school sports team for it in the past. Speculation about "stoned"-looking college freshmen. Pain medication mentioned briefly. Bad side effects of prescription medication Zavesca mentioned. Several brief mentions of smoking for scene setting, including one of teens at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Memory Book is a bittersweet story about Sammie, a high school senior who's diagnosed with a disease that will make her lose her memory and weaken her body. There's a lot of strong language, especially "f--k," "s--t," and variations of each. Sexy stuff is mild, with infrequent kissing and light making out described vaguely. Sammie drinks to excess once and remembers four years ago when she drank so much she threw up. Attitudes about teen drinking and smoking are matter of fact and consequences aren't mentioned. An important, likable character is almost always mentioned as having, smoking, or smelling like marijuana. He suffered a consequence in the past, but it didn't change his habit. There are strong positive messages about embracing the present and how getting up and trying again is what matters when you fail. Sammie learns how to be a better friend, to be less selfish, and to embrace life, even when it's not the one she planned.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byGraceisnotonfire February 6, 2017

Incredible book

Sam is a teen dealing with an illness that causes her to slowly lose her memory and control of her body. You see her develop it in the early stages and witness... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE MEMORY BOOK, Sammie's got the rest of senior year all figured out: Take the debate team to the national competition, ace all her finals so she'll be valedictorian, and then get out of her small town ASAP and start college at New York University. No problem for someone as super-organized and dedicated as Sammie -- until she's diagnosed with Niemann-Picks Type C, a disease that causes Alzheimer-like symptoms in children. No one can predict how fast the disease will progress, so high-achieving, go-getter Sammie refuses to put any of her future plans on hold. But she does decide to keep a "memory book," a sort of a journal to her future self and a way of making sure she'll remember everything, good and bad, that happens as the disease takes hold. As Sammie's plans for the future start to slip away, can she find meaning and happiness in the present?

Is it any good?

Author Lara Avery's engaging heroine Sammie turns what could've been a weepy illness story into a journey toward learning to cope when life takes an unexpected turn. The Memory Book takes us inside Sammie's mind as it starts to betray her, but Sammie's relatable voice also takes us along with her emotions as she learns how to be a better person. And even as her mind and body change, her voice remains refreshingly authentic all the way. Teens will sigh along with the blossoming romance between Sammie and her longtime crush, Stuart. Keep a box of tissues handy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the swearing in The Memory Book. Does it seem realistic to you? Why do you think there's so much in this book?

  • What are your plans or hopes for the future? How do you think you'd cope if you had to completely change them? Or have you already dealt with something like that? How did you handle it?

  • Maddie says that Sammie was just using her to get ahead on debate team. Does Sammie become a better friend to Maddie? How?

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