There is something mysterious about power of memory, and even more so about the way dreams affect us as human beings. Dreams have the power of making us think about them way past we wake up, and we cherish memories as past moments that live inside our heads, that at times we are eager to recall as we nostalgically look at our past. This is why books with these topics, like Book of the Month The Memory Index, capture our interest so quickly.
Think of books like The Giver, where we follow the story of 12-year old Jonas, who lives in a community where nothing is questioned, everyone is strictly assigned to appropriate family units after birthmothers give birth, and those who reside in the community are given specific partners and jobs to pursue. Jonas is given the task of being the Receiver of Memory and starts to realize that this new power feeds off feelings.
Then there is the novel 1984, which also features an eerie and dystopian government. Winston Smith desperately follows Party line, where history is rewritten to obey the Ministry of Truth that shall discipline anyone who dares to commit thoughtcrimes.
Imagine a book that mixes the themes and elements that are found in these novels, and the result is the engaging book The Memory Index by Julian R. Vaca, which deals with the effects of memory loss and what happens when memory becomes a type of urgently needed currency for a society.
The Memory Index is the type of story that is cinematic on its own, and could certainly be quite the motion picture, like The Giver. Elements of lack of freedom, as well as lack of making our own choices, paint a picture of the desperation that might follow when people are given very few chances to follow their own path, which might be considered dangerous or wrong by their current societal standards.
The year is 1987 and a strange disease is destroying human memories. While people suffer of the sudden and constant loss of being able to recall their past without a cure known as artificial recall, there are those known as the recollectors who are luckier than most. These recollectors need the treatment only once a day to maintain their memories. Then there is Freya Izquierdo, a high school senior known as a degen, who needs much more than a once-a-day doses of artificial recall in order to not be tormented by her sudden half-memories, while she struggles to solve her father's violent death. Only her memories are able to help her recall her past progress on the investigation. One day she finds herself recruited by a mysterious dean to attend Foxtail Academy, where 500 students will be chosen to try out a new advanced and technological cure that could eliminate the need for artificial recall to keep memories alive.
Freya finds the opportunity extremely tempting and accepts, especially after almost being jailed for trying to discover new ways to sustain her memories and hopefully discover what really happened to her father. Once she lands at Foxtail, she meets a group of new people that become her friends, yet she quickly realizes she was the only degen given the opportunity to land a spot at Foxtail for the experiment. The twists and turns continue when Freya finds herself in the middle of a mystery in the Academy, as students start disappearing. Then, there's the eerie Dean Mendelsohn, who has a bunker that is located in the dark and strange woods behind the Academy that seems to hold some disturbing truths that could surprise her and her new friends. Not only that, but it seems like those truths, as scary as they might be, must be uncovered, and they might have to access some unexpected memories to do so.
As we follow Freya and her friends throughout the story, we find ourselves immersed with the mood and setting of the 1980s. The book is filled with details specific to that era, such as song titles. For people to access their memories, cassette tapes are utilized. The atmosphere is that of the ultimate thriller, a type of YA that is fast-paced and really fun to read, and mixes the type of action and adventurous moments that will keep you guessing and wondering what's next for the characters when it comes to the story. As the disease known as the Memory Killer creates constant unrest and issues in the city, we remain hopeful, even in the bleakest of moments, that things will be resolved. The chapters wrap up in suspenseful ways, and the fast-paced storytelling as well as intricate character development will have you deeply engrossed as you read.
The Memory Index turns out to be a novel rooted in the themes of nostalgia, as it also interweaves a coming-of-age element and modernized sci-fi techniques, as well as lessons that will resonate with readers today. In a fictional world where a plague that erases memories is rampant, readers in the present will find themselves rooting for a cure and hopeful that a cure and justice for the characters will prevail. While we all live through the current pandemic, this book showcases a world where, despite the struggle with dark times, there's always a sliver of hope. And that's a lesson we can all stand behind and appreciate as readers. There's always a ray of hope that we can latch onto.