YA Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Imagine you woke up one morning and you couldn’t remember a single thing that happened to you after the age of ten. Imagine you were still sleeping in your childhood bedroom, with the same bedspread and all the same teddies lined up around you. Would you believe you were ten years old? Would you somehow sense that years had passed? Would you know how to act your age?
Flora Banks is seventeen and has anterograde amnesia. She can remember her life up to the age of ten but she can’t make new memories. She recognises her Mum and her Dad and her best friend, Paige, who she met on the first day of school. She can hold on to thoughts for an hour or two but then, when they are inevitably lost, she feels a sense of confusion and panic.
Every morning, Flora reaches for the notebook which serves as an external memory stick and reads a note from her Mum reminding her who she is, assuring her she is safe and cared for, warning her not to stray too far from home, telling her that she needs, and will always need, to take her medication.
Flora takes photographs of faces with her phone. She writes notes on her hands for easy reference: ‘I am 17,’ ‘Party,’ ‘Drake, Paige’s boyfriend.’
One note is always there, every day:
Flora, be brave.
Paige’s boyfriend, Drake, is leaving Cornwall for a research trip to the Arctic Circle. At his going-away party, Flora ignores the note on her hand which says, ‘don’t drink alcohol.’ She wants to feel like any other teenager at a party.
When Flora wakes up, she can remember her life up to the age of ten and one more thing. Flora remembers that she kissed a boy on the beach. She remembers that she kissed Drake. Flora remembers how Drake smelled, how his body felt as he leaned his shoulder against hers, and every word of their conversation.
Kissing Drake makes Flora feel normal, better than normal. Kissing Drake makes Flora feel alive and, most importantly, kissing Drake makes Flora remember. The memory of kissing Drake on the beach is the only memory that doesn’t disappear.
Like a fairytale princess, Flora must wrap herself up in a fur coat, fix a hearty, confident expression on her face and venture forth on a quest to find her handsome prince and discover the secret of making memories.
The One Memory of Flora Banks is an easy, addictive read with a fascinating premise. It is almost a terrific book.
Emily Barr pulls off a nice trick by writing the thoughts of a seventeen-year-old in the language of a ten-year-old but she has under-estimated her audience and erred on the side of over-simplification. The repetition of Flora’s daily reminder notes, while clearly essential to Flora, was excessive and became irritating to this reader. Flora’s Mum is cast as the evil queen whose criminal behaviour is mitigated by clinical depression. Flora’s Dad is described as a hapless nice guy where in fact, in his failure to confront his wife and provide appropriate treatment for his daughter, he is guilty of gross negligence. Neither parent rings true. Most vexing of all was a mysterious series of emails which remained dangling from the finale as an unresolved loose end.
Whatever Flora Banks lacks in style, she makes up for in character. I loved her intelligence, her indomitable spirit and her courage in the face of the unknown.This is a girl who has no choice but to live in the moment and no way to move forward other than one baby step at a time.
I was eager to discover Flora’s fate. I was rooting for her. I struggled, like Flora, to figure out whether words or memories are more likely to hold the truth. How do you discern the credibility of a post-it note telling you that what you remember isn’t true? How do know who to trust? How do you learn from experience if you can’t remember it?
I couldn’t guess the ending. Anything can happen because the reader can’t know what Flora can’t remember. Flora Banks, in her queer way, is delightfully unpredictable.
The One Memory of Flora Banks is a quirky variation of the classic bildungsroman, an entertaining book but, I fear, not memorable.