Friday, April 30, 2010

The Memory Thief by Rachel Keener

book cover

The Memory Thief
by Rachel Keener

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Center Street
First Released: 2010

Source: Won from the publisher during one of their Twitter giveaways.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
"Burning down Black Snake trailer was easy. The hard thing was walking away, when what I wanted most was to watch it die... "

When Angel sets fire to her childhood home, it isn't the end--it's the beginning. Left with nothing but a few memories in her pocket, Angel escapes into the fields of tobacco, the only place she has ever felt safe. Hidden by those green-gold leaves, she sets out for the mountains and the woman she believes lives there. Angel will do whatever she has to until she finds her. She longs to empty her pockets, hand over the answers to what became of her, and whisper, "This is my story."

As Angel journeys toward the mountains, Hannah is struggling to tell her own story. The daughter of missionaries who follow the rules of a small and strict religious sect were modesty is prized above all else. Wearing floor length polyester skirts and never cutting her hair, Hannah is forced to live a separate life from her peers until the summer her family moves to James Island, South Carolina. Slowly, Hannah begins to escape the confines of her strict upbringing, and soon makes a choice that will forever change the course of her life.

As these two women's paths connect, Hannah's past will prove to mean everything to Angel's future.

The Memory Thief is a general fiction novel about two (well, actually, three or more) women who have to deal with the results of abusive childhoods. Hannah and her sister grew up with a mother who controlled every aspect of her daughters' lives in the name of her love for Hannah. Angel and her sister grew up with indifferent parents who were usually drunk, physically abusive, had affairs, and encouraged them to steal.

The novel was full of pain and disappointment. It did this in a very well-written way, but just don't expect something light or happy. It did have a satisfying ending.

The characters were complex and realistic, and they dealt with realistic problems. The world-building was excellent, bringing the story alive in my imagination. The pacing was very good and so was how the author slowly revealed how the two stories (told in alternating chapters) came together at the end. Symbolism was subtly woven into the story.

There were some vague references to the "Christian sect" that Hannah's family belonged to and to their attending several churches (where the focus was on how different these people acted than those at her own church). It wasn't "preachy."

Sex was vaguely implied. There was some "he cussed" style bad language and a very minor amount of actual cuss words. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Things go missing in Carolina. That's what Hannah would remember most about her time there. It started easy, even sweetly, with small things like words. The wasteful parts, whole syllables, disappeared around her. Charleston became Chah'stun. Hurricane became her'cun. Yankee was Yank, only spoke with a snort. Hard g's were an insult. Good manners required a softer tongue.

Comfort went missing next. Hannah's first hour in Carolina left her sweating in a way no powder-soft deodorant could help. Poor Yank, dressed in stinging polyester. That night, after swatting away palm-sized mosquitoes, she walked to the water and stuck her face close enough to feel its mist. Sucked in her breath like a newborn ready to yell out a first cry.

Her family arrived with one suitcase each. Father's was everything expected. Clothes, maps, sketches of bridges, and Bibles. Mother's was nearly the same. But underneath her clothes and soaps and Bibles was a small wedding picture. The one where her husband reached under her veil and pulled her out for the kiss.

Hannah had been given the smallest suitcase and told to keep it light. But clothes weren't a challenge. Gray and khaki ankle-length skirts, gray sweaters, long-sleeved blouses, and a few pairs of pleated kool-lots--shorts that were so loose they looked like skirts and fell the required eight inches below her knees. She dug through her nightstand drawer, searching for anything else she might need. There were pictures of her and her friends at Bible camp. Flowers dried and pressed into an album page. A folded-up two-inch triangle torn from a magazine page she found loose in a shopping cart. It hid the checklist: Top Ten Ways to Know a Guy Likes You.

Hannah's mother scanned the contents of her suitcase, pulled out a white shirt and replaced it with a yellow one. Then she handed Hannah a trash bag and told her to clear the junk and organize her mess of books.

Read more from chapter one.


Tea said...

What a wonderful review about a great book. I would love to read it.

Genre Reviewer said...


I'm glad you found my review useful and wonderful. :) I hope you get a chance to read the novel.