Consider The Memory Book by Lara Avery to be cast in a similar mold to the classic short story Flowers for Algernon, except that in The Memory Book, Sammie McCoy begins the story as a smart and driven teenager who chronicles her steady mental decline. Both stories are devastating in that we watch a main character slowly disappear and lose the qualities which we as readers appreciate – the mental acuity and sharp thinking that are illuminated in the writing.
Sammie McCoy is on the brink of graduating senior year of high school as a debate star with a scholarship to her dream college and a ticket out of her small town. We know from the beginning that she has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that will slowly degrade her mental faculties and in all likelihood eventually kill her, and this book that we’re reading is meant to capture her present self for the future Sam who may not be able to appreciate it.
Even as Sammie’s Alzheimer-like symptoms begin to manifest themselves, she makes new connections with Stuart, her high school crush who has moved to New York to become a writer, and rekindles an old friendship with her lifelong friend Cooper, who has drifted away to a different social group in recent years. The simple and moving entries in Sammie’s memory book unravel small but important mysteries in the history of her relationship with Cooper, and capture her growth as a person in the face of long odds. Particularly evocative are the scenes with her parents, who are torn between hope and realism in their love for Sammie, and Sammie’s own struggles with clinging to her dreams and aspirations and acknowledging her physical reality.
Ms. Avery offers a moving and vivid portrait of a girl and the people who love her, and a coming-of-age story about how Sammie holds onto and is saved by important interpersonal connections in the face of losing herself to the depredations of her illness.