Review of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by

Book cover for Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

After not enjoying Elsewhere, I was hesitant to read this book, but decided to go through with it anyway. I'm not sure that was the right decision. While Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac isn't a terrible book, I finished it with a profound feeling of "So what?"

The premise is interesting: Naomi Porter is a teenage yearbook editor who hits her head when she falls down the steps at her school, causing her to forget the last four years of her life. Well, sort of. Zevin uses a good deal of creative license when it comes to Naomi's amnesia--which she's allowed to do, both because it's her book and we still don't precisely understand the workings of the brain anyway. So Naomi begins the book not-quite-tabula-rasa, and you expect her to grow and change as she becomes a brand new person, right? Not so much.

If anything, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac remind me of why I'm glad my years as a teenager are coming to an end: way too much drama. And not the funny-yet-vicious sort of drama I enjoyed watching in Tina Fey's Mean Girls; no, this is the pointless-yet-ubiquitous drama created as a byproduct of our own struggle to discover who we are. Unfortunately, Zevin seems to focus on this byproduct while ignoring the end goal--the whole self-discovery thing.

Naomi eventually regains her memories. Up until that point, we've gotten hints that she wasn't exactly the nicest girl at school but was apparently nice enough to be best friends with a genuinely "nice guy", Will Landsman. With the return of Old Naomi, this plot point gets lost in the shuffle, as Naomi now has to deal with the memory of Will kissing her even as she addresses her feelings for the school's "troubled kid", James. James has every stereotypical condition that would cause a teenager to be labelled as troubled--depression, antisocial behaviour, obsession--you name it, he's got it. The fact that Naomi had the gall to first fall in love with him and then practically devote herself to him made me lose what little respect I still had for her.

The book shifts gears for a third (and last) time toward the very end. Will suffers a spontaneous plot-induced case of hospitalizing pneumonia; predictably, Naomi must return to the yearbook staff to take over his position as editor at this crucial time of the year. As the book ends, she and Will (now recuperated) leave the yearbook office, reminiscing about the day Naomi left the yearbook office and lost her memories in the process. They're apparently friends again, and as far as I can tell, the sexual tension is never fully resolved.

So, in essence, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac begins and ends at the same place. It's a zero-sum book, because its main character never really changes. She loses some of herself and regains it, but for what? Zevin uses too many characters and has too many different plot points to effectively orchestrate a coherent theme about life in high school. Perhaps ironically, there's little about this book that's memorable. Go read something by Douglas Coupland instead.

Engagement

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