My Name Is Memory, by Ann Brashares (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010)
"Lucy Broward is an ordinary girl growing up in the Virginia suburbs, soon to head off to college. As she prepares for her last high school dance, she allows herself to hope that this might be the night her elusive crush, Daniel Grey, finally notices her. As the events of the night unfold, though, Lucy discovers that Daniel is much more complicated than she imagined, and perceives that there's something going on here that she really doesn't understand. Why does he call her Sophia? And why does it make her feel so strange?
"Daniel Grey is no ordinary young man. Daniel has 'the memory,' the ability to recall past lives and recognize the souls of those he's previously known. And he has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Lucy (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together -- and he remembers it all. It is both a gift and a curse. For all the many times they have come together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.
"As we watch Daniel and Lucy's relationship unfold during the present day, interwoven are glimpses of their history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and again. But just when Lucy begins to awaken to the secret of her past, to understand her relationship to Sophia, and to understand the true reason for the strength of her attraction to Daniel, the mysterious force that has torn them apart in the past reappears. Ultimately, they must confront not just their complicated history, but a persistent adversary as well, if they are ever to spend a lifetime together."
"I have lived more than a thousand years. I have died countless times."
Brashares is still a writer of young adult novels at heart, but this one was stronger and more grown-up than, say, Sisterhood Everlasting, or than The Last Summer (of You & Me), which I remember reading and being disappointed by, though it must have been before I started the book blog.
Here, as the jacket suggests, Daniel is an old soul -- he's been around since at least the 6th century, in a sequence of different bodies and locations. What's uncommon about this is the fact that he remembers many of his past lives; most people, we're given to understand, have been around a few times before but are blissfully unaware of the fact. Daniel, on the other hand, has spent more than a millenium finding, falling in love with, and ultimately losing the same woman, always trying to make up for burning her house and village in a misdirected military raid in Asia Minor some time around 550 A.D. As you might guess, that girl/ woman is living in 21st-century Virginia as Lucy, a college-bound high school graduate who's had a crush on this mysterious Daniel guy all through senior year, and whose own sense of loss and isolation seems at first to stem (understandably) from the death of her older sister Dana from a drug overdose some years before the novel begins.
The novel's central questions are pretty much what you'd expect: Will Lucy ever remember knowing and loving Daniel in a past life? Will the two of them finally get it together on this go-round? And will Daniel's one-time older brother, Joaquin, a sinister dude who's been looking for revenge on Daniel and Sophia/ Lucy ever since Daniel stole his wife (guess who?) a couple of lifetimes ago, track them down and spoil everything?
Where the book falls short is in making the past-life romance between Sophia and Daniel seem believable. We're convinced by Daniel's recollections of the past that the two knew each other, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that a basically decent guy could still be carrying around guilt over having massacred the young Sophia's entire family ... but other than that, we don't really see anything in their past that helps us understand how or why they fell in love. I'm not convinced that proximity itself is enough; if it were, those folks I seem to see in the grocery store or library every week might just as well be my own soul mates. However, for someone who likes a little other-worldly mystery with their romance, and even a few interesting observations on life and death and love, you could do worse.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.