Friday, May 29, 2015

Blank by Trina St. Jean

Blank is a novel about a young girl's attempt to come to terms with her life after a brain-altering injury leaves her unable to remember who she is.

Fifteen year old Jessica Grenier wakes from a coma having no memory of who she is or how she happened to be in the hospital. Jessica describes her parents as the Woman and the Man and her younger brother, ten year old Stephen, as the Boy or  Little Man. Jessica refers to herself as the Girl. The day of Jessica's accident, April 26, is designated as the Very Bad Day, the day she was attacked by a bison bull named Ramses on her family's bison farm. She spent eleven days in a coma and has been awake now for nine days.

In the hospital Jessica looks at the pictures her mother brings in but they stir no emotion in her. She states, " old life is a long blank that my brain no longer fills for me." She understands what she is told but she feels nothing. "I may finally be awake, but I am hollow."

Jessica's doctor, Dr. Lavoie whom she nicknames Super Doc because he saved her, tells her although most people with her type of injury regain their memories, but he has no way to be certain this will happen to her. Dr. Lavoie encourages Jessica to continue on with her rehabilitation. A day or so later Jessica does have a few memories of the accident but these upset her so much that she becomes enraged, breaking a cup and stamping on the pieces. As a result of this, Dr. Lavoie arranges for Jessica to see a neuroscientist, Dr. Kirshbaum, who will help her manage her impulses and her anger. She's already receiving physical therapy from Ruby, who is teaching her to walk again. Super Doc encourages Jessica to give herself time to heal.

One day Jessica decides to pay a visit to the TV lounge at the end of the hospital wing. There she meets a girl with dark purple hair and a nose ring whom she dubbs Nose Ring. When she returns to the lounge, she and Nose Ring watch a soap opera about a woman who has amnesia and doesn't remember her fiance. When Nose Ring asks Jessica the reason for her stay in the hospital, she doesn't tell her about the accident. On another visit, as they are watching the soap opera, Nose Ring remarks that it would be nice to have amnesia. "Think about it. How many people get a chance to start fresh like that?" This leads Jessica to ask what she's done in her life that she would want her "whole miserable past erased". At this point Nose Ring tells Jessica her name is Tarin and she is visiting her grandmother who had a stroke.

Jessica gets a visit from her three best friends whom she knows are called the Pink Posse from their get well card. The visit is awkward though because although Jessica can remember their names, Cybil, Kerry and Megan, she cannot really remember her friendship with them. All of this makes Jessica feel deeply lonely.

After another CT scan, Dr. Lavoie announces that Jessica is ready to go home. He tells her and her parents that her memory loss is not only due to emotional trauma but also due to some physical damage to her brain and that it might be permanent. Although this makes Jessica feel relief, her mother seems to have difficulty with the fact that Jessica might not return to her old self some day.

When Jessica returns home she struggles to come to terms with the person she is now compared to who she was before her injury. Her room is filled with her collection of porcelain frog figurines which she hates and eventually breaks. None of this feels familiar to Jessica who wonders, "If I lie here long enough, ... will her soul slip back into this empty shell I'm walking around in?" As Jessica struggles to put her life back together she wonders about the person she was and the person she is now. Can she come to terms with the fact that her past is gone but more importantly can she learn to live in the present, accepting who she now is?


Blank focuses on the very personal struggle of the main character, Jessica, to restart her life after a serious head injury. When Jessica returns home, her room feels like that of a stranger. This leads her to try to understand who the Girl was by going through her cell phone texts and facebook posts. But although this leads Jessica to determine that the Girl was someone who liked animals, artsy photographs and motivational sayings, she finds the Girl's life remarkably bland. To Jessica, a picture emerges of the Girl as a "goody-two-shoes" and this annoys her. Jessica is also worried that as she learns more about who she was, she may not like that person. It is because of this fear that she delays looking at a personal journal her mother gives her.

It is obvious though to Jessica that her behaviour is different from before her accident; she's more impulsive and is interested in different things. She's rude towards others and she misses the comfort of having her life figured out. "I want to be her little girl again, have her take care of me and tell me everything is going to be all right. But the sad truth is, I am not her daughter at all. I'm a rude, crazy stranger who is posing as her darling Jessica."

With the help of Dr. Kirschbaum, Jessica is asked to focus on the positive things in her life. Jessica also begins to tackle certain things head on - she goes to visit Ramses, she meets Tarin again and tells her the truth about what happened to her, and she also asks her father to tell her about the accident. Ultimately it is Jessica's desire to understand what happened to her that is the impetus for her coming to accept her life as it is now. Part of that acceptance comes from learning what really happened during the accident and coming to realize that she needs to give herself a chance to make a good life for herself.

St. Jean realistically portrays Jessica's journey towards understanding what happened to her and her struggles to cope. The story feels realistic as to the effects of the injury on Jessica, her family and her relationship with her friends. Jessica also realizes that although there are some things from her past she no longer likes, she is willing to restart her friendship with her best Megan and to reconsider going to a support group.

Blank is part of the extensive canon of young adult literature on teens with amnesia that seems so popular these days. At times the pacing is slow but the mystery of Jessica's accident and her determination to discover why the seemingly good Girl did such a stupid thing are what keep the reader engaged.

Overall, Blank is a good debut novel for Trina St. Jean, who hails from the lovely hamlet of Wandering River in northern Alberta. Look for more well written stories from this bright, new Canadian author!

Book Details:

Blank by Trina St. Jean
Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers    2015
301 pp.

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