Review | The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Flora Banks has anterograde amnesia. She is seventeen years old but, due to the removal of a tumor on her brain when she was ten, she cannot make new memories. Anything she experiences lasts only a few hours and is then gone. Her parents protect her and she has a dedicated best friend, Paige who takes care of her when they are together. Flora also writes copious amounts of notes in her diary and scribbles little reminders on her hands and arms. She gets by. But all this changes one night when she kisses Paige’s boyfriend, Drake, and the next day she remembers it! It is the first thing she has remembered in seven years, but Drake has gone to the Arctic Circle for college. Is he the key to unlocking her memory? She will have to find him in order to find out…

Repetitive rhythm

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a frustrating novel. It’s a very comfortable and casual read, it flows nicely, but – and here’s the frustrating part – it flows in a circle for well over half of its 303 pages. This is understandable and probably unavoidable considering the main character suffers from amnesia but there are only so many times you can read “I kissed Drake” before wanting to take the book, and apply it to their own forehead with considerable force. The very nature of its subject is the source of this tedium: repetition is a narrative tool. Flora lives her life in a constant state of questioning; she knows she has this certain form of amnesia and is always wondering if she knows these people in her life or not, or whether she has been to this place before or not. This serves to highlight her growing sense of anxiety, especially when she realises that she has created a memory of kissing a boy, her first memory in seven years. It is this catalyst that throws not only her world into a spin but the story into action. Yet it takes a considerable amount of time before the plot picks up any pace at all, and there is only so much of this amnesia merry-go-round that the reader can take without it starting to grate.

Loveable Main Character

Flora herself is such a lovable character. A pure innocent who, as you read more and more about her, makes you want to wrap her up in a big hug. She is a wonderfully written character; her little observations are very astute and simple and the reader can’t help but be drawn to her. As she says herself, “live in the moment whenever you can. You don’t need a memory for that.” Unfortunately none of the other supporting characters are either as loveable or as well realised. Paige and Flora’s parents are functional characters that unfortunately carry very little weight, at some points in the novel it seems like her parents are simply there to give Flora someone to talk to. Ironically, their sudden departure from the plot is one thing that pushes it forward. Paige gets a better crack, especially towards the end, but ultimately you don’t care about her. Jacob, Flora’s black sheep brother, is another poorly sketched character but he does propel the narrative forward at a point when the story was really beginning to flag heavily. Seeing as we only experience these characters through Flora, it is very hard to attach any great depth to them, particularly with Jacob. Thankfully Emily Barr gives us such a lovely character in Flora that you can forgive the lack of quality in the other characters that populate the pages.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a pleasant read peppered with lovely scenes, moments of great humour and beautiful, specific detailing, such as her diary and her “Flora be brave” tattoo on her hand. Flora herself is a wonderfully sympathetic character. You want to go on this journey with her because you like her. Barr should be commended on using the constant questioning of the character as a metaphor for growing up, moving from a child to an adult and the uncertainty of it all.  Flora identifies as a ten-year-old girl and doesn’t understand this adult body of hers. I would say most teenagers can say the very same, and have struggled with changing from a child into an adult and what being an adult means. 

The One Memory of Flora Banks is worth your time but it is sometimes hard work.

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