Friday, April 1, 2011

REVIEW: Memento Nora by Angie Smibert

Memento Nora
By Angie Smibert
Releases on 04.01.2011
192 pages
Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books
Source: Book Blog ARC Tour

Nora, the popular girl and happy consumer, witnesses a horrific bombing on a shopping trip with her mother. In Nora’s near-future world, terrorism is so commonplace that she can pop one little white pill to forget and go on like nothing ever happened. However, when Nora makes her first trip to a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic, she learns what her mother, a frequent forgetter, has been frequently forgetting. Nora secretly spits out the pill and holds on to her memories. The memory of the bombing as well as her mother’s secret and her budding awareness of the world outside her little clique make it increasingly difficult for Nora to cope. She turns to two new friends, each with their own reasons to remember, and together they share their experiences with their classmates through an underground comic. They soon learn, though, they can’t get away with remembering.

REVIEW: I can say with certainty that this book had me from the first sentence:

“I’m about to forget everything I'm going to tell you.”

I adore this book.  It’s different from anything else out there right now.  Everything in it is something that we’ve possibly seen before, but the way Angie Smibert has put the different elements together felt completely fresh and wonderfully thought-provoking.  It’s unusual for me to really enjoy a mostly plot-driven book, but that’s what Memento Nora is: a fast drive through contrivance, compliance, choice and consequence.  It’s a thin book of only 192 pages, and not a single word is wasted.

The setting takes place about 40 to 50 years in the future from what I can estimate.  9/11, the London Underground attack, the Madrid bombing, and a fourth fictional tragedy are defining moments that have shaped the world Nora lives in.  Car bombings, curfews and armored escort vehicles are the norm.  Consumerism is considered a right and civic responsibility, and Therapeutic Forgetting Clinics (TFCs) truly are the opiate of the masses.  See something horrible?  Hop over to your neighborhood TFC, pop a pill, and you will never have to remember it again.

Nora is the main protagonist of the book, and she has a dream life as the beloved, spoiled, petted princess of her mother and father.  In particular, her father concentrates on success and social status.  The book opens with her and her mother on a shopping trip.  During the outing, Nora witnesses a bombing and sees the body of person who died as a result of it.  Hence, her trip to a TFC. 

Nora eventually meets Micah and Winter, the other two main characters in the story.  Micah’s personal and economic situation is the exact opposite of Nora’s. He and his mother previously have lived out of a car, and they now essentially squat in a makeshift home in a commune, and by that I do not a Manson family-style commune, but more like a like urban food co-op/DIY/artesian community.  Living there means you have no where else to go, but you wouldn’t mind sampling their kool-aid from time-to-time.  However, the sense of community he has there is far preferable to the personal home situation Nora faces.  Winter, on the other hand, is a rad, burgeoning artist who loves her best friend, Micah, and is wary of Nora.  Her family has a past and a whole lot of pain that they carry on their backs and in their hearts.  She has a very tight relationship with her grandfather, who appears to be one of those rare people who encompass both high personal standards and a warm and open mind.  After everything she has lost and under her grandfather’s love, Winter’s art gives her something creative and useful to channel her emotions through.  Winter also makes the best connections out the trio, and she’s the one who knows that junked, forgotten things sometimes offer the best solutions.

The story is told through the eyes and ears of these three, and they take turns telling the narrative through alternating first-person points-of-view.  Together, they write and distribute a comic book that changes everything.  They have chosen to retain their memories and then record and distribute them so that they become a part of everyone else’s collective memory.  Doing so exposes some people and entities whose actions would otherwise be wiped from memory.  In a world where forgetting keeps the machine smoothly moving, such a step is not an act of rebellion so much as a call for revolution. 

Memento Nora is fascinating.  It takes the premise that those who forget history are doomed to repeat to an extreme and very personal level.  It mixes that with the idea of government-sanctioned, corporate control over the populace.  I wouldn’t exactly call this book dystopian.  Usually in dystopian novels, an author presents us with a seemingly perfect and well-ordered world and deconstructs it as we read.  Smibert does the opposite and shows us that chaos can be as carefully constructed and controlled as perfection - an inverted dystopia.  She also pays homage to the book’s literary predecessors throughout the story, so be on the lookout for these nods (my personal favorite was the Jonas Defense Fund).  In conclusion, Memento Nora is one those rare books that takes old ideas and reinvents them in a fresh, new way so that we may see their importance and relevance again.  It’s savvy, political, intelligent and controversial – a mesmerizing what-if tale that hits way too close to home and already has seeds planted in the present.  I highly recommend it.

(please note that these quotes are from an ARC and may be changed in a final copy - page numbers are not provided for this reason)

“Ten minutes later the kid came out trailing his mother.  She hurried out the door.  He stuck out his tongue at me.  Loser, I thought, until I saw the white pill sitting on his pink tongue.  He coughed into his hand, then mouthed the word remember, tapping his cast, and tossed the pill into the trash can.
I watched him leave.  He wasn’t glossy.  He wasn’t dreary, either.  He was something else.
He was all there.”

“The Coalition was like some supervillain syndicate or terrorist Legion of Doom, but no Justice League had arisen from the chaos to combat the baddies.  No, it was like the superheroes had abandoned Gotham, and we citizens were supposed to just pop a pill and forget all about it, until the next time villains struck our fair land.”

“I’d pulled gears out of every piece of junk I could lay my hands on, and it still wasn’t enough.  Most things now only have ones and zeros spinning around in a hunk of plastic.  No metal teeth gnashing, turning each other, making things work.  Like clockwork.  In a digital system, all you have to do is erase the bad digit and go on like nothing ever happened.”


Scenes from the film Children of Men echoed a lot in my mind as I read.  In particular, the modern advertising had the same feeing to me – found this great video on YouTube and wanted to share:

Also, living in gated communities complete with their shopping and schools are the status symbol in Memento Nora.  You virtually never have to leave.  This is beyond what we've seen in the Real Housewives of the O.C., and it already happens today.  Here's an example.

You can read the first chapter of Memento Nora at the author’s website.  The book also has its own website, where you can learn more about the characters and see how Memento Nora is being used in the classroom.

FTC: I received this ARC book on loan from a Book Blog Tour organizer (Banned Books Tours) to read and give my honest opinion.  In no way was I compensated for my review.


  1. Momento Nora was on my wishlist simply because of its cover. Your review has only made me want it more! Thanks :)

  2. This cover has fascinated me and the word Memento made me wonder if this had anything in common with the movie of the same name. I suppose in some ways, from your review they do. That was a great review and makes me want to pick this one up right away.


  3. "shows us that chaos can be as carefully constructed and controlled as perfection - an inverted dystopia." Wow! This sounds awesome. I really was unsure on this book but your review has sold me on it. Brilliant :)

  4. Great review! I love this book! I tell you it got me from the very first page!!

  5. Great review, I actually posted my review of this one today too =). I did find it different from all of the other dystopians I've been reading recently but couldn't really connect with the characters much. Still liked it a lot though and will be looking forward to the next one. =)

  6. "It takes the premise that those who forget history are doomed to repeat to an extreme and very personal level."

    That pretty much sums this one up perfectly Linds! I absolutely adored the premise of this one, I couldn't stop thinking about it for days after reading. I just wanted a little more from the characters since they always make or break the book for me. Beautiful review as always:)

  7. Thanks for the great review. I can't wait to get my hands on this one!
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog