Friday, December 10, 2010

16. Newbery Bound?

The Memory Bank, written by Carolyn Coman, illustrated by Rob Shepperson, Arthur A. Levine, $16.99, ages 9-12, 288 pages. A brave girl named Hope scours her dreams for her lost sister Honey in this heart-swelling tale by Newbery Honor-winner Coman. If Hope Scroggins weren't so aptly named, she might never have trusted that she'd find little Honey again or trusted anyone for that matter after their parents did the unthinkable. They pushed Honey out of the family car onto the roadside and drove away, all because Honey broke a family rule against laughing, then they tried to make Hope forget Honey ever existed. Unable to speak or fathom what just happened, Hope slips into despair. She quits her life and tries to sleep away her sadness in their garage, where her deadbeat parents now make her sleep on a cot. But there in her sleep, Hope's life takes an extraordinary turn: she finds a reason to believe she'll see Honey again.

Behind her eyeballs, she sees Honey being swept away by a boisterous band of children in a truckload of sticky lollipops. A whistle she gave Honey when she was little to call out to her is now hooked out of Honey's reach near the truck's wrecking ball. (The dream sequence occurs over a handful of pages, unfolding as in a flip book, before returning to the text.) Then one night Hope is startled awake by the sound of her bedroom door, the garage door, rolling up, and is ordered (very nicely) to the World Wide Memory Bank to explain her "insufficient memory deposits." The bank, she is to learn, is a secret operation where memories are organized and protected, so that one day they can be recalled. There's even a special place for first memories, or "memies," which are kept in a vault until a person's final moments. (When a person is about to die, men in motorcycles known as "Retrospectors," race to the dying person and give them a wonderful flashback to depart with.) Ever since Hope started to sleep more than stay awake, Hope hasn't made new memories, and now the bank's head of security suspects she's hiding her memories to sabotage its records -- and may be in cahoots with The Clean Slate Gang. The gang is a band of lost or abandoned children who've been brainwashed to rid the world of memories, which until now have been safely stored in the bank in marble-like "lobeglobes." The gang's leader wants to vandalize all memories so that people, like them, who've been cast aside no longer have to remember happy times that no longer exist. From the moment Hope's taken from her garage, her life becomes like a dream. She's sent into the bank on a conveyor belt and discovers a strange and wonderful place where, for once in her young life, she's cuddled and doted on. But it's also a place that is wary of outsiders, and soon Hope is in the middle of a war between the bank and the Clean Slate Gang, and chasing a memory she thinks could save Honey. The format of this book is irresistible, with picture sequences stealing into the text and capturing how dreams unfold, like images on a silent picture reel. Though different in tone from the Caldecott Medal-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabaret, The Memory Bank has the same magic, as it capitalizes on the quiet power of images and pulls us into its spell. Though horrified at first by Honey's punishment, I forced myself to keep reading and was delighted that I did: the story quickly blossomed into a magical tale, made especially lovely by Hope's openness to feeling joy in spite of how awfully she was treated at home. Worthy of a Newbery, this enchanting book shows how, even in the worst of circumstances, there's hope enough to be happy again.

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