The One Memory of Flora Banks was written by Emily Barr and first published in 2017. It is a contemporary novel which focuses on a girl with amnesia on a quest to find her lost love. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.
When Flora was ten years old, an operation to remove a brain tumour left her without the ability to make memories. She remembers everything up to this but anything that she has learned since leaves her mind within a few hours. Despite now being seventeen, she will never lead an ordinary live. It’s not even safe for her to leave her home town. That is, until she kisses a boy on the beach.
Flora wakes up the next morning and is shocked to find that she remembers this vividly. She quickly convinces herself that the boy – Drake – has some sort of special ability that will restore her memory. Trouble is, Drake is leaving to study at the North Pole and so she has no chance of ever seeing him again.
However, that’s before her parents are forced to rush to the bedside of her sick brother, leaving her in the care of her friend Paige. This is Flora’s chance. With her parents far away, no one will stop her from just getting on a plane and going after Drake. However, nothing is quite what it seems. Flora will need all of her bravery if she’s ever to discover who she truly is, and survive her adventure to the Land of the Midnight Sun…
The One Memory of Flora Banks is one of the most endearing titles that I have read in a long time, yet I don’t think that it’s a story that will speak to everyone. For one thing, despite being a young adult novel, the narrative does feel a bit childish at times and could be readily enjoyed by younger readers. This is primarily due to the protagonist. While Flora is an older teen, her constant brain resets have left her with the mental age of ten. This naturally gives her quite an innocent view of the world, as she constantly has to remind herself that she’s older than she thinks and should “behave” accordingly.
The first person narrative captures this incredibly well, underlining the seriousness of Flora’s condition. On top of her child-like speaking voice, you also feel her confusion. Flora repeats things constantly, as she often “forgets” that she’s told the reader certain facts. Over the course of the story, you will read phrases like “Paige is my best friend” and “I kissed a boy on the beach” roughly 10,000 times. This can be entertaining to read, especially as she tries to unconvincingly fool people into thinking that she remembers them, but it’s also more than a little sad. While everyone in her hometown knows her, Flora can’t remember their faces and is perpetually baffled as to how everyone knows her name.
My biggest issues with the story were the way that her close family and friends seem to treat her. Flora is instantly sweet and lovable, but the people who should be watching out for her all seem to be jerks. What kind of parents leave a girl like Flora in the care of a seventeen-year-old (who is not a trained carer) while they leave the country? What kind of seventeen-year-old would leave Flora to fend for herself over this time, knowing full well that she could leave the stove lit and burn the house down? What kind of boy sends sexually explicit emails to a girl with the mental age of ten? These people just all made me so angry.
However, the reasons behind every character’s actions slowly come to light, and they’re not all as you would think. The novel has some nice twists that I won’t spoil for you, which kept me reading as I began to clock that something wasn’t quite right. On the whole, the story quickly became a mystery more than anything else, as Flora uncovered small truths concerning the secrets that had been kept from her since her accident.
While I was expecting this to be more of a romance story, Drake’s impact on the plot is actually pretty minor. While it serves as Flora’s inspiration to go on an adventure (spurred on by the child-like fantasy that the kiss was magical), the story doesn’t hinge on this point. It’s more of a journey of self-discovery as Flora leaves her over-protective mother and proves that she’s more capable – and braver – than she ever imagined. Once Flora reaches Svalbard, she discovers a whole new side of herself – one that’s curious about everything and more capable than she could ever have imagined – which is the true meaning of this novel.
I also loved the supporting cast. Although we don’t learn a huge amount about them due to Flora’s memory problems, it’s nice how much the strangers that Flora meets in her adventure support her on the way. Flora is such an easy target that I was constantly afraid for her safety, but the novel never turns down this dark path. It instead paints a very positive portrayal of society, showing that people are inherently good and want to look out for each other, which made a change from some of the darker young adult novels that I’ve read of late.
This is a very short review, but I don’t have much more to say. The One Memory of Flora Banks is a very sweet story that warmed my heart (I admit, I even shed a few tears in its final act). While some other reviewers have critiqued its tone and message, I would respectfully disagree. To me, it wasn’t a story that made light of mental illness. It was more a story about a young girl’s journey of discovery – showing how one can live life to the full even when it has dealt them a rough hand. It was beautiful, moving, and I would certainly recommend it.
The One Memory of Flora Banks can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk