The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Published in January 2017 by Penguin.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Penguin for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a strange, claustrophobic story. Flora has a medical condition that prevents her new memories from sticking, so she forgets everything that happens to her almost instantly. Her overprotective parents understandably hover over her every move and her friends (especially her best friend Paige) help her by explaining things to her when she gets confused.

Flora writes everything in her journals, takes photos with her phone, and writes messages for herself on her arms so that when she finds herself lost and blank, she can read everything she’s written and find her way again. When you think about it, it’s a horrifying condition that makes me anxious just by thinking about it. I had a brief moment of unease when I was reading it because I imagined not remembering my kids – my mind is the most valuable thing I have and not being able to rely on it is deeply scary for me.

Flora’s last memories before the illness that caused her condition were of her being ten years old, so she’s basically a child in a young woman’s body. But she has wishes and thoughts of a teenager, too, and ends up kissing her friend’s ex-boyfriend on the night of his departure for Svalbard (he’s going to study there). The next morning, she wakes up and, inexplicably, remembers the kiss.

Convinced the boy will help her fix her memory and left alone in the house because her parents left to visit her older brother, whom she barely remembers, she packs up her things, buys a plane ticket, and travels right to Svalbard, though she has to keep checking her journal because she keeps forgetting what she’s doing. It’s a mad plan concocted by someone who is not thinking very clearly, but it’s also the bravest thing she could do, because she’s so very alone.

This is all I’m saying about the plot. I liked the story, I liked the plot twist, and even though the thought of being/becoming like Flora made my stomach clench painfully, I enjoyed reading about Flora’s thought processes. I’ve never read a story with a similar mental problem before – sure, you get amnesia, which is also scary AF, but is usually not permanent in the way Flora’s condition seems to be. Flora is also a cool young lady, though it was difficult to really get to know her, especially since she’s both a child and a young adult, and has very little sense of self apart from the journals she keeps.

The mystery surrounding Flora’s condition, her brother’s messages, hidden and confusing, the bright light of summertime Svalbard – all the elements are geared towards creating a slightly paranoid, claustrophobic environment that complements Flora’s sense of disorientation quite perfectly. I think Barr did very well with writing the right atmosphere for Flora’s story.

What bothered me is actually an inherent part of the story: the constant repetition of known facts. Every time Flora’s memory is lost, she goes over the basics – how old she is, what she’s doing, who she’s with, etc. As this happens multiple times a day, reading about it can become slightly tedious, though I then felt like an asshole for begrudging Flora her repetitions. I don’t know if the author could have done things differently without hammering home the effect of Flora’s memory loss, but I thought the constant litany of basic facts became too stretched out.

It’s also hard to imagine how this story would actually go down in real life. This is a contemporary story, which usually means: “Hey, this could happen any day, right around the corner.” I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean. I just think that overprotective parents would not leave such a confused child on her own (even if her best friend promised she’d check on her). She was still a minor and prone to wandering off. Also, how did nobody at the airport(s) notice her strange behaviour? How did she get all the way to Svalbard without attracting the attention of officials? Eh, I don’t know. I just had trouble believing everything.

All in all (wow, this review is longer than I thought, thanks for sticking with me!), this was a good contemporary story about disability, friendship, and bravery, with a twist of mystery thrown in. I’d recommend it if you’re intrigued by her condition, which was superbly rendered, and like a bit of ominous anticipation in your contemporaries.

Have you read The One Memory of Flora Banks? What did you think?

Can you recommend any books with similarly intriguing mental problems (OK I know that sounds horrible when I put it like that but you know what I mean)?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • The repetition part is something a lot of people mentioned in their reviews, and I can’t say I’m surprised much given it’s a book about amnesia. I am very curious about the characters though, so I actually might give this one a shot. Glad you liked it overall, Kaja! :)

    • Yeah, like I said – the repetition is an integral part of Flora’s story but it’s kind of too much, as well. The fact is that she’s forming NO NEW MEMORIES – usually you get amnesiacs who just forget a part of their history and then build their new memories like “normal” people.
      The characters are good, yeah, I liked how Flora had different relationships with them despite the fact that she barely remembered them.

  • Greg Hill

    What an interesting concept! Sounds like it has the atmosphere although I think I agree about the parents- leaving her alone doesn’t seem like a good idea and is maybe TOO convenient? Still it does sound worth a shot. I think too that the more reads we get about mental and physical illnesses/ disabilities is a good thing.

    • Yep, that’s why I liked reading this one – I’m trying to read more diverse books and this one certainly counts. Well authors often use plot devices that seem too convenient, that’s what fiction is all about, but it was a bit unbelievable nevertheless. If you think about it, Flora is a 10-y-o because she has no memories from that point onward and you really wouldn’t leave a 10-y-o alone in the house while you go to France.

  • I think the repetition would have annoyed me too. The cover is really pretty, though!

    • Haha, the cover is part of why I requested it on NetGalley! :D But the story is interesting, too.

  • From everything you’ve said, I think I’m too much of a wimp to really enjoy this book. I’m also very freaked out by the idea of not remembering myself or the people I love, especially if it keeps happening over and over again. The claustrophobic atmosphere makes total sense to me based on the plot, but again…it gives me the creeps just hearing you talk about it! Haha.

    • Wow, I’m so late with answering my comments. :( Anyway, yeah, the idea of losing my mind is one of the scariest things I can imagine. If this is something you’d rather not read about, this book is definitely NOT for you. It can get pretty intense at times.