Perhaps it’s an obvious metaphor at the heart of Jessica Brody’s science fiction YA romance Unremembered—any teenage girl is trying to define her identity and desires in the face of a cacophony of voices trying to tell her what she is and how she should behave. Brody’s amnesiac heroine is surrounded by people with expectations of her that she can barely understand: is she just an ordinary girl with a teenager’s regular interests and a loving family? A mathematical prodigy? A celebrity? A devoted girlfriend? Or a weapon?
Our heroine, a beautiful, violet-eyed girl of sixteen, is pulled from the wreckage of a downed airliner, apparently the only survivor of a terrible plane crash off the coast of California. She can speak English and perform mathematical calculations with superhuman speed, but has no memory of her own name or where she came from, and has only a little basic knowledge of the world and the subtleties of human interaction. The mystery deepens when it’s discovered that she doesn’t even appear to be on the doomed flight’s passenger manifest. Dubbed “Violet” for the color of her eyes, she becomes a media sensation and is sent to stay with a foster family in an isolated town until the authorities can identify her.
Like Firefly’s River Tam, “Violet” turns out to be a young woman with remarkable gifts pursued by the shadowy figures who made her what she is, and who want her back in their hands at any cost. Soon she’s approached by a boy called Zen—short for Lyzender—who claims to know the truth about her: he knows her real name, Seraphina; the significance of the locket that was found on her; and above all, the identity and purpose of the people seeking her.
The “mysterious amnesiac” is hardly the newest trope on the block, but Brody’s novel has some enjoyably science-fiction twists that I won’t go into in the interest of spoiler-avoidance. That Seraphina’s former life involved her being a human lab rat of some kind is obvious fairly early on, but the details of her origin and the true story of how she ended up in the airplane wreckage are a real surprise to both her and the reader (though a reader well-versed in SF tropes may pick up on the clues a lot sooner than Seraphina does, particularly if you read “The Memory Coder,” posted on this site last month). However, there are some fridge-logic moments that cause the reader some head-scratching on later reflection; for example, the engraving on her locket proves to be related to an escape plan that could have probably been a lot better thought out by the participants.
As well, certain themes are also touched on only lightly—limited, possibly, by Seraphina’s first-person narration and the fact that she is very much a blank slate with little context for her experiences until at least halfway through the book. Seraphina feels a strong emotional reaction to Zen when she sees him, something beyond the obvious terror of being confronted with someone who knows everything that she doesn’t, and there are interesting questions raised about the formation of personality by what remains consistent in her basic desires and emotions even as the facts of her memory have been erased. Of course, Unremembered is also a romance, and as such is heavily predicated on the idea that Seraphina and Zen’s love is always constant—a “marriage of true minds,” as the oft-quoted Shakespeare sonnet says—no matter wha she may or may not remember.
It also means that Seraphina’s identity, purpose, and character are largely tied up in her relationship with Zen. This is rather unsatisfying in the end; even when the big questions about her are answered, our heroine still feels a little vague and unformed. We know a lot about what she’s physically and intellectually capable of, but not much about her personality beyond her love for Zen and her desire to escape her captors by any means available. Of course, being the first of a series, there remain many unanswered questions and unresolved conflicts, and we can only hope that Seraphina grows into her potential in the future sequels.
Unremembered is out now from FSG