It’s taken me a long time to read this book. I thought there could be no way I wouldn’t like it because I already have loved a different book by Mary E. Pearson (Scribbler of Dreams, 2002). I have heard various book talks about it. A friend in library school talked about it so well, I pretty much went out immediately and purchased it.
And I’m glad I finally read it. I have slightly mixed feelings about it. It’s about Jenna, a girl who wakes up after being in a coma for one year. She’s told that she was in an accident and that it’s normal that she doesn’t remember things. And she really doesn’t remember anything about who she is or how she got to be the way she is. She can’t even remember her family.
There’s something so excellent about amnesia stories. Soap operas understand what gets a person’s attention. And so does Mary E. Pearson. And what really grabs your attention is how creepy everything is. Jenna can recite certain things with perfect clarity, like the whole book, Walden by Henry David Thoreau or entire chunks of her country’s history as if from a textbook, even though her parents tell her that history was never one of her strong suits. And she can’t remember things like being able to read emotions on faces or even feeling many emotions herself. And when the memory retrieval reaches an all time top creeptastic level is when Jenna realizes how much her parents are lying to her about what happened. They’re even controlling her in a way she couldn’t have even imagined.
Jenna discovers the truth about what happened to her and the extent to which a parent is willing to go to save their child. The book lightly plays with ethical politics in regards to body transplants, synthetic limbs, and medical science. It reminded me in some cases of the book, Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Jenna watches videos of her life, the videos made by parents who already know what it felt like to lose babies. Jenna, post coma, can tell how much past Jenna needed to please them, needed to be the good child who made it through. There’s a lot of family drama.
The book is about breaking free from what is expected of you. It’s about standing up for what you want. And most of all it’s about asking serious questions, and learning about the decisions people make when they are desperate. It’s about falling in love and learning to love yourself.
I found the romance aspect really interesting because it really brought to light all of Jenna’s inner conflict about who/what she was to herself. Every now and then there are these brief poems that really shine the spotlight on how Jenna feels, which doesn’t always come across in the narrative scenes. These poems really allow for readers to understand, feel empathetic towards, and to even love Jenna. I also loved how nothing was blatantly obvious. Readers are required to think a little in this book. They are required to figure certain things out because they won’t be blatantly stated for them later.
And while in so much of this book, Pearson expected her readers to figure things out, the biggest thing was a little too obvious for me. I knew what was wrong with Jenna really early on in the book, and I was hoping for more of a surprise. Maybe I have read too many YA dystopias/sci-fi stories, so it’s just really hard to shock me? And while, I loved Jenna –she was fascinating to learn with and solve problems with– she was also a little too whiny for me. Yes, I felt bad for her. What happened to her was terrible. What was decided for her, with no regards to her own wants/needs was also terribible. I just didn’t’ need to be reminded of how terrible her life was at every second. I kept hoping for her to get stronger. And I think she did become stronger by the end, but I had to suffer practically a whole book of her whininess before her strengths shined through.
I give it an 8/10, and I look forward to reading it’s sequel/companion ARC I picked up at ALA New Orleans!