The best speculative fiction is not about the action sequences (as fun as they can be), but exploring the issues of our humanity through “what if?” Authors imagine what we might do when encountering aliens, wielding magic, or in the book, The Memory of Forgotten Things, a chance to enter a parallel universe. This simple tale explores the complex world of grief and longing in children who have lost someone they loved or never had them in the first place.
Sophia Wallace is That Girl With the Dead Mom in her small community. Although it happened when she was six, and now she is twelve, Sophia and her father’s lives can never seem to move past her mother’s death. Their lives are more focused on what they lost, rather than what they still have. Her father has extreme bouts of depression that take all the color from Sophia’s world. “The helplessness of it all sat on her chest like an animal.” She becomes reclusive at school and her memories of her mother have faded into the past. If this seems like a serious subject for a children’s book, it is, but Zhang does not linger on the sadness. In fact, right from the start we are pulled in by a mystery.
Sophia starts to experience Memories with a capital “M.” These Memories are glimpses of a world where her mother did not die, but attended her school functions and baked her birthday cakes. Waiting for these brief moments of imagined happiness become all-encompassing for Sophia. She lives within these Memories as if they are happening at the same moment, but in a different world similar to her own. They show a happy place where she has her mom, is popular with friends, active in school, everything she isn’t now.
She is assigned to do a school project with two boys who have their own stigma: DJ, the Quiet Boy Whose Father Left, and Luke, the Troubled Boy With a Dead Sister. Once Sophia dares to open up about her Memories, DJ tells them about how he occasionally Remembers a step-father that doesn’t exist in this world. Luke doesn’t experience either of these, but would give anything to have his older sister alive again and put his world back to normal. All the kids in The Memory of Forgotten Things feel their lives are not how they want them to be, but somewhere else everything is great, a place where moms and sisters didn’t die, and the perfect step-dad appears.
Their assignment revolves around solar eclipses and they link the Memories with the previous celestial events. While researching the project, they start trying to unravel the mystery of what is happening to them. They talk to an odd local astrophysicist, and the strange but friendly homeless woman, getting clues about the possibility of parallel universes and how they could go into the ones they want most.
But as Sophia, DJ, and Luke get a chance to jump into their dream worlds, will it be what they are hoping for? Can they fit seamlessly into a completely different life? And will the friendships they formed in this world be possible in another one? In answering these questions, the children learn more about life, love, and grief:
“Grief, Sophia thought, was a funny thing. A horrible thing, she wanted to add, but after a moment, she wasn’t sure if that was right. She wasn’t sure if grief could be called a good or bad thing – it simply was.”
The Memory of Forgotten Things moves fast with the plot while holding on to the delicate hearts of the main characters. I recommend it for middle-grade through junior high.
Female Speakers: 8/14, about 57%. Great!
Diversity: The author is of Asian descent, and their are several African-American characters, including DJ.
GeekMom received a copy for promotional purposes.