Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac

by Gabrielle Zevin

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US) Allen & Unwin (AUS)

288 pages, 2007

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Waking Up With Another Chance

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


Memoirs Of A Teenage Amnesiac is Gabrielle Zevin’s second young adult novel. The first, Elsewhere, was a fantasy tale in which the heroine woke up in the afterlife and found it not too different from this world except you aged backwards and eventually returned as a baby. She hadn’t resolved her life when killed in a road accident and so needed to manage a coming-of-age while living backwards. An interesting idea and it seems to have worked, at least for the students at my school, who borrowed it frequently and enjoyed it.

This novel has another unusual idea for a coming-of-age story. What if you had to sort out a life you didn’t remember because a head trauma had knocked out the last four years of your life, from puberty onwards? Would you be the same person anyway?

Sixteen-year-old Naomi Porter wakes up in hospital after falling down the steps at school and hitting her head badly. She learns that her parents have divorced and that she isn’t talking to her mother, or her father’s fiancée, that her boyfriend, a tennis ace, is not the boy who has accompanied her to hospital and sat with her there, that she hangs out with a bunch of snobs that the new Naomi doesn’t like very much and that actually, she doesn’t much like her boyfriend -- not as a boyfriend, anyway -- which makes it awkward when she has to remember whether she was sleeping with him or not, and even more awkward when he wants to sleep with her again. He’s a nice boy, and she doesn’t want to hurt him, but is that any reason for sex?

So -- who does she like? James, the boy who took her to hospital, but who has a disturbing past and his own problems? Will, her co-editor on the school’s yearbook, and best buddy, who makes CD music mixes for her and who is passionate about the job and maybe about her? And how does she sort out the problems she doesn’t remember having? Or is this a chance to start again, with family and friends? Then again, what if she remembers it all?

Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac could have been an ordinary teen angst novel, but somehow it isn’t, quite. I suspect I might have found it a little more interesting if she never did get her memory back, but that was never going to happen. I’m not sure that I quite see the point of making Naomi a Russian orphan adopted by her American parents, either, because it never really plays an important part in the story, except as part of a photography project Naomi does for school.

She does get her memory back, but doesn’t actually sort out all her problems till after her memory returns, meaning that it isn’t made easy for her as it would have been with a clean slate. The problems are sorted, though -- reconciliation with her mother, acceptance of her father’s new wife and understanding of which boy is really right for her. Her choice of partner in the end is fairly obvious, but never mind -- kids like obvious. At least no one dies.

Girls who like teenage fiction will like this one. It’s got boyfriends and teen problems and girls who don’t like you. It also has a couple of gay girls in it, mostly accepted by the others, which is unusual. Their gayness is no big deal -- they’re just a couple who break up and get together, like everyone else, and only the students Naomi doesn’t like have any problem with it. I’m not sure how realistic that acceptance is, having spent most of my career in a high school and only ever heard “gay” used as a derogatory term, but it’s nice to have a positive portrayal of such a couple.

Worth checking out. | January 2008


Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at and a review/SF blog at She lives in Australia.