(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Close your eyes and think. Hard. What's the oldest memory you have? Is it of learning to read in kindergarten? Riding high on your father's shoulders as a toddler? Being rocked to sleep when you were still small enough to be cradled in your mother's arms? What if you could remember all those things and more? What if you, in fact, never forgot anything? What if you had perfect recall of every moment of your life, from the time you slid out of your mother's womb until the minute you left this earth? Would it be a blessing? Or a curse?
As a Mementi, one of only 15,000 genetically-enhanced humans, Genesis "Gena" Lee can do exactly that. With the help of the Link beads she wears on her body, the 17-year-old can access every memory she's ever made. In exacting detail. This ability makes the Mementi smarter, more capable, better than their Populace counterparts. At least, that's what they believe. Seeking to even the score, the ever-increasing population of average humans is constantly looking for ways to compete with the Mementi. One of them, the so-called Link Thief, has resorted to stealing memory beads. No one knows exactly why he does it or where he will strike next. But he has every Mementi in Havendale on edge. Stolen memories can mean confusion, anxiety, even total erasure of a person's past—and thus, their future.
Gena considers herself lucky to have all her memories intact until an encounter with a Populace boy makes her wonder. Kalan Fox says she knows him, insists they've been working together to capture the Link Thief. Only Gena has no memory of Kalan at all. Could she be more of a victim than she thought? What has gone wrong with her always perfect recollection? And, most importantly, who is Genesis Lee without her memories? Is she anyone at all?
Ruminating on the mysteries of the mind always makes for a fascinating journey. Memory is an especially intriguing topic—one I have found even more interesting after a recent visit with my 100-year-old grandmother (who passed away a few weeks later). The way she could shift from perfect recall to total blankness in the space of a five-minute conversation was just ... bizarre. Considering that, it's no wonder I find the premise of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, a debut novel by Shallee McArthur, so compelling. The world she creates is beguiling in all its potential and complexity. While some of its rules seemed confusing, even contradictory, I found Mementi society undeniably entrancing. Plot-wise, though, the novel is a little scattered. It's tense and exciting, for sure, just not as tight as it could have been. Likewise, McArthur's characters felt pretty flat to me. I just didn't care about them all that much. What kept me reading, I think, was really the food for thought brought up by The Unhappening of Genesis Lee (although it contains spoilers, the Reader's Guide to this book provides an excellent summary of these deep, fascinating questions). While the plot/characters/dialogue, etc. felt a little ho-hum, the premise and questions asked in the novel ultimately made it a worthwhile read for me.
(Readalikes: I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence and intense situations