I didn’t actually plan to read more of Ann Brashares’ books after reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but in the course of linking to her site for my reviews, I happened to read the plot summary of My Name Is Memory—and was far too intrigued to resist!
Daniel has lived many lives, and remembers them all. Starting around 500 AD, he has been reincarnated through many times and places. In his first life, he was part of an army that burned down a village—and killed a beautiful girl in the fire. In later lives, he meets her again and again. He remembers, but she doesn’t. They fall in love more than once, and lose each other again and again, but in all his lives Daniel searches for her, waiting for the lifetime when they can finally be together.
The book is structured with alternating chapters. In one thread, Daniel tells his history through the centuries. The other thread is set in the present day, focusing on Daniel and Lucy, both teenagers, both deeply attracted to each other, but parted when their first conversation goes very badly. Lucy struggles to understand why she’s so drawn to Daniel, and the meaning behind her dreams that hint at past lives.
I find reincarnation fascinating, and I loved all the elements of that in this book. I’m not sure whether to call it a magic system, world-building or philosophy, but Brashares presents a fascinating, detailed concept. Choices and events in one life can influence the course of later lives, and people who share a bond in one life are likely to find each other again in the next, even if neither one remembers earlier incarnations. My favorite example is Lucy’s best friend, endlessly supportive and loyal, who in her previous life was the mother of Lucy’s previous incarnation.
I like that Lucy is given increasing agency as the book goes on. Daniel thinks it’s all about him finding her, but she goes looking for answers and makes decisions herself.
I’m not sure how much I like Daniel as a person, but he’s fascinating as a character. He’s single-minded to the point of blindness and fiercely independent to the point of rejecting attachments. But while those are human flaws, I don’t think they’re character flaws because Brashares clearly knew what she was doing—midway through the book it occurred to me that Daniel seemed to have no other relationships throughout his lives except with Lucy (and her earlier versions). That became a major theme of the second half of the book. Daniel begins to realize how much he has missed by failing to value the unique, individual people in each of his lives, and by failing to change with each new incarnation and its opportunities.
At a glance, this book seems to have very little in common with Traveling Pants…but the more I think about it compared to Lena and Kostos’ romance, the more similar it begins to seem! In both cases, we have a couple who feels a deep, undeniable soul connection, despite spending very little actual time together, and who is continually parted by circumstances or by their own fears. I will say that romances where couples barely know each other usually bother me in books—but this may be the one case where there really is a deep soul connection, literally and tangibly, so I’m willing to give it a pass. Though I will say that, for a man who had centuries to think about it, Daniel handles his first conversation with Lucy unbelievably badly, to the point that it feels a little contrived to create conflict…but at least it was handled badly in a way that was in character, so that’s something!
The ending was a bit more inconclusive than I would have liked—and not inconclusive in a way that suggests a sequel, it just feels like artful vagueness (but I could be wrong!) This might bother someone else less than it bothered me—and there were enough clues that I can pretty easily surmise how I hope it turns out, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually forget that the book didn’t actually say it came out that way!
Though I could find out I forgot, since I well might reread this some day. It really was fascinating!
Author’s Site: http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/annbrashares/
Buy it here: My Name is Memory