REVIEW: Unremembered by Jessica Brody
Dear Ms. Brody,
The premise of your novel, Unremembered, piqued my interest. My reading tastes have been shifting again and I’m feeling the desire to read more thrillers. Bonus points if they have a supernatural or science fiction bent. The mystery of an amnesiac girl trying to regain her memories and figure out her identity sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately, I didn’t get what I wanted.
The set-up is familiar: a plane crashes and there is only one survivor. She has no memory of who she is. What’s different is that she has no injuries and there is no record of her identity in any database.
Dubbed Violet for her unusual eyes, the girl is eventually sent to live with a foster family after no relatives are identified. Frustrated by her amnesia, she soon begins to pursue all hints and clues leading to her past. Along the way she encounters a boy who says that not only did they know each other before her memory loss, they were in love and that she is in terrible danger.
Initially skeptical, the girl – whose true name is Seraphina – soon realizes that the boy was telling the truth when mysterious men begin pursuing her. But the reason why these men are chasing her and desperate to catch her may be the most shocking thing of all.
I obviously need to recalibrate my expectations for YA sci-fi. I always expect more than I actually get. When a book talks about identity and lost memories, I want that to be the focus. I don’t want those things to be a convenient vehicle for instant love and supposedly epic teenaged love.
It didn’t help matters that I found Zen – short for Lyzender but yes, my reaction to that name was probably the same as that of many other readers – to be obnoxious and overbearing. At times, he’s pushy and smug. I’m not surprised by this. Zen is a boy who literally climbed over a wall and barged into her life when they first met, after all. At others, he claims he knows what’s best for the heroine and that she should just listen to him. Uh, hold up, she just lost her memory here. Is there any reason she should know who you are, let alone trust you enough to go off alone with you? In a different genre, this would have been the prelude to a slasher horror movie.
This leads us to the biggest flaw of the book. Despite the packaging, this is really a tale about a love that endures despite all obstacles, including memory loss and mind alteration. I see the appeal of that. That is the heart of romance, after all. And I do love the idea of exploring whether love goes beyond memory. The problem, though, is that when you introduce a heroine with strange abilities (physical strength, immediate linguistic mastery), genetic engineering, time travel, and greedy corporations wanting Seraphina, I can’t help but think that maybe there should be more focus on these pressing issues rather than reading about two teens reciting Shakespeare sonnets to one another. Priorities, people, priorities. It’s a shame because there are interesting nuances to be explored with the various elements.
Having read other books dealing with similar topics — The Adoration of Jenna Fox comes immediately to mind – the revelation was not at all a revelation. In fact, it was pretty obvious from almost the beginning when Seraphina started showing signs she was not a normal sixteen-year-old girl. I wouldn’t exactly say it was a letdown because the revelation couldn’t be anything else, but the impact was ho-hum.
Despite touching on fascinating topics like genetic manipulation, memory, and identity, Unremembered spends most of its plot focusing on the love between teenaged soul mates, Seraphina and Zen, and recovering it in the wake of amnesia resulting from a plan gone awry. Some readers may like that. Other people wanting more depth to the worldbuilding and the ethical questions it raises will probably want to look elsewhere. C-