The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
Reviewed by Amanda Smith
To feel out of place, as if one doesn’t belong, is probably something everyone has experienced at some point in his or her life, but for Nadia, the main character of Sharon Cameron’s 2016 young-adult novel, The Forgetting, this feeling is not one that will fade in time. She is, in fact, different.
Initially, readers might question why this matters. She has a nice family. She lives in Canaan, an idyllic, walled city surrounded by mountains. Every villager has a job and a purpose, which seems to be an ideal formula for contentment. Nadia, though, is the picture of discontent. She doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t have close friends. She is the only one in the small city who ever escapes its walls. She’s the only one who remembers.
For, in this city, every 12 years, comes the Forgetting, a time when every person’s memories are wiped away. When they awaken from the Forgetting, they remember nothing. They don’t know who their parents are. They can’t remember their children or where they live or what they do for a living. Their salvation? Their books. Residents of Canaan keep meticulous journals of their lives to prepare for the Forgetting. These books are their most precious possessions, which they keep on their person at all times, even attaching them to their bodies with a lifeline. The books are the townspeople’s only links to the past, and Nadia is the only person in Canaan who knows they might not tell the whole truth.
“My father takes my hand, leads me away from the window, and sits me in my chair, feet dangling, the light of sun rising painting our walls with blotches of pink and gold. Then he picks up our knife and cuts the tether of my book. I see the book leave my body, watch it cross the room without me in my father’s hands.
‘Don’t cry, Nadia,’ he says while he cries, ‘it’s almost time to forget.’
He is a stranger. My father has become a stranger who did what he said I should never do, who cut off a piece of me and took it away. And so I run...
...I want my mother. My father isn’t there when I open the door, and even this room looks unfamiliar in the cracked white light. The baby has cried herself to sleep in the cradle seat. There are no seedlings in the window, but on the table is a book, open to the first page. It says ‘Nadia the Dyer’s daughter.’ But that is not my book.”
The fact Nadia knows her book is not her own and that others’ books have been altered is a secret she guards with her life. It is also the fulcrum on which the novel balances. Nadia and the reader are forced to confront difficult questions as the book teeters from side to side. Is it better to forget than to face a troubled and painful past? Is it easier to create a new beginning when one cannot remember the past? What is the ideal way in which a society should function? Are shared memories vital for happiness?
Nadia ponders these questions as she finally allows herself to develop a relationship. She has connected with Gray, a village boy who has come perilously close to discovering her secret.
“I nearly spit my tea, and then I realize it’s because I’m laughing. Actually laughing. I choke and laugh more, and Gray laughs, too. I can’t remember the last time I laughed. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, catching my breath. I don’t know what to say now, which is no great surprise. So I study my tea. And then I hear the last thing I’d expected in the houses of the Lost, besides laughter. A flute.
Gray sits quiet for once, listening, and then someone sings. The song is picked up by one and then another, scattering from room to room. The tune isn’t sad, but there’s something lovely and wild about not being able to see where it comes from, hearing some notes closer, others down hallways and beyond walls. It takes on a life of its own. I watch the glowworms writhe in their jar, living for no other reason than to emit their weird light. I have sixty-nine days to try to change the life I have, or to decide to leave it behind.”
The Forgetting is a young-adult novel that both youth and adults will enjoy. It is a readable, suspenseful tale with likable characters, a dose of romance and a glimpse into a different kind of society. Refreshingly, the characters in the story are not all black and white. Their shades of gray encourage the reader to think—an admirable trait in any book.
Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy
Reviewed by Amanda Smith
The 2014 novel, Citizens Creek, has a ring of authenticity. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the primary characters in the book are based on the lives of real people. The novel is the third in an award-winning collection by Lalita Tademy, a high-powered Silicon Valley executive turned writer who has become well-known for writing about the lives of her own African-American ancestors. Tademy deviated a bit from her typical formula in this, her latest effort. The two primary characters in Citizens Creek are not from her own family, but are real people whose stories were in danger of being lost to time.
The novel traverses five generations of this African-American family, but focuses on two main characters: Cow Tom and his granddaughter, Rose. When readers first encounter Cow Tom, the year is 1822, and he is a slave in Alabama—not the property of a white plantation owner, but slave to a Creek Indian chief named Yargee. Cow Tom began life as a plantation slave, but was sold, as were many black slaves of the time, to a Native American tribe.
The young man was known for his skills in healing cattle. This, combined with a talent for language, is what brought him to the attention of the Creeks. Yargee used him to tend cattle, but more importantly, Cow Tom became the primary translator for the wily old Indian chief. This eventually led to the rental of Cow Tom to soldiers fighting the Seminole Wars of the 1830s. Cow Tom embarks on this dangerous venture with a dim hope of finding his mother, who was stolen by Seminoles when he was a young boy. What he stumbles into is a piece of American history.
“Four braves grabbed Cow Tom and Harry by the arms. Cow Tom’s knees had gone feeble, and he thought they might have to help him move, but he refused to be dragged like a cow to slaughter. He straightened his legs and walked, until they were so close to Osceola he could see for the first time the burls of pitted scars down his cheeks. The braves closed behind them like a curtain, separating them from the others. They prodded Cow Tom forward. There was no point in resisting. Whatever was going to happen was already on its way into being.”
To tell more of Cow Tom’s story would ruin the reader’s journey of discovery, but be assured Tademy uses his life to expose readers to the little-known history that entwines the lives of African-American slaves with the lives of Native Americans. His story gradually gives way to the saga of his granddaughter, Rose. Unlike her ancestor, Rose was born free, but her life is no less fraught with danger.
“‘Grampa says run,’ she said, her breath coming hard.
She repeated her story of the men in the woods, fast as she could. [subscribe for full article]
Frayed by Donna Roberts
Reviewed by Amanda Smith