By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian
I told you there was going to be more book talk coming down the line. And unlike last week, I know exactly how I feel about today’s What I Just Read.
What I Just Read: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
What’s It About (Jacket Description): Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.
That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.
Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.
Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one—about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.
Do I Like It: It’s amazing!
Thoughts: The Memory of Light was, believe it or not, much less of a downer than I expected. While it deals with extremely heavy subjects, the writing is so beautiful, the main character so strong and all the characters so compelling that far from bringing me down, it mostly made me feel contemplative and hopeful. That said, there were some dark moments in the book, and it’s hardly sunshine and roses at the end.
Vicky is a main character who is easy to sympathize with, even if you don’t have depression like she does. The grind of feeling inadequate, struggling in school, family strife and more were easy to relate to. And despite her difficulties, Vicky was a really kind, caring and strong character. It’s clear early on that her suicide attempt was not a result of weakness. If anything, it seemed like a result of deep exhaustion and lack of knowledge. Watching her connect with the members of her group and her therapist, as well as learn more about herself and what it means to be depressed, was really powerful. In fact, despite a slow plot, I found myself lingering in my car for just a few minutes more when I parked to hear more of her story.
The writing in The Memory of Light is top notch. The way Vicky described being depressed was descriptive, evocative and really made me as a reader understand what she felt and really grasp what she was going through. There was also a really well done writing trick in the text, which especially came through in the audiobook. At the beginning, Vicky’s voice is a little dull and, at least in the narration, monotone. But as the story progresses and she begins to deal with some of her depression and find some rays of hope, the prose gets more lively and the narration does too. It was such a great way to reflect Vicky’s experiences and mental state.
Lastly, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the side characters. Ignore the Breakfast Club-like description, because none of the characters in Vicky’s group are “types.” They’re all living, breathing characters with their own stories and issues outside of Vicky. But the way they bond with each other and with Vicky, and the way their stories play out, was really engaging to read about, and made me feel like I knew them all. The same thing goes for Vicky’s family. Despite their flaws and failures in taking care of Vicky when she needs them, they never came across as caricatures or villains, but as people who just didn’t understand what was going on, and didn’t know how to care for someone they loved.
This is not the book for you if you’re looking for a fast-paced plot, drama (really) or action. But it is a character-driven, incredibly realistic look at what depression is like and what comes after a suicide attempt, and it’s told through beautiful prose and a compelling and sympathetic protagonist. It’s a wonderful, quiet, powerful read that I highly recommend.