Most of you probably recognize the author’s name from her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame. Despite being a contributor to a YA blog, I have to confess that I decidedly did not make that connection when I purchased this book, seeing that I’ve never read the series. I have, however, read her other novel, The Last Summer (of you & me) and I count it, along with John Green and Cassandra Clare, as one of the primary reasons I started giving YA books a chance. That said, I’m not entirely sure either of these books qualify for the young adult genre. The character’s ages range from 18-23, and it begins at the end of high school, but the books has an ageless quality to it that I feel anyone from sixteen to sixty could embrace. Of course, this could be because the novel itself transcends time.
Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. For all the times that he and Sophia have been connected throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart.
But just when Sophia (now “Lucy” in the present) finally awakens to the secret of their shared past, the mysterious force that has always separated them reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.
When purchasing this book, as you can see by the summary, it seems quite similar to the plot of last year’s Eternal Ones about a love that lasts lifetimes. And while I can admit to fully enjoying the Eternal Ones, this book took the concept eternal love and reincarnation to a higher plane. Daniel’s first life began around 600 AD in North Africa during which time he first met the soul he would be transfixed by for the next 1600 years. It was in this first naive and untried life that Daniel made the mistake that would haunt him for the rest of his lives and started him on his long quest to be with his Sophia.
Through many lives, histories, places, and bodies Daniel keeps his memory of each life he has lived. He is also fortunate enough that he can recognize the souls he has known in the past. Time continues to pass and in some of the better lives he is able to find Sophia, but each time they both have new bodies, speak new languages, and she has new names. They are wholly different people in each life and often times one will be old while the other is young, but just finding a glimpse of her, even knowing that he alone holds the memories, is enough to keep him going. He keeps hoping that one day, he’ll make things better, that they’ll meet at the right time, and that she will remember him.
The story is told in alternative perspectives between Daniel and Lucy (the modern reincarnation of Sophia). Most of Daniel’s story is a retrospective of his many lives and lessons, while Lucy remains in the present, dealing with her constant awareness and obsession with Daniel. For two years they attended the same high school where they secretly longed for one another, until finally on the last night of their senior year they had a moment. It was too intense for Lucy, too outside the realm of her rationally oriented mind for her to make sense of, and so she fled from the opportunity of many lives.
The years pass, and Lucy finds herself feeling empty during her time at the University of Virginia, unable to connect with the world around her or engage with others. It’s impossible for her to let go of Daniel. As the years progress, a series of near misses and almost-could-have-beens occur. She experiences a psychic who knows too much, and memories of a time and place she couldn’t possibly have knowledge of makes her question whether Daniel was as crazy as he appeared. Separately, they both begin to try and find one another and bridge the gap between all their lives.
The poignancy of the human soul and condition through this book is what enraptured me. Brashare’s simple turn of phrasing captures universal truths about humanity, history, and the ongoing evolution of true love. Daniel’s character was heartbreaking- spending countless lives searching for one soul, never attaching to the lives he’s in because he’s always ready for the next one that might grant him Sophia. And Sophia/Lucy’s ever rational brain in many lives tries to reject the possibility of a truth that becomes increasingly more difficult to deny. I connected to the characters, gobbled up the history within it, and even more so, fell in love with the prose.
And the fact that the novel occurs in my home state of Virginia and at one of my most favorite colleges and towns, University of Virginia in Charlottesvile, certainly didn’t hurt anything. Brashares is actually from my neck of the woods and writes about Virginia like only one someone uniquely familiar with it could, and she managed to make me fall in love all over again with this beautiful state.
My Name is Memory, is the first book of a new trilogy, but do not let that discourage you. The book itself could stand on its own, and while there is plot left hanging for the next book, I could almost be happy if it ended where it is right now. That said, I will anxiously be awaiting the next installment and I hope all of you, whether you be YA or geriatric, (seriously if we have any geriatrics in the readership, please make yourself known) enjoy this book as much as I did. It is definitely going down in my top ten favorite book list.