This year, I’ve been rather taken by Sharon Sant. Her writing that is. The Memory Game is her sixth novel this year. Yes her sixth! I absolutely loved Runners, her YA dystopian novel and her debut, Sky Song was extremely original and imaginative. When she offered me the chance to have a pre-release look at this upcoming Young Adult Paranormal story, I immediately did a little dance. I had high hopes, and what a story it turned out to be.
The Memory Game tells the story of David Cottle, as he stares upon his lifeless body after the hit-and-run he was the unfortunate victim in. Yet strangely enough, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no heavenly beam leading him upwards into heaven. Instead, he is free to roam his small village, a ghost to everyone and everything in it. Yet after his frustrated outburst in the school assembly, he realises that Bethany, the local nobody and quiet girl, actually can see him.
What a match this is, for David tormented and laughed, mocked and sniggered at Bethany whilst he was alive, surely this must be some kind of a mistake. Why is he not able to interact with Ingrid, the girl of his dreams? Instead he gets Bethany.
The Memory Game actually starts off with a bang. It hits a knockout pretty much straight away with David glaring down at his lifeless body. He tells of how it took nearly all night for him to die – what a grim account! But it makes you sit up and take notice. And actually throughout the book, questions of your own mortality come to the fore as David begins to question the connection between life and death, and it takes a very clever author to pull this sort of clever balance between the reader and the lead character off. Surely, Sharon Sant is one of these clever authors!
I found this book extremely endearing. The way the relationship between David and Bethany grows is wonderfully enlightening, and completely engrossing. Bethany is a loveable character. She has a tough life, caring for her alcoholic father as her own mother died a year earlier. Despite the bullying, she agrees to help David find some answers, and that takes courage. Yet David is also equally interesting. We can see so easily how he is a bit of an ‘arse’ (Bethany’s words) in the beginning, but overtime, as he starts to understand Bethany, and realise the true nature of his so-called friends, the real David begins to shine through. And finding your own identity after your own death is a pretty macabre and unfortunate thing.
I love the dark themes and action in here, for they are deliciously intense, as well as marvelously told. And it is these types of young adult novels I love, and in my own opinion, the more memorable. Yes, sometimes, sparkly light-hearted novels are great, but the ones that really excel are the ones that dig deeper, the ones that take a step into the unknown, and the ones that talk about the sorts of things nobody wishes to bring up. And the potential sexual attack, is one of these perfect examples. The ensuing escape, the tension and the helplessness of both David and Bethany creates possibly the best piece of storytelling I’ve read this year.
There aren’t many characters in the book, and sometimes that can actually work against a book, possibly making it slightly two-dimensional, but in The Memory Game, it only heightens the plight of David’s situation and the loneliness he finds after death, especially living in such a rural location. The complicated relationship between himself, his mother and his stepfather also heightens the dark effectiveness this book tangles with superbly.
It is quite an experimental style of writing here, as it is told in the first person as well as in the present tense. Whilst a little unusual, and it does take some getting use to, it works beautifully as it reinforces the confusion David finds at every avenue. He desperately wants to know why he hasn’t been allowed to meet up with other dead and why it is only Bethany that can see him.
The Memory Game is a short story, but one that will linger with you long after you’ve finished. It’s dark and questions many of our own fears about life after death, touching on subjects not normally associated with young adult. But can I just say that the hopelessness and the fear you share with David along the way is equally matched with the sentiment you find at the end. This isn’t a happy story, but you know what, it doesn’t need to be. The Memory Game doesn’t hide behind glitter, or explosions, or even humour and it doesn’t need to. It is real, it is contemporary and it has pure emotion in its veins, and when a powerful story such as this comes along, you can only stand up and give it the standing ovation it undoubtedly deserves.
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