Monday, November 17, 2008

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Falling, hitting your head and getting amnesia and a chance to reinvent yourself. What a concept! What would it be like to have a blank slate with which to start your life over? What high school student wouldn't love to be able to reinvent themselves?! The reviews of this book were very positive, it seemed like a bit of a psychological drama, and even got a STAR review from Booklist. On the surface, a decent read, with lots of young adult appeal, and although I think the story and characters had potential, I was disappointed. Anyone else feel that way?

I thought the author could have delved into Naomi's character a bit more. The author alludes to Naomi's memory lapsed being connected to her parents separation, but she never develops that is tossed out into the mix and then dropped. Her relationship with James seems too pat. They go from being madly in love, to nothing. The section where she is at his graduation taking pictures for the year book with such calm and objectivity seems implausible to me. I was also amused with her relationship with Ace...and did like the way the author brought their relationship full circle in the end. I think the author does a great job of showing us the "real" Naomi, the Naomi who can't figure out what she ever saw in Ace...and why she didn't like her father's fiance. Her amnesic self is more mature and likable than the old Naomi. The story plays out like a rebirth, and that I did like.

I also liked Will's character. I feel the relationship between Naomi and Will is the most developed. I thought her description of Will, "Will instantly feels 'comfortable and broken-in like favorite jeans...'" very telling, almost foreshadowing. I felt terrible about the way she treats him as she struggles to find herself, but love the way their character reconnect. I liked the line, towards the end, as she discovers her feeling about Will, “I had thought the way I felt about Will was just a room, but it had turned out to be a mansion.”

I will stop here, and wait to see what you all thought, and then jump back into the conversation.


Dawn said...

I agree Kathy. I was a little disappointed with certain aspects of the novel, but I did enjoy reading it all the same. I felt like there was a lot of unfinished business, like the relationship between Naomi and her mother. It was as if the story started to go one way and then just left us at a dead end.

As always, I start to question certain things while reading. For example, can one have amnesia and remember anything? I was questioning how Naomi could remember things from sixth grade, but she could not remember the most recent happenings. When the amnesia stopped (if that is the right wording) how come Naomi didn’t return to the person she was before she had amnesia? I guess I was expecting her to want to be back with Ace because that is what she knew previously.

Oddly one of my favorite parts of the story was Naomi’s father. I felt like I could relate to him with his lists. I thought it was funny when they were watching the animal show, and he talks about how it is redundant for the narrator to state that the animal urinated on the female with his own urine. However, I do question how he handled Naomi’s drinking at that party. It seemed like he was sort of nonchalant about it. Also, how in the world did he not get more information about Naomi’s trip to California?

Another aspect that I enjoyed was how Will expressed himself through music. At the end when he is talking to Naomi about graduation songs, I thought Bittersweet Symphony was a great newer pick for the occasion. His character was very likable to me and many students may relate to him.

Finally, I did not enjoy James. I know he was a major character in the story, but I felt it was just kind of added in and then dropped at the end. I did not like the relationship he had with Naomi, nor did I feel like we got enough information on him and why he did the things he did etc…

Kim Seeley said...

I totally agree with what Kathy and Dave have said so far. I did enjoy the book, but felt like the characters were not developed enough. She fell, the hospital was mentioned, and all of a sudden she was home? Zevin made Ace sound like a big football lug and then he was niec to her in the end. The relationship with James seemed like a waste of my time because he just dumped her. I know it sounds like I hated the book, but I thought it was ok. I didn't dread reading it, but wanted to read it to just get it done. I think a teenage girl might like this book, but as an adult, I question way too many things.

Cherie said...

So far, I agree too. I did enjoy reading the book but after I finished I had so many unanswered questions.
I definitely agree with Dawn that James was not a likeable character. He was moody and distant and, although it was suggested, his controversial past was never fully exposed and discussed. I think my favorite character was Will. He proved time and again to truly be a best friend and a stand up guy in the book. Strangly though I was somewhat pleased that the end of the book didn't have the complete "storybook ending", athough it was alluded to.
I think that the author could have expanded more on the relationship between Naomi and her mother. I think that modern teens dealing with divorce and separation could have benefitted from this aspect of the book.
Overall, I thought it was an easy read of an entertaining story that tried to discuss deeper issues but lacked the ability to do it well.

ksalecki said...

For the most part I actually liked the book even though, as many of you have pointed out, there were several plot lines that left the reader with unanswered questions. However, I felt the unanswered questions were actually intentional. If I'm not mistaken (I don't actually have the book in front of me), the book was written in the first person perspective of Naomi. Given that the book was told from her point of view I feel that it is only right that we only get snippets of other peoples' thoughts or motives or even of her past, which she only began to remember towards the end. I thought having unanswered questions made it more realistic- who in life truly knows all of the answers to all of life's questions -even the questions in our own private worlds?
As far as the characters- I also agree that Will was my favorite. As a matter of fact, I didn't really like Naomi at all until towards the end when she finally figured herself out. She was a very flawed character who made many bad choices and hurt a lot of people with her actions (I thought it was particularly terrible when she promised her mother's husband that she would meet with him after the show to try and patch things up with her mom and then ditched). However, even though I disliked the characters (or at least the things they did) I found them to be realistic as far as the poor decisions that many teenagers make and the variety of emotions and motivations that accompany or cause those decisions.
Finally, there is James. He was actually the most believable of all of the characters for me. I knew someone VERY similar to James from the unexplainable mood swings, to the sudden seemingly loss of interest in Naomi. The guy I knew had a history of drug addiction in his past as well as struggling with extreme depression. Even though by the time I met him he had been clean for 2 years, he still exhibited many of the same behaviors that James did. For example, there was a time that we had made plans to go out and get coffee. He didn't have a car, so I agreed to pick him up. In the 10 minutes it took for me to get to his apartment he had had a complete breakdown. I waited in his driveway for approximately 15 minutes. When I finally called to see what was holding him up he was practically in tears because he couldn't find his wallet. I told him it wasn't a big deal, that I could pay and he said that he had already found the wallet, but was too upset to go out any more. As strange as James' behavior was in the book, I found that it was actually very realistic given his own struggles with depression and drug addiction.
So, even though there were many times throughout the book that I wanted to throw it across the room, on the whole I enjoyed it because it had me wondering what was going to happen next, had me laughing out loud, and most importantly gave me some insight into an old friend of mine as well as a reminder of the difficulties (or perceived difficulties) of teenage life, which we all lose sight of sometimes.

Maria said...

I liked the book for a quick read, but I expected more from it. There were a lot of tidbits brought up with Naomi's character then dropped and not alluded to again. For example, something was mentioned about a diary of food that she ate daily marked with happy/unhappy faces for evaluation. It was a piece of her past, but it was never developed...was she anorexic, OCD, or typical, shallow teen worried about her weight? Her relationship with James was bizarre at best, yet Naomi, herself, says that it was their craziness that kept them together. When she regained memory, she had no need for James. I felt that story line was rushed. Overall, though, the idea of examining your life and how you are living it is an interesting idea. Self reflection is such an important piece of life and getting the chance to analyze, modify, and come to terms with oneself is an act most people do not do readily. It is difficult at best, especially in those teenage years. Like Kathy, I felt the idea of the book was interesting, but parts were just underdeveloped.

Rebecca Kennedy said...

I think that the idea of being able to completely rebuild your life at such a crucial age is an interesting idea. However, I too was a bit disappointed with the book. I felt many times that I was left hanging with questions that never did get answered. Most of the time I found the character of James to be unnecessary,and almost annoying. I found myself wanting the "craziness" to end because it wasn't productive for either Naomi or James.
I was frustrated by many of the same things that others have mentioned. The fact that details were brought up throughout the book but never explained,for example the food diary and the relationship between Naomi and her mother.
I think this book would be enjoyed by a teenage girl and I don't think it was horrible, I just wasn't able to connect with any of the characters. I found myself reading it to get through it. I wanted the book to have a fairytale ending just so I could feel like there was a point to reading it.

Lisa said...


Lisa said...

I totally agree with the fact that there were so many parts of the book that were left up to the imagination. I agree with Kathy S. I think this was intentional. I think this was the authors way of portraying Naomi's amnesia.

I think the relationship between Naomi and James is very real and I think that many of our students could relate to that, as scary as that may be. It just shows how needy and impulsive kids are in today's society.

I loved the relationship between Will and Naomi. I didn't like how she treated him, but that is part of the maturity process. I'm glad that the author reunited them in the end.

I think Zevin hit on many issues that teens face today: death, love, divorce, making bad decisions, and rebellion. Overall, it was not the worst book I've read. It was a good quick read.

Charlene said...

I liked this book but I didn't love it. It would be interesting to see what some of the kids think about it. The part about throwing cameras down the steps was stupid and destructive. I think Naomi and James had alot in common. Such as being self centered and not very emphatic to others. The part where Naomi stood up her mother's husband spoke volumes about her character and her mother's and step father's. They were trying to develop a positive relationship with her and she treated them terribly. I liked her dad alot and also Will. James was a unstable individual who realized that he could decompensate at any time. Will had no sympathy for him and Naomi had too much. He did try to warn Naomi that there was a good chance that he would go "bad" again. I did think that his character added some depth to this book. Actually, he made me nervous. I have known several people very much like James and I would certainly not want my daughter or sons for that matter to get involved with them. It would have been better if Zevin had delved into the cause of Naomi's amnesia. There just seemed to be too many issues that were dealt with very superficially. A sequel would be nice.

Jen said...

I liked this piece and finished it a long time ago. I did struggle with processing it. The part I especially liked was the part where she has a discussion with her dad. "It happens, baby....You forget it anyway... You forget who was pretty, smart, athletic, and not. Who went to a good college. Who threw the best parties. Who could get you pot... Even the ones you said you loved, and even the ones you actually did. They're the last to go." I wondered if in some way this was more than a father's advice about life. I wondered if metaphorically it was a message to the readers. The Teenage Amnesiac who wakes up and everything that was so important is not important anymore. She was a different person after hitting her head. Would we all go back to high school and be different and find different friends, different things to laugh about, to cry about, etc... I wanted more.
I see that you all were not extrememly impressed with the novel. I see the teenage appeal, but would have liked more dvelopment.

Kathy J. said...

Hard to believe we all had such similar thoughts about this book! Maybe it speaks volumes to where we are in our lives...old (or experienced) enough to want the chance to hit the "undo" button! :-)

Jen's comment about the advice from Naomi's dad really resonated with me as well...I wish kids would understand that to worry about all the "stuff" they obsess on is 5 or so years no one will remember who was voted "best smile" or homingcoming queen!

Amazingly, the students who have been checking out this book have loved it.

Kathy J. said...

One more thought...

I was intrigued by Lisa's comments about James and Naomi's relationship. I don't think I thought of it that light. Maybe that is why the students have liked it so much??!!

Chris K said...

I too was disappointed with the novel. I think that kids would not look at the unanswered questions as being intentional. I did not like the skipping around, first a major accident and a hospital stay to back to school, it just seemed to have too many holes. I agree with Maria, self reflection is an important aspect of life, yet many teenagers are not ready to reflect.

rebeccakryger said...

I had mixed feelings about this novel. The idea behind it was interesting...forgetting who you are and having to start with a clean slate makes the reader consider what factors make a person who they are. Naomi was able to see how her personality before the accident was affected by her anger toward her mother, the popularity she wanted at school, and her friendship with Will. I like that she was able to look at her previous self objectively and identify ways that she wanted to be different now. However, I don’t like how she treated Will. He was the one person totally devoted to her, yet she becomes obsessed with her bizarre relationship with James. I agree with some of the previous comments, James was not likeable. Other than the fact that he was there for Naomi when she fell, how is he worth everything she abandoned for him (the paper and Will)? I guess I just didn’t get his character and what was attractive to Naomi.

I also hoped for more at a few points. When Naomi gets her memory back, I expected it to be a turning point or at least a major moment for her; instead it seemed secondary and wasn’t as important as I wanted it to be for her. Naomi also mentions the food diary when going through her things, but we don’t hear any more about it. I thought it was a little far-fetched that she flies across the country to be with James without her father knowing. I was scared for her when he didn’t show on the beach, but what was she thinking going to California in the first place? It also made me angry that after not talking to Will and treating him so badly, she goes to him for help and wants him to lie to her father. I’m glad Will and Naomi seem to reconcile at the end. By the end, though, I found it hard to like Naomi, which is really what turned me off about the book when I finished it. I didn’t like her and that makes it hard to recommend this book to someone.