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Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac


Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

Gabrielle Zevin's debut novel, ELSEWHERE, contained a vividly imagined representation of the afterlife, complete with a giant cruise ship, talking animals and a one-way road toward reincarnation. This hopeful, quietly thoughtful depiction of life after death won several awards when it was published in 2005 and garnered many favorable comparisons with Alice Sebold's wildly popular THE LOVELY BONES, another novel about a young girl's afterlife.

Now Zevin follows up her immensely successful debut with her second novel for teens, MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC. Like ELSEWHERE, her new book is elegiac, thoughtful, and rich in metaphor and character development.

Naomi Porter has always had holes in her personal history --- abandoned in a Russian church as an infant, Naomi has had to piece together her origins from the few tidbits of information her adoptive parents know. But when, in the middle of her junior year of high school, she falls down the stairs, suffering a traumatic head injury and losing her entire memory of her life post-puberty, Naomi has to try to recover her identity, to rediscover who she was before the fall.

As it turns out, much of what Naomi discovers isn't really that great. The old Naomi was part of the in-crowd, friends with mean girls and the girlfriend of tennis star Ace, a shallow jock who mainly loved Naomi for her hair. Besides tennis, she was heavily involved in yearbook, a co-editor along with her best friend Will.

The new, post-amnesia Naomi isn't sure she likes the old one that much. Going with her gut (because, since the fall, that's pretty much all she has to go on), Naomi tries out for the school play, reconnects with a long-lost friend, cuts her hair, and pursues her interest in James, the mysterious, troubled newcomer who found her that day at the bottom of the stairs. But what will happen when and if Naomi gets her memory back? And when it comes to love, will it take another blow to the head for Naomi to finally see what's been standing in front of her all along?

By exploring amnesia, Zevin has selected an apt, multifaceted metaphor for the process of growing up. After losing her memory of her teenage years so far, Naomi is forced to develop an identity over the course of weeks, not years, as most teenagers do. Denied the kind of personal and social history she possessed before her fall, Naomi becomes almost a new person, making different (but not always better) choices.

Naomi's memory loss is also just one of the many losses undergone by the major characters in the book. Both James and Will have lost significant family members, and Naomi's parents have experienced a series of losses, including the failure of their marriage, which ended during the period Naomi can't remember. In part, how these characters fare depends on how well they, like Naomi, are able to discover new lives, new opportunities, to make up for all they have lost.

Finally, Naomi's amnesia, during which she has forgotten not only why she was interested in yearbook in the first place but also what makes the popular girls so well-liked, is a fitting metaphor for the process of forgetting that marks all of our lives. Naomi's father, on the verge of his own new beginning, sums it up: "'You forget all of it anyway… You forget your junior year class schedule and where you used to sit and your best friend's home phone number and the lyrics to that song you must have played a million times…. You forget who was cool and who was not, who was pretty, smart, athletic, and not…. You forget all of them. Even the ones you said you loved, and even the ones you actually did. They're the last to go. And then once you've forgotten enough, you love someone else.'" Naomi's amnesia gives her a certain naïveté, but it also grants her a perspective that is usually achieved only through time, a perspective that finally enables her to see herself and others clearly for the very first time.

Once again, Gabrielle Zevin has given readers a story to savor, taking a plot that, in lesser hands, might be contrived and transforming it with the power of metaphor and character into something bittersweet, touching and ultimately remarkable. MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC is a deeply moving novel that readers will be sure to ponder --- and remember --- for a long time to come.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
by Gabrielle Zevin

  • Publication Date: August 21, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
  • ISBN-10: 0374349460
  • ISBN-13: 9780374349462