Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Remember by Eileen Cook

Harper Byrne lives in Seattle, Washington, with her parents in a wealthy partially-gated community. She and her best friend Winifred (Win) attend St. Francis private school. At their mandatory assembly one Friday, Harper's father comes to the school to give his "science" talk and promote his company, Neurotech. He tells the students that the FDA has now approved the Memtex treatment for teens and children. This treatment removes or "softens" bad memories and Harper's father encourages the students at her school to consider this procedure if painful memories are preventing them from enjoying life. After his presentation Harper's father also announces a part-time internship opportunity, one that Harper's boyfriend, Josh who has received an acceptance from Stanford, in intensely interested in.

As Harper is leaving school she has a run in with protesters who believe the Memtex procedure is harmful. They call Harper's father a Neuro-Nazi. At this time Harper is accosted by a reporter, Lisa Gambel who tries to interview her. In the scuffle with the reporter, Harper begins to fall but is caught by one of the protesters - a handsome boy who tells the protesters to back off. Josh and Win quickly step in to rescue her pushing her into the SUV and driving off.

Almost a month later, on her horse, Harry, Harper wins first prize in a jumping competition. Harry, formally known as Hermes of Caelum, was a gift from her father on her sixth birthday. Harper has aspirations to be an Olympic level rider, so winning the competition was important. Josh has good news of his own- he got the internship at Neurotech. Harper is excited for Josh whom she has been dating for two years. But she's also not sure about their future together as a couple leading her to consider breaking up with him.

The next day tragedy strikes when Harry dies suddenly from colic. For two weeks Harper unsuccessfully struggles to come to terms with his death. She has trouble eating and sleeping and focusing. When her parents suggest trying something different to pull her out of her funk, Harper tells them she'd like to get the Memtex procedure. Shocked, her father adamantly refuses her request, forbidding her to have the procedure. He tells her that her having the procedure would negatively impact Neurotech and look like he is using his daughter. Frustrated, Harper tells Josh who believes that her father is not really against the procedure but that he wants to avoid the media exposure. As an intern in the company Josh devises a plan to get Harper in for the treatment without her father knowing.

A few days later when a teen does not show up for her appointment, Harper walks into Neurotech and pretending to be the absent Emily Ludka, undergoes the procedure without her parents knowledge. Although initially Harper feels better she begins having flashbacks of a woman falling down, causing her to collapse at the mall during a community event. Harper also encounters Neil once again when he comes to her home and tells her he wants to talk with her. Neil tells Harper that he knows she had the Memtex procedure and when he saw her collapse at the mall he had to talk with her.  Harper agrees to meet Neil at Cafe Rica where he explains the root of his opposition to Memtex. He tells her that his brother, Marcus, had the Memtex procedure to help him recover from the memory of his best friend's death in a car accident. Memtex initially seemed to help Marcus but he began to experience memory problems and trouble sleeping. He became depressed and then confused and eventually committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Neil tells Harper that some people believe that the Memtex procedure can cause early version of Alzheimer's. When Harper tries to explain away Marcus's experience as a rare event, Neil tells her that he was not the only one to have this happen to him. Neil asks Harper to read the papers he's brought which she takes but she refuses to acknowledge the possibility that the procedure is dangerous.

Harper's secret Memtex procedure is soon uncovered by her father who is furious and concerned about the side effects that are not supposed to exist. Deciding to trust Josh, Harper tells him about the visions she's been having and that she met Neil. The next day when Harper and Win are shovelling out the stalls, they decide to search the office of Harry's trainer to see if they can find Harry's insurance policy. Harper is shocked to discover the ownership documents show that Harry was purchased the year before she was born, yet she supposedly got the horse for her sixth birthday. Harper wonders why her parents would have kept Harry a secret until her sixth birthday. To try to find out more about this mystery, Harper decides to drive to the small town were she was born. Harper finds that as she drives around the town she cannot remember anything in detail about when she was a child. She decides to try the large stable in the town, Rolling Meadows, in the hopes that maybe this is where they boarded Harry. One of the stable hands, Juan does remember Harry and Harper. He tells Harper that her mother was one of the best horsewomen he ever met and that she rode when she was a small child. This completely shocks Harper because her mother not only doesn't ride but she seems afraid of horses.

This leads Harper to contact Neil about the potential side effects of the Memtex treatment. Neil tells her that he is not on social media sites, doesn't use a cell phone and uses cash so he can't be tracked. He tells her that even if the number of people experiencing side effects is small, they should know the risks involved. Harper also meets with Win to discuss what's she's uncovered. Harper feels that either her memory is completely false or she's been lied to. Win tells her that this would mean that her parents are involved in some way and questions whether she really wants to know.  This leads Harper to question whether this is the only thing her parents have lied to her about. Win asks her to consider the implications of finding out something even worse about her parents. "Think about it before you dig further. If you go digging around, you might just find out something you wished you never knew."

Harper's father's insistence that she see a doctor and the discovery of a photograph of the mystery woman from her dreams only furthers her suspicions. Harper  becomes determined to learn who the mystery woman is and why her memory has been so badly altered.


Remember is a novel that starts out with an interesting premise that really doesn't quite live up to expectations. Harper is a girl whose memories of her childhood don't add up and only come to light after she's had a controversial treatment. This leads her to search for the truth. The mystery Harper uncovers about her parents lacks punch and leaves the reader disappointed. Even the way Harper learns about certain events feels contrived and unoriginal. A major break in the mystery occurs when she learns from Neil the identity of the mysterious woman in the photograph. The reader never really knows how Neil learned uncovers this information and why Harper was unable to delve deeper on her own. If her father was as well known as indicated at the beginning of the novel, surely Harper would have been aware of her father's past or have been exposed to it through the media. Her discovery of the USB drive hidden in her saddle, although a twist in the story, seems implausible.

The most disappointing aspect of this novel was Harper's reason for getting the Memtex procedure: the death of her horse, Harry. Granted Harper is an elite show jumper and Harry was her favourite horse and likely very valuable as well. However, most readers will not be able to relate to Harper's loss mainly because Cook doesn't succeed in conveying to her readers Harper's inability to cope. She tells rather than demonstrates what Harper experiences and it doesn't engage the reader. The plot would have been more believable if more time would have occurred after the death of her horse, or if Harper had suffered a more traumatic loss, perhaps a close friend at school. A longer period of struggle and inability to cope also would have made her father's refusal of the procedure more suspicious. If the procedure would obviously help her, why would he refuse it - it would have been great promotion for his company. In the novel however, it appeared that Harper was being refused the procedure because her parents considered her loss not serious enough to warrant it, thus not really setting up a serious conflict.

Another disappointment with this novel is Harper's relationships with both Josh and Neil which lack depth to them. Harper is ambivalent towards Josh and although she begins to fall for Neil, even that too seems to lack a sense of connection.

Cook does ties together most of the loose ends in a decent manner. Readers will enjoy the fact that Harper begins to assert herself and eventually is able to bring to light the problems with the Memtex procedure. Remember is a light read for those who like a touch of science fiction, romance and mystery all blended together.

Book Details:
Remember by  Eileen Cook
New York: Simon Pulse
312 pp.

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