“I’ve been taught to write truth in my book since I was old enough to hold a pen,” explains eighteen-year-old Nadia in the first chapter of Sharon Cameron’s newest YA fantasy, The Forgetting. “Our books are our sole identity after the Forgetting, the string that connects us to who we were before. The one thing we should never, ever be separated from.” Nadia is a resident of the walled city-state of Canaan, whose motto is “I Am Made of My Memories.” The story opens seventy days before the next “Forgetting,” a city-wide event that occurs every twelve years and wipes clean the memories of everyone—everyone except Nadia.
To counteract the confusion that follows the Forgetting, the citizens of Canaan are required to keep a daily journal to help them remember themselves and their family. Filled journals are housed in a huge stone building and zealously protected by Gretchen of the Archives. No one may read or even touch another person’s books. As the ominous event approaches, some people descend into lawlessness and revel in the possibilities of anonymity; others write frantically in their books and lock themselves away in fear.
The Forgetting creates the potential for both tragedy and opportunity. When Nadia was six years old, her father used the bizarre event to assume a new identity and abandon the family—her mother, her two sisters, and Nadia—by burning or otherwise altering their books. It was the most traumatic day of Nadia’s life, a trauma compounded by the fact that no one else remembers it, not even her father, who still lives in the village with his new family. “We are supposed to write the truth, for no one to see but ourselves. But how easily that truth can be twisted,” Nadia says. “Bend a little here, omit a little there, make yourself into the person you wish you were instead of the person you are. How easy to cut the truth away, to throw it in a fire, open your eyes and have the whole world remember nothing of who you are. Nothing of what you’ve done. When you will not remember who you are or what you’ve done.”
She has never told anyone that she remembers, not even when her mother lost her grip on reality or her older sister suggested that Nadia, who favors the forgotten father, is not a true member of the family. Nadia is determined to figure out what causes the Forgetting and to prevent or cure it before it’s too late. If the town leaders were to discover what Nadia is doing, her punishment would be swift and merciless, but she accepts the risks, hoping her forays over the wall into the forbidden territory beyond will produce some clues.
Before that can happen, she’s caught by a childhood acquaintance who threatens to reveal her secret unless she brings him along on her next trip. Nadia is reluctant to spend time with the clever and attractive Gray, fearing attachment simply because she knows it won’t last. Gray gradually wins her trust and joins her mission, but Nadia knows his feelings for her are almost certainly temporary: “If we don’t succeed, if we can’t find a way, any clue to cure the Forgetting, then Gray is going to open his eyes and he will not know me. I know how that feels. I have the internal scarring to prove it. The more I’m not alone now, the more alone I’ll be afterward.”
Cameron has built a detailed and fascinating world with a vaguely medieval aspect that is reflected in the food, clothing, customs, and speech of Canaan’s denizens. The action of the story is interspersed with passages from Nadia’s own books, revealing the evolution of her thought and her unique perspective as the one who remembers.
The Forgetting is a meditation on the perennial teen mission to discover what it means to be an individual and on the way memories shape both who we believe ourselves to be and how we relate to others. All who have spent happy hours in the company of strangers simply by reading their recorded words will also appreciate the theme of books as safe storehouses for the collected consciousness of the writer. It may be a familiar conceit, but Cameron has created a resourceful heroine in a race against time to prevent catastrophic results, and this suspenseful and enjoyable story will not soon be forgotten.
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.