Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The premise of this book is pretty simple: a junior in high school falls down the stairs and loses about four years’ worth of memory. Although you have seen this story on a thousand and one soap operas, this book actually explores these issues instead of just having them be a convenient plot point. Naomi, our protagonist and amnesiac, is a very likable character, very easy to relate to. Her best friend Will, however, was definitely my main draw. A yearbook nerd, he makes mix CDs for her for all sorts of occasions, knows her inside out, answers questions about her past more honestly than anyone else, and, as you will quickly figure out, is very obviously in love with her. In short, he is just the sort of guy I would have fallen for in high school, just the sort of guy I always fall for in novels. As one of my former coworkers pointed out, whether it’s novels or reality TV, I always go for the nerds. (Except I’m not really sure Mike is a nerd. I think he is a little bit cooler than I am.)

Besides Will, what I loved about this book is that Naomi, who was very popular as well as being a yearbook nerd herself, found herself in a life she didn’t know, with friends she wasn’t sure she liked (not Will, of course), and a boyfriend she was pretty sure wasn’t her type (again, definitely not Will). Most of us feel too much social pressure to know who we are and what we like in high school, but Naomi was figuring those things out without a lot of those pressures, because she wasn’t caught up in that game. That’s a very interesting concept – why was she friends with some of these people? Why wasn’t she friends with others? Why did she choose yearbook and not acting? What in the world did she see in her boyfriend?

More than that, it made me think about my own emotional baggage. Naomi couldn’t really remember why she hated her dad’s fiancee, or why she was mad at her mom. She couldn’t remember a lot of the emotional experiences that had shaped her, and, reading her journal, she wasn’t even sure that she liked the person she used to be. I was a little bit jealous, to be honest: if I wasn’t able to remember how a particular person had hurt me, wouldn’t I be happier? We could just start over. If I had a chance to learn things over again, we could hope that I might be more mature about the experience, handle some of it better.

Of course, life’s not really like that. Losing her memory certainly created quite a few problems for Naomi, even as it gave her the freedoms to explore new opportunities. I don’t get a do-over, nor can I simply forget about the things, both good and bad, that have shaped me. One of the time-related themes of the book that tied in to Naomi’s father’s wedding was that he chose to say, “I will,” focusing on the future, rather than, “I do,” which focuses on the present. Naomi was forced to live without her past . . . I can, at the very least, embrace the future without focusing on past wounds.

If it’s not clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story in this book, not to mention the ways that it made me think about my own high school (and college) years and how they might have been different if I’d focused a little bit less on the past.

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