My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares

Title: My Name Is Memory
Author: Ann Brashares
Genre: Young adult / romance

Rating: 1 / 5

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Hmmm. Some words for this book: Eye-rolling. Angsty. Melodramatic. Unhealthy. Schmaltzy. Manipulative. Contrived. Brooding.

Daniel (who narrates about half the chapters in first person) can remember all his past lives, back to around 500 AD. In that life, he set fire to a house that contained a little girl who looked him in the eyes, and ended up perishing in the fire. He felt immediate and heavy remorse and somehow fell instantly in love with this girl and searches for her throughout their many lives, although she does not possess “the Memory” and so in each new life does not remember him.

I kept highlighting passages for the hatchet job that was taking shape in my mind as I read this book. But first, some praise: the book, being YA, is easy to read; it is very high emotion, which has obvious appeal to many readers; I liked the magical realist touches and some of the ways Brashares writes about reincarnation—some of her ideas were good ones. And of course, the shortcomings: the book lacked depth, which I can forgive (especially in a beach-read YA novel!); and it promoted a very unhealthy view of relationships, which I have a harder time with.

This book reminded me of vampire romance novels I’ve read (All Souls’ Trilogy) or heard about (Twilight), and I think people who are fans of those books would probably be fans of this one, because there are some big similarities. There’s the older man—in this case, Daniel changes bodies every 20-50 years as he dies and is reincarnated, but his memory stays with him, allowing him to draw on ~1,500 years of history, and that obviously impacts his personality. Like classic vampires, Daniel is in a young body but has the mind of a much older person. There’s the young woman who is instantly and completely in thrall to the vampire, but is much “younger” by comparison (in this book, Lucy does not have “the Memory,” so her personality/mind is not shaped by 1,500 years’ worth of experience, even though her body is the same age as Daniel’s body). And most of all, there are the unhealthy relationship dynamics, including (in this one) obsession, really poor communication (saying “no” when you mean “yes” UGHHHPUKE), sexual assault (he gets her drunk, they’re kissing and Lucy gets scared and starts to pull away; Daniel grips her as she struggles to the point of ripping her clothes), and stalking (but for a good purpose, though!!).

This book heavily promotes the “one true love” idea, as the only person Daniel can ever fathom having a romantic relationship with is Lucy; and in lives where they are not together, she is also depressed, lonely, and/or abused (even though Daniel himself does not appear to be an actual positive for Lucy either; in one life he seemingly drives her to an early death from heartbreak by regaling her with all these stories about their past lives and convinces her they are meant to be while he lays dying from war wounds). It felt like something similar to traumatic bonding was going on, in that Daniel was able to convince Lucy that she was basically dependent on him for real love. At one point she is even blaming herself—with help from the third-person narrator, even—that the whole her-saying-no-and-in-response-he-rips-her-dress-off-and-she-runs-away-scared thing was her fault. I found that extremely distasteful. It’s not that it’s just unrealistic, but the way it’s portrayed is also just not healthy. They can basically treat each other poorly but somehow this magic transcendental love fixes it all and they don’t have to any work on their relationship because it’s so heavily meant to be! They fight and have moments of hating each other but so quickly it smooths over as if nothing happened and there is no resolution required—he loved her since he killed her the first time he saw her 1,500 years ago, and that makes it okay, all right?! Nifty how that works, huh? The love isn’t completely one-sided, but it might as well be for the huge weight of longing and fulfillment Daniel heaps on his poor love interest. There is no counterbalance to this crush of emotion and expectation.

Also, there are all kinds of sexist thinking laid about; here are some examples: “Were there drugs in the house? Had the mother worked when the girls were young?” Yep, working mothers, they are the root cause for all family troubles. “Whatever she was doing, she would imagine Daniel there with his thoughts and opinions.” I realize this is common for people with crushes, but this is less a descriptive sentence than a template for Lucy’s entire life (lives). “You should find him because he loves you,” a psychic tells Lucy; even though the last time she saw him was when he was ripping her clothes off and ignoring her distress and her “no.” She’s the one who has to put it right, even though he—with 1,500 years of experience to draw on, even!—was the one who pushed her boundaries by acting like a creep. “Which is why my story would be a lot shorter and more cheerful if I had…found some way to make her love me.” Nice. Not it would have been more cheerful if she had loved me, but it would have been more cheerful if I had found some way to make her love me. Fuck what she thinks/wants! “Her mother…said she’d prefer to sell underwear at Victoria’s Secret, but her father thought that was unseemly for a graduate of Sweet Briar College.” Glad to see her dad using her mom’s degree against her. “If he had another beer, he wouldn’t be able to keep his gaze from dipping into her blouse.” Drunk men are animals who can’t help it! “She was also the kind of girl who got called another girls’ name at the important moment.” Um. Exactly what “kind” of girl is that? There’s also a scene where he publicly shames a person—it’s not clear whether the person is a cross dresser, trans, or something else, but nonetheless it’s gross. Then the third-person narrator says that if a person changes gender between lives they’re confused. I assume this is her explanation for trans/gay/queer/gender variant people :\ There’s also the repeated trope of “rescuing” and “protecting” Lucy; Lucy must always be “rescued,” and lots of the shady things Daniel does are for her own good. This paragraph is getting long so I’ll stop, but I’m not even a third of the way into the things I flagged in this book, so…

Overall, the book is basically overblown. In addition to what I’ve already discussed, Lucy’s older sister, Dana, overdoses on drugs and goes into a coma on Thanksgiving, dies on Christmas, and is buried on New Year’s. How tidy. No doubt Thanksgiving comas followed by Christmas deaths have happened in some families; but why did Brashares choose to do it like this if not for “maximum tragic impact points” (especially because Dana is a throwaway character anyway)? It just seems tawdry. There’s also the case of Daniel’s inexplicably evil older brother. I’m willing to let this ride in stories that have more substance in their major themes (like Harry Potter), but I would have liked to have seen at least a weak stab toward establishing some sort of motive or reason for his evil vendetta, because all the storyline involving him does is give us cheap and artificial thrills. The book as a whole is just kind of ridiculously over-the-top, in every way it can be. Over the top in love at first sight; over the top in evil; over the top in the dates the author chose for the death of the protagonist’s sister; over the top in the characters’ reactions to things; over the top in self-made misery.

You might like this book if you like stories of obsessive and unhealthy but totally fated and thus perfect relationships, or if you just don’t think about it too much. I like to think about what I’m reading, though, and the picture of “love” that this book paints is repulsive to me. As the love story is the only thing of note on offer in this book, I have to say I didn’t like it.

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