Cover of The Memory Book, with a blonde girl in profile wearing a white coat as the wind blows her hair

About the Book

Title: The Memory Book
Published: 2016
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: J. Crew Catalog
BFF Charm: Platinum
Talky Talk: Dear Diary
Bonus Factors: Former Childhood Besties, Debate, Younger Siblings
Relationship Status: Unforgettable

Cover Story: J. Crew Catalog

I have no idea what a girl in a coat standing in front of a lake has to do with a story about a girl losing her memory (in the summer) but does that coat come in hot pink?

The Deal:

Samantha McCoy is poised for greatness. She’s prepping for debate nationals, graduating as valedictorian of her class and heading to NYU in the fall. So she’s not going to let a diagnosis of Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare form of dementia, get in the way of her plans. Cue the Memory Book, a Word doc that Sammie creates and constantly updates so that she can capture everything from “White Male Philosophers Who (Based On Their Portraits) I/We Would Make Out With” to the recent return of Stuart Shah, her longtime crush.

As she wrestles with her disease, Sammie navigates the last few months of high school, that liminal time when differences melt away (rekindling a friendship with the boy next door, Cooper Lind), carpe diem kicks in (her first kegger!) and the future beckons with a tantalizing (if terrifying) grin.

p.s. You might be thinking, “Ew, this sounds like a Nicholas Sparks book,” but trust me, IT AIN’T.

BFF Charm: Platinum

BFF platinum charm

From the very first paragraph of this book, I knew Sammie McCoy and I were destined to be best friends:

If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering who you are. I’ll give you three clues. Clue 1: You just stayed up all night to finish an AP Lit paper on The Poisonwood Bible. You fell asleep briefly while you were writing and dreamed you were making out with James Monroe, the fifth president and arbiter of the Monroe Doctrine.

My high school self instantly declared us bosom buddies, while my adult self embraced her as a strong, smart and determined young woman. In other words, Sammie is a huge nerd. But she’s also a straight shooter, a girl who’s confident in her own skin, and when you throw in her lively sense of humor, she reminds me very much of a less cynical Jessica Darling (which is, like, one of the greatest compliments I can give to a YA heroine).

Guys, I just LOVE HER SO MUCH.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

When Sammie was a sophomore, she fell hard for Stuart Shah, a senior who is totally the kind of guy I would’ve obsessed over as a teen. He’s the literary type, deep and intellectual, and after graduating, he moved to NYC to be a writer. Now he’s back for the summer, which gives Sammie a second chance at, you know, actually talking to him. That kind of fairy tale scenario is always going to elicit tingles, but it’s Cooper Lind that really did it for me in this book. He’s a mega-hot, easygoing popular kid that got kicked off the baseball team for smoking weed, and he and Sammie have a history. More on that below, but in the meantime, is there a word for a sexy, super buff doofus with a heart of gold and surprising intelligence? Because that would really come in handy right about now.

Talky Talk: Dear Diary

Since Sammie writes directly to herself (Future Sam), her voice is achingly frank and hilariously candid. There’s a hundred layers of emotion on display, including fear, exhilaration, anger and joy, yet they all funnel into one insanely personable narrative. For example, see how many feelings you can spot in this imagined exchange:

Sammie: Oh, hey, Stuart. What is that, Zadie Smith’s new novel?
Stuart: Hello, Sammie. Wow, yeah. It’s amazing. And you! You’re stunning. You’ve really grown into your glasses.
Sammie: Thank you. You don’t look so bad yourself.
Stuart: What are you up to these days? You’re debating in one of the most prestigious competitions in the country, right?
Sammie: No. No, I’m not.
Stuart: Oh really? What a shame. What are you doing instead?
Sammie: Oh, just, you know, diseasin’. Diseasin’ around.

Rarely have I felt so immediately connected to a protagonist and completely caught up in the minutiae of her world. Lara Avery has crafted an utterly compelling, wonderfully absorbing story that made me laugh just as much as it made me cry.

(Seriously, y’all. I’m not messing around with that DNRIP tag. DO NOT TAKE THIS BOOK OUTSIDE unless you have a weird fetish about exposing your puffy eyes to strangers.)

Bonus Factor: Former Childhood Besties

13-year-old Jenna and Matty, walking down the street and talking, in 13 Going on 30

Growing up, Sammie and Coop were inseparable. Then adolescence snuck in and nudged them towards opposite sides of the social spectrum, where they have dwelt, as acquaintances but definitely not friends, ever since. But when Cooper learns about Samantha’s condition, they begin to slowly unearth their past, and the result is a sweet, almost secret familiarity that left me swooning like nobody’s business.

Bonus Factor: Debate

A boy and a girl at the front of a classroom talking to students about the speech and debate club

I feel like there’s not a ton of young adult books that feature high school debate, and this novel made me wish for more. Sammie and her partner, Maddie (who is GREAT, btw), are stone cold badasses when it comes to research, oratory and dropping truth bombs in the affirmative. They also get excited about pantsuits, AS THEY SHOULD.

Bonus Factor: Younger Siblings

Brothers and sisters lined up together and singing in The Sound of Music

Sammie has three siblings: Harrison (age 13), Bette (9) and Davienne (6). They’re realistic, as in occasionally annoying, but it’s impossible not to adore them, particularly through the lens of their older sister’s perspective. I’ll let her describe them for you.

Harrison, such a typical younger brother:

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is in Bradford, just a thirty-minute drive from Hanover, in one of the flatter parts of the Upper Valley. It’s angular and beautiful and white, like most of its parishioners. There, on this very night, Harry declared himself a soldier for Christ for the rest of his life, which makes a lot of sense for a thirteen-year-old to decide (not).

Especially a thirteen-year-old who chose Saint James (aka Santiago) as his patron saint because Santiago is the main character from Rainbow Six, a tactical shooter game. So Christlike.

Bette, the weird one (a.k.a. my favorite):

As I have hinted throughout this book, Bette Elise McCoy perhaps was not born of this earth. Let’s just say Mom and Dad “brought her back from the hospital” in late February.

Davienne, the baby:

Find her as the most popular girl in first grade, sticking jeweled stickers to everything, and still blissfully unaware that her siblings’ habit of yelling “Surprise!” whenever she enters the room is the result of an unfortunate case of eavesdropping on Mom and Dad when they found out they were pregnant again.

Relationship Status: Unforgettable

The Memory Book left my eyes full of tears and my heart full of feels. From the moment I encountered its winning combination of wit and raw emotion, I was smitten, but I knew this wasn’t just a temporary fling. Our time together was powerful, and Sammie’s story left an impact on me that I will never forget.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review (dammit).

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.