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The Memory Bank


The Memory Bank

Despite the fact that it looks like a lightweight, insubstantial book --- 288 heavily illustrated pages with plenty of white space --- Carolyn Coman's latest novel, much like her earlier spare but profound fiction, manages to pack a wallop without wasting a single word.

"Forget her," say Hope's parents to their daughter after they abandon her beloved little sister Honey on the side of the road. Eager to get on with their lives, they would probably like to forget Hope as well, isolating her to the garage, where her bed seems cold and lonely without Honey to keep her warm. Soon, though, missing Honey takes its toll, and Hope just stays in her cold bed all the time, sleeping her life --- and her memories --- away.

That is, until she is summoned to the World Wide Memory Bank and told that her memories and dreams are all out of whack. Even though the powers-that-be at the Bank are surprised to discover she's just a child, they agree that she should stay there until her memories start to balance out the power of her dreams. But even though the Dream Vault and kindly Violette Mumm are peaceful and reassuring, the Bank is far from settled. It turns out that it’s under attack by a rogue group of saboteurs, known as the Clean Slate Gang, who want to destroy the memories the Bank manager, Mr. Sterling, works so hard to preserve.

Can Hope uncover her own memories? What about Honey's? Might their memories be the key to finding each other once again? Along the way, Hope meets many eccentric and unforgettable characters, and navigates the bizarre geography of the Bank itself, even as the Clean Slate Gang threatens to attack.

Unsurprisingly, THE MEMORY BANK has been drawing comparisons to Roald Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. With its colorful characters, dreamlike atmosphere and fanciful destination, the world Carolyn Coman creates is, in some ways, an heir to Dahl's magical factory. But this novel is both less moralistic and more serious than Dahl's; it touches on serious philosophical issues that go beyond the bad behaviors plaguing Dahl's characters. The humor, although present, is subtle, conveyed in characterizations and clever turns of phrase.

Reading THE MEMORY BANK is also a thoroughly interactive experience; Rob Shepperson's dynamic full-page illustrations are as much a part of the story as Coman's text. At times the text pauses altogether for a dozen pages or so, allowing the story to be told entirely through Shepperson's artwork. The two work together beautifully, keeping the reader engaged in looking, reading and making connections. What is real? What is a dream? What is worth holding on to? What should be let go? These are questions that are of vital importance not only in the novel but also, of course, in real life, questions that are not easily resolved.

Wisely, Coman and Shepperson don't try to resolve all the questions they raise. Instead, one hopes that parents and children, or teachers and children, will read the book together, devise their own narratives surrounding the artwork, and attempt to frame their own responses to questions that are not easy to answer --- or to forget.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 1, 2010

The Memory Bank
by Carolyn Coman

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2010
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0545210666
  • ISBN-13: 9780545210669