The Hidden Memory of Objects – Danielle Mages Amato – Balzer+Bray – Published 21 March 2017
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, she 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.
The Hidden Memory of Objects is a modern-day mystery with a grounding in American History, a touch of the paranormal and a bit of romance. But it is ultimately a story about a girl’s quest to uncover the truth about her brother, how he really died, and the events leading up to his death, and maybe even discover who she is outside of people’s, especially her brother’s, expectations of her.
Megan’s brother is dead. The police say he died of a drug overdose and Megan can’t reconcile the images she has of her fun-loving, positive brother with those from the story the police are weaving of a boy who saw no other option than to deliberately overdose in an abandoned building. Heartbroken and confused, Megan decides to do some investigating of her own, starting with the things Tyler left behind. But as Megan collects and then starts creating artwork from her brother’s things, she begins to have strange headaches and blackouts, triggering memories of her brother that she couldn’t possibly have.
Megan is an artist and it’s obvious in everything she says and the way in which she views the world, always noticing colours and patterns and endlessly collecting scraps of paper and small objects to add to her collages. It is her love of things that prompts her to turn to Tyler’s belonging to uncover what happened to him. But she is surprised to discover among his effects historical artefacts connected to Abraham Lincoln, a book on John Wilkes Booth and a roll of cash. Some seem to support the police’s theories while others suggest there is more to the story.
Working through this mystery with Megan are two other main characters. The first is Nathan, Tyler’s friend who Megan first meets at the funeral. He is gorgeous, quirky, and agrees with Megan that it seems unlikely for Tyler to have taken drugs let alone his own life. But Nathan brings his own set of mysteries, like how he know Tyler and how he fits into the life Tyler seemingly kept hidden from Megan. Then there is Eric, a classmate and old friend of Megan’s. They reunite just as Megan starts to see strange things when she touches Tyler’s belongings. Eric brings a sense of humour to the story, insisting her strange visions are some sort of cool superpower or supernatural haunting. He is honest and charming and loveable. Eric is also supportive of Megan developing a romantic relationship with Nathan, so there is no conflict, drama, or messy love triangle, just good friendship.
One thing I particularly liked about this book was Megan’s first reaction to her new powers, for want of a better word. She thinks she has a brain tumour or is having a stoke. Her visions develop slowly and a reasonable explanation is given, which I thought made the whole thing believable. Eric’s reaction and support also helped to create a realistic reaction (or at least make Megan’s reaction look more realistic).
At times this story felt a little all over the place. I wasn’t expecting the American history aspects. At one point Megan says, “Lincoln, Lincoln everywhere.”And I have to agree. But it gives the story a nice twist, intertwining the mystery of Tyler’s death with Tyler’s interest in the Lincoln assassination and John Wilkes Booth. It also created the opportunity for some interesting settings. And all those seemingly random things and reactions that happened throughout the story were nicely brought together in the end as the mystery is resolved and the tension ramped up for a final showdown.
The Hidden Memory of Objects brings together family and the grief of loss, mystery and paranormal sleuthing, a strong cast of memorable characters, friendship, romance, and even a bit of politics.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Murder, death, art, collage, artists, dying, grief, suicide, drugs, paranormal abilities, politics, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, American history, murderabilia, friendship, self-identity, romance, siblings.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: Coarse language, sh**, f***. References to drug use and overdose. Reference to suicide and both current-day and historical murders.
Published: 21 March 2017 by Balzer+Bray.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 336 pages.