The Memory Book by Lara AveryQuercus Children's Books, 2016. ISBN 9781784299248
(Age: 13+) Themes: Terminal illness, Dementia, family, friendship, love, debating. In her final year of High School Samatha McCoy has been diagnosed with the rare genetic disease Niemann-Pick Type C in which cholesterol builds up in the liver leading to blockages in the brain causing a type of dementia which is always fatal, usually before age 20. Her close knit family is struggling to deal with her diagnosis, wanting to keep her safe at home avoiding stress by finishing the year home schooling. Academically gifted, Sam has won a scholarship to New York University, her memory offers her the chance to escape her small home town and emulate her feminist icons on the world stage. Sam has to fight to retain her aspirations, 'Health stuff I can take but don't take away my future' p10. While not socially adept Sam has strategies for fitting in and she has found her niche at school by joining the debating team. Her immediate aims are to win the Nationals and the give the valedictorian speech at her school graduation. She musters all the arguments and strategies that make her such a good debater and fights for her goals. One of these strategies is to write a journal for Future Sam 'the more I record for you, the less I will forget. The more I write to you, the more real you will become' p12. In the journal we learn about family and friends, about parties and boyfriends, all the normal things important to 18 year old girls. But there is also a slowing down, a movement from denial to acceptance; a move towards family, old friends and the sights and smells of home; a narrowing of focus worrying less about goals and more about now.
Terminal dementia is a horrific diagnosis but we find courage, persistence, love and strength demonstrated by the characters. The love interest is a bit forced and the main character seems younger than 18 but it is an interesting and emotional journey. Middle school girls will love this book and anyone drawn to novels about struggling with terminal illness.