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The beauty in forgetting in “Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac”

After her remarkable debut, Gabrielle Zevin has crafted an imaginative second novel all about love and second chances. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac blew me away. The story is so original, so inspirational, so emotional. It’s the kind of book that captivates you from the first word and then makes you obsess over it weeks after you’ve turned the final page. The plot is fast-paced, the characterisation realistic and gripping, the tone genuine and the message so heart felt. In all accounts, this awe inspiring story is unforgettable.

If Naomi had picked tails, she would have won the coin toss. She wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have hit her head on the steps. She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with amnesia.

She certainly would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace. She might even have remembered why she fell in love with him in the first place. She would understand why her best friend, Will, keeps calling her “Chief.” She’d know about her mom’s new family. She’d know about her dad’s fiancée. She never would have met James, the boy with the questionable past and the even fuzzier future, who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. She wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back.

But Naomi picked heads.

Sometimes a girls got to lose.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.


As I said before, this book has a beautiful, heart felt message that shines throughout the whole book. It looks at memory, loss and love, and one thing that Zevlin is completely convincing on is the intensity of early passion and the way it can evaporate in the rays of something new, and (in a kind of sweet yet arrogant, honest way) she has a light touch with the deceptively shallow anguish of adolescence.

By having Naomi lose her memory all at once rather than little by little, Zevin highlights the role forgetting plays in shaping a life. She does this so well because, in a way, we can only really understand this concept as we get older, and Zevlin puts this through the perspective of a young character to teach her younger readers about this part of life.

She shows us that when forgetting things is actually a good thing, and remind us that it’s not always a good thing to remember everything.

In Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, Zevlin teaches us that through life, we’re going to forget more than what we will remember. We’ll forget our first friends, we’ll forget those we thought we’d stay close to forever. We’ll forget what we got taught in school and why it was even important. We’ll forget what and who we thought we loved, and what and who we were sure we loved. We’ll forget some of the important things, feelings and moments and even why they were so important to us.

Then the good thing from that is we’ll forget the pain. We’ll forget the things that broke our hearts and the devastating effect from that. We’ll forget our humiliations and remember more of the laughs. We’ll forget the hurt.

Zevlin says it best herself:

“You forget all of it anyway. First, you forget everything you learned-the dates of the Hay-Herran Treaty and Pythagorean Theorem. You especially forget everything you didn’t really learn, but just memorised the night before. You forget the names of all but one or two of your teachers, and eventually you’ll forget those, too. You forget your junior class schedule and where you used to sit and your best friend’s home phone number and the lyrics to that song you must have played a million times. For me, it was something by Simon & Garfunkel. Who knows what it will be for you? And eventually, but slowly, oh so slowly, you forget your humiliations-even the ones that seemed indelible just fade away. You forget who was cool and who was not, who was pretty, smart, athletic, and not. Who went to a good college. Who threw the best parties Who could get you pot. You forget all of them. Even the ones you said you loved, and even the ones you actually did. They’re the last to go.”
— Gabrielle Zevin, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

This sounds kind of melancholy, because it makes you wonder, “what happens, then, when we forget everything? Are you telling me I’m going to forget everything and who I am?”

No. I’m not. And that’s not what Zevlin is getting at either. Because the real beauty of forgetting all the pain and aguish and hurt and moments and even loves from before, is this:

“And then once you’ve forgotten enough, you love someone else.”
— Gabrielle Zevin, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

You start over, meet someone new, and do it all over again.

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