The Hidden Memory of Objects
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, Megan 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.
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.
What Left Me Wanting:
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…
I had no idea that there was a "magical" element to this novel when I started reading it, but while an interesting concept, it was hard to reconcile with the murder mystery that unfolded. I wanted to know more about how Megan's ability works, and why it was specifically triggered (or was it?) by Tyler's death.
Megan is a passable lead character, but there isn't much that makes her memorable. She's a determined teenager, and resourceful, as well as creative, but she does blend into the sea of YA protagonists that are much the same. The adults around her are similarly tolerable, but not as perceptive as one might hope.
I enjoyed the historical touches and backstories within the novel--they gave it a poignancy and connection to real life that helped to make the story more engaging.
What worked: Intriguing concept of someone who can see past memories while holding objects tainted by violence or death. Readers are able to see and feel what happens whenever Megan touches these items. These images are vivid and powerfully written. What's painful for Megan though is holding her dead brother's objects and witnessing a truth about him that is hard to accept but one that she knows she has to follow through on.
The strength of this novel has to be the whole idea of murderabilia and the ability to sees glimpses into the past. Plus, the whole Abraham Lincoln artifacts backdrop is very interesting. Add suspense and mystery and you have one page turning story.
The pacing at times had a tendency to be slow. I wanted to know about Megan's abilities and why they just seemed to happen. The relationship between her and Nathan-one of her older brother's friends-felt rushed. I admit I really liked the chemistry between her and Eric, a classmate. I kind of hoped that they'd get together.
Suspenseful ride through the streets of Washington, DC where the ability to see the past through the objects of dead people might be the way to solve a personal mystery. Historical background on Abraham Lincoln add to this tale.