The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork; Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic; $17.99 324 pages Ages 12 and up.
This searing, poignant and ultimately uplifting novel, inspired by the author’s own experience with depression, is a rare book addressing the aftermath of a suicide attempt. As the novel opens, Vicky Cruz wakes up in a mental hospital after swallowing her stepmother’s sleeping pills, feeling she can add yet another failure to the long list of things she is no good at. (In an afterword, the author, who was born in Mexico and grew up in El Paso, freely discusses his own similar attempt and his own battle with depression.) Stork, the author of acclaimed novels “Marcelo in the Real World” and “The Last Summer of the Death Warriors,” has a real gift for creating vivid characters, and the other young people in group therapy at the hospital – Mona, grieving the loss of her stepsister to the foster care system; Gabriel, who hears a voice in his head, and E.M., hospitalized for a violent assault on his abusive father – all have something to offer each other as they look for a way out of darkness with the help of empathetic psychiatrist Dr. Desai. Stork does not sugarcoat the difficulties Vicky faces in her battle with depression, or the obstacles she will face on her return home, but does a masterful job portraying her slowly coming to recognize her feelings about her unresolved grief over her mother’s death years before and the difficulties in her relationship with her domineering, hypercritical father who seems always to favor Vicky’s academically gifted older sister. And in a graceful way, he portrays the step-by-step hard work of learning to see that some things do make life worth living. Stork throws plenty of humor and action into the mix, leading up to a most satisfying, if not “happily-ever-after” finale.
– Jean Westmoore