Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr


Initial reaction: I need to think on this one a while, because while the ending of this came to a close much better than I originally thought for the direction it intended to go, I found myself liking some parts of this book and disliking most of it for the way it was presented and dealt with certain things in the progression. Trying to decide a rating between 2 and 3 stars, but still undecided.

Full review:

I read this book over a week ago and I’m still having a hard time figuring what my end thoughts are on the book. I understand its appeal, but…I did not like this book very much. Quite the understatement, to be quite honest. To me, that’s unfortunate because I understood where it wanted to go and how subversive it is to many YA tropes where “Love heals all” is often applied to characters with disabilities in notable attempts to sell the romance.

This is NOT that kind of book, despite what the main character might tell you in repeated notations throughout the novel. Ultimately, “The One Memory of Flora Banks” centers on the titular character suffering from a brain injury that affects her short-term memory. She has to relearn pieces of her life through keeping a journal and writing on her hands. There’s a mystery here, however, as Flora realizes she’s able to hold onto a new memory: she’s kissed a boy named Drake. The same Drake that just so happens to be the boyfriend of her best friend, Paige. Paige, Flora’s purported caregiver who promptly departs because of Flora’s aforementioned betrayal.

As if that isn’t “yikes” enough, Flora becomes completely *obsessed* with this discovery, as she believes that Drake is the key to recovering her memory and that she “loves” him. The novel takes you through a series of start-and-stop narrations, micro stories where Flora loses her memory and has to regain her bearings during each turn. It feels like “Memento” (and I’ll admit, the comparison feels apt given the stylistic), but without the urgency and depth. While this style of narration wouldn’t be a problem with a narrative that could handle that stylistic, the way this novel navigates Flora’s voice and experiences is – for a time – tedious and exasperating. I was very frustrated pushing through the first half of this novel, and this shouldn’t be Flora’s fault because she has a disability and she’s trying to navigate her way around events and struggle with her sentiments and actions. But when the narrative focuses on saying – in repeated measures – “I kissed Drake! I love Drake!” and even fixating on Flora diving into Drake’s life and smelling his clothes and invading his room…it’s not love, it’s more obsessive and creepy. And I absolutely LOATHED that part of the story.

What kept me reading was more the second half of the story and figuring out what came of Flora’s family and brother, not to mention her trip to the Arctic and her explorations of the culture there (which I believe the author did a great job for research and expansion). The secondary characters in this novel were FANTASTIC (at least those who supported Flora and whom she encounters in her journey. Drake was an utter douche, though). I lamented that they weren’t included sooner in the narrative and given more time to shine. I feel like the first part of this novel took far too much time to get going and the second half felt a bit rushed in places, lacking digging into details that were more intriguing and had more emotional stakes given the storyline (I honestly felt Flora’s brother deserved more time to shine in this novel, even given his respective fate in the narrative as events pass). There are a fair number of twists and turns the narrative takes, but they come a bit too late in the novel to have as much weight as they could’ve had, and for me, that was disappointing.

The problematic elements in this novel aren’t things that I could overlook despite the bright spots in the latter part of the novel. Granted, not even the reveal towards the end regarding Drake’s role in this narrative could absolve “The One Memory of Flora Banks” from being a hot mess regarding the portrayal of disabled characters and disability, as well as teen relationships (again, Flora’s following of Drake was just plain creepy and while Drake was portrayed as the flawed character he was – I felt he was just a problematic vehicle with very little depth.)

In the end, sluggish and hampered pacing, problematic portrayals of serious issues, and a story that ultimately took too long to find its gems without necessarily giving ample time to its more alluring elements made me realize that I wouldn’t willingly remember or pick up this novel again.

Overall score: 2/5 stars.


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