The Memory of Light

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Memory of Light Book Poster Image
Realistic, gripping look at teen suicide and mental illness.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Realistic depiction of different types of mental illness (specifically depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia) and their treatments. Provides a view into a suicidal person's state of mind and how suicide ideation is treated. Poetry is discussed, and a few poems are included in the story. One character is fascinated by the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli and educates other characters about him.

Positive Messages

Most of the book depicts characters learning how to help themselves and others. Recurring positive messages include: Learn to speak your mind and stand up for yourself; don't keep your troubles to yourself; be supportive and helpful to others; take care of yourself physically and emotionally; and always have hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

With a few exceptions, most of the characters in the book are positive role models, even if they have some issues. Vicky is a good kid who helps others and tries hard to work through her depression. Mona, E.M., and Gabriel have mental health issues that make them behave in unacceptable or troubling ways sometimes, but they love and care for their friends and families and try to do the right thing most of the time. Dr. Desai is a sympathetic, supportive psychiatrist. Vicky's few friends from school come through for her. One of Vicky's teachers and her principal are understanding about her mental health issues and want what is best for her. Becca faces her own issues and works through her problems with Vicky to become a good sister to her.


A near drowning is depicted. Two characters get into a violent altercation with punches, broken teeth, an attempted cleaver attack, and a choking. References to fights and domestic violence in a few characters' pasts. Attempted suicide and realistic discussions of suicidal ideation.


One scene has some kissing.


Little to no swearing: "God" and "heck."


A few brands and some media mentioned, mostly for scene-setting and not frequently, including Scrabble, iPod, People magazine, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character smokes. A character is shown overdosing on morphine, but the drug use is never depicted.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know The Memory of Light, by Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World), tells the story of Vicky, a teen who has been unknowingly grappling with depression. The story follows Vicky as she recovers from a suicide attempt and works to understand how to move forward with her life. She meets other teens who are dealing with different forms of mental illness, and all have challenges in their home lives. Readers get an unflinching take on what it's like to live with mental illness and how hard it is to explain it to friends and family. The book has more emotional intensity than violent and sexual intensity. There's one physical fight involving a kitchen cleaver, broken teeth, and choking. Characters don't swear, the strongest language being "God" and "heck." Two characters kiss, but it's mild. One character smokes cigarettes and overdoses on morphine, but the drug use isn't shown. Most of the characters are Latinos from all walks of life, which makes this a good choice for readers who are looking for diverse characters. At the end of the book, the author provides several resources for suicide prevention.

User Reviews

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Teen, 16 years old Written byLady Polaris May 9, 2019
Being a teenager, this book was a serious wake up call. Suicide is real, and so is depression. This book covers both of those hard topics in a way that laces ho... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySarahHuizberg November 3, 2018

What's the story?

THE MEMORY OF LIGHT opens with Vicky's suicide note to her longtime nanny and de facto grandma, Juanita. When Vicky is discovered barely alive, she's taken to the local public hospital, a place her rich, elitist father abhors. Vicky, however, likes the hospital, her doctor, and the other patients. Because she's from a wealthy family and attends an exclusive private school, Vicky's time at the hospital exposes her to more of the "real" world and the people in it. Much of the book follows Vicky's time with other teen mental patients she meets in group therapy. She learns about her depression and the illnesses her new friends are dealing with. The book isn't plot-driven but is more of an emotional journey, with Vicky figuring out that everyone's fighting a personal battle or demons that aren't obvious to the casual observer. She leans how to help herself, how to ask for help, and how to help others.

Is it any good?

This honest and moving novel details one teen's journey into depression, her attempted suicide, and what it takes to climb out of the deepest emotional pits. Author Francisco X. Stork gives us a real, unflinching look into the way depression and other mental illnesses feel to those afflicted. When Vicky finds herself in the local public hospital after a suicide attempt, she's not sure she won't try to kill herself again once she goes home. Meeting other patients from different backgrounds opens her eyes to the suffering of people around her, including her family. This book will resonate with anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has mental illness, and it will educate those who have never been touched by it. Vicky's exploration of her depression takes the reader on a journey of emotional discovery. Along the way, she learns that many people are fighting illness and problems in their personal lives, even though they put on a brave facade to face the world every day. Through her group therapy and in finally opening up to those around her, Vicky learns that her traits she considers weaknesses are seen as strengths by others.

The only downside in the book is that the dialogue isn't always authentic. Often the characters are clear mouthpieces for messages the author wants to convey. This can come across as clunky, with characters taking turns on a soapbox. Aside from that issue, the characters are engaging, and their stories will tug at your heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mental health. Lots of people deal with different types of mental illness, and many forms of mental illness are diagnosed during the teen years. If you were concerned about yourself or someone you know, would you know where to ask for help?

  • Many young adult novels deal with physical or mental illness. What others have you read and liked? What's so compelling about these topics?

  • How do expectations and pressure to succeed play into your family dynamic? Do you ever feel like a failure for simply not being the best at things? What are you good at that might not fall into the common categories of academic or athletic achievement?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales and stories of mental illness

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