The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

This book won’t be published until September: I was fortunate enough to receive an advance electronic copy for review purposes.  When it is available, I will be buying a copy.  This is Young Adult fiction with heart.  And we all need heart, even those of us who are no longer young adults.

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

‘Maybe this is all some really crazy weird dream, the kind you wake yourself from and laugh because you dreamed it was a dream within the dream.’

The world changed on September 11, 2001. It is one of those dates seared into the consciousness of those of us old enough to remember it. But almost fifteen years have passed since then, and many will not have those memories. And memories vary, are mutable rather than fixed. And individuals who survived have to find their own way of dealing with the consequences, with life.

Kyle Donohue is sixteen, and at the Stuyvesant High School on the morning of September 11, 2001. After seeing the first tower collapse, he flees to safety – to his home – across the Brooklyn Bridge. On the bridge, he finds a girl wearing wings and covered in ash. Kyle can’t leave her there, so he decides to take her home. His father, a New York police officer, is probably on his way to the disaster. His mother and sister are in California. Kyle can’t contact his father, and his mother does not have a mobile ‘phone.

Having set the scene – of chaos, dislocation and fear – Ms Polisner tells the story of Kyle and the girl in alternating points of view. In a considered and thoughtful novel, Ms Polisner provides the perspective of two New York City teenagers as the world they thought they knew ceases to exist. Kyle wants to help the girl, to remember who she is and to find her family. But the more he comes to know her, the more she becomes part of his world. The events of September 11 provide a frame for this story which is about people dealing with the consequences of life-changing events.

‘Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something.’

In Kyle’s narrative, he has some new and additional responsibilities. He grows into them, understanding that caring is more about actions than gestures and words. In the girl’s narrative, through her interior monologue, we gradually come to understand who she is, and how she came to be on the Brooklyn Bridge.

To write more about this novel may spoil the experience of reading it, of having the story unfold. Kyle and the girl both have discoveries to make, events to make sense of, connections to make and lives to live. It’s a story to read, think about, reread and reflect.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith