Do you remember what you did this morning? What you did yesterday, or the day before? Can you imagine not having a memory of any recent events, conversations you had, people you met? You might set out shopping to visit a friend and halfway there not remember where you are, or why. Welcome to Flora Banks’ world.
Flora is 17 years old and has suffered from anterograde amnesia since the age of eleven. She can remember everything from before this time, but nothing after. She has a notebook with important information that she carries with her everywhere and she writes daily information on her hand as a reminder. She can only remember what happened the previous few hours and then she begins with a clear slate. In her mind she is an eleven-year-old girl, but in reality she is seventeen. Her best friend since their first day of school, Paige, is her confidant and guide for most things. However, when Flora attends a farewell party for Paige’s boyfriend Drake, (who is moving to the Arctic for study), their friendship suffers immensely. Flora awakes the following day remembering the kiss with Drake and their conversation. This is her first and only memory since she was eleven and she thinks Drake is the cause of it; they are destined to be together.
‘Drake has made me remember. I am going to be normal, because of him. I have to spend my life with him, because he makes my memory work. I don’t feel like a child.’ (p. 56)
When Flora’s parents make an emergency visit to her older brother who is gravely ill in France, Flora finds herself free for the first time since her illness and decides to travel to the Arctic to surprise Drake.
This is a remarkable story. Written in the first person from Flora’s point of view, the reader is positioned to completely understand what life is like for Flora: to know that you may have asked a question several times already, to know you are different to others in many ways, but determined to function in the society as others do, to be ‘normal’. Some of the text is deliberately repetitive illustrating what life is like for Flora and those around her. Some of the prose is quite funny, showing yet another side to this remarkable character.
‘I am attempting to act normal, and I think I am getting away with it. This is beyond thrilling.’ (p. 136)
The minor characters vary in likeability, most are intent on helping Flora, some risking their own lives. It is refreshing to read of strangers trying to help a young woman instead of taking advantage. Some of those closer to Flora, or who have known her for a longer period of time, are different, as you will discover as you near the satisfying conclusion. Flora’s brother, there in her early memories and later in emails and letters between the two siblings, plays an important role. The relationship between the two siblings is close, even though Flora is unable to remember everything. Flora’s brother lives with Jacques, his partner in France. This relationship is normalized in the book, a refreshing inclusion.
The importance of the written word is portrayed, as it is Flora’s only way of having any continuity in her life. Reading this book made me realise just how much I take for granted. The plot is believable and heartfelt. Emily Barr has cleverly included twists and reveals throughout to make this book very hard to put down. Flora stayed with me for some time after I finished reading. Although it is obvious this is a stand alone book, I would like to meet her in the fictional world again one day.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia for supplying this book for review.