Published by Balzer + Bray on March 21, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal
Source: YA Books Central
Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.
Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother's charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.
Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!
Racial-Ethnic: 3 (love interest Nathan is black and his adoptive parents are Chinese)
Disability: 1 (Nathan’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s)
YA is not dumb no matter how many Jonathan Franzen-esque literary dweebs come out of the woodwork saying so. They claim it’s juvenile (no duh, it’s written FOR teens, who are classified as juveniles), simple, brainless fluff, or otherwise lesser than adult fiction. Quite frankly, they need to stop looking at their anuses and accept that different people like different things. The Hidden Memory of Objects is one of the smartest YA novels I’ve ever read, but it’s perhaps a little too smart for me.
If you want something like The Da Vinci Code with fewer conspiracy theories and gaping holes, this book is for you. Though it’s a contemporary YA novel, its plot spreads its roots deep in American history–specifically, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Before his death, Megan’s brother Tyler got obsessed with John Wilkes Booth and the assassination, seeing it as something of an inspiration because it seems Booth genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. What readers learn about the assassination from this book only barely goes beyond what we learn in history books, but it brings the night Lincoln was murdered to life.
Megan’s grief for her brother runs so deep in her that when she touches things that once belonged to Tyler–later any objects with an emotionally charged history–she can see the memories attached to it. For instance, she touches some small silver balls she found in Tyler’s room and sees when he stole those balls while in a senator’s office. Other charged items specifically related to Lincoln’s assassination dance in and out of the story, like the gun Booth shot Lincoln with and a scrap of the bloody dress of Clara Harris, a woman in the box with the Lincolns that night.
No solid explanation is offered for Megan’s sudden development of psychometry, creating confusion about exactly which genre the book might fall into. For magical realism, such things simply are, like footprints literally left on the heart of someone heartbroken. Psychometry on its own is typically classed as paranormal, but the theory Megan’s friend Eric proposes would take the novel into sci-fi territory a la X-Men. Its inability to fit comfortably in any of the three makes it difficult to recommend the book to the right reader.
But as smart as the book is, it’s also boring. Megan, her grief, and her dangerous dealings with historian Dr. Brightman inspired nothing in me. The only character who brought me to any emotion was Eric and he really just made me want to strangle him. You know the pixie type character Zooey Deschanel gets typecast as? The love interest in every John Green novel? Yeah, that’s Eric except he’s the best friend, not the love interest. Despite being a relatively short 336 pages, the novel felt almost endless.
Like I said earlier, it’s all very reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code but without any screams of HISTORICAL CONSPIRACY!!! coming from the pages. It’s a great read for teens who want an especially smart read. It may not have been my particular fancy, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile for another reader. Now if I could just figure out whether it’s trying to be magical realism, paranormal, or sci-fi for ease of making recommendations…