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.
With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.
I first heard about The One Memory of Flora Banks at YALC last July, where Penguin had set a large part of their stall up to promote the book. Part of this was offering free ice cream that had been made in front of me and that kind of thing tends to stick in the memory (ironically, given the theme of the book), so when the book came up for request on Netgalley I was clicking that button faster than I had ever clicked before. I wasn’t disappointed, because Flora Banks is a humdinger of a book.
Right from the start I wanted to learn more about this teenager who could only remember a few hours at a time. I was intrigued at how she coped with the world – after all, when her memory resets, she thinks she’s only 10 years old and yet she’s also coping as a seventeen year old – and with the introduction of a boy who likes her. I really had no idea where the story would go, and Flora’s journey to Svalbard is so fraught with tension that I was almost biting my fingernails. Plotwise, most of what I would like to talk about is spoilerific, so I won’t do that, but I would like to say that Flora’s determination to follow her dream was actually quite inspiring. She was not going to let anything get in the way of what she wanted and yes, maybe she was a teeny bit obsessive about it, but that was part of her character and I liked that she had that flaw. I also loved the supporting characters, especially Jacob, her brother.
I really liked the structure too. As it was from Flora’s first person POV, every time her memory reset we got to see what that was like, and how things could change subtly depending on what Flora had written in her notes (or how she chose to interpret those notes). It made it clear that Flora was an unreliable narrator, which just added to the mystery, but also made me realise how difficult it must be to navigate this world without any of the information we take for granted.
It’s a very difficult book to review without spoiling and so this has not done the book any justice at all, but if you take anything away from this post, let it be this: you need to read The One Memory of Flora Banks. It is such an intriguing, clever and unusual coming of age tale that you will not regret it.
ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review