Friday, August 12, 2016

Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed

Keep Me In Mind opens with Liam McPherson writing about what happened that fateful early morning he and girlfriend Ellia Renee Dawson were out running along the beach. After taking a break, Ellia ran off on the winding bike trail that led towards a cliff. The next thing Liam knows, Ellia is screaming. Just remembering that much is painful. He can't sleep and has been hanging outside of Ellia's house across the street watching for her.

Ellia watches the boy who emerges from his house every day at 5:30am to run. She goes outside to meet him, remembering that she saw him when she woke up in the hospital with tubes everywhere. A week after getting out of the hospital Ellia finally decides to talk to Liam, asking him for help in unlocking her phone. Ellia remembers Liam visiting her in the hospital and her not recognizing him, believing she has just started high school. But when she learns later from a friend that he is telling the truth, Ellia wonders if her parents knew she was dating a white boy.

As a result of her fall, Ellia has retrograde amnesia "which was the inability to recall past events because of severe head trauma." Her parents believe that her remembering her phone password is a good sign, but Ellia's neurologist, Dr. Whittaker has told her that "adapting to everyday life would be an adjustment." On the advice of Whittaker, Ellia is sent to a psychologist to undergo cognitive therapy.

When Ellia's best friend Stacey visits she reveals to Ellia that she wants to be a designer but that her father wants her to follow him and be an engineer. Stacey gives Ellia a reference point, a link to her immediate past that she cannot remember. With well over three hundred friends on Facebook, Ellia can only remember twelve of them. Checking her phone reveals hundreds of pictures with Liam and other friends. Stacey suggests that she contact Liam, but to Ellia this feels odd because Liam seems like a stranger to her.

Liam attends Leon High School along with his uncle Wade McPherson (his grandfather married a much younger woman and had a child.) who lives with Liam's family three weeks out of every month. Distraught at the loss of their relationship, Liam decides to "write the story of me and Ellia, how we met, how we fell in love -- the whole nine. It would be an epic tale of love found and lost..." Liam uses Ellia's best friend, Stacey to learn how she is faring but Stacey presses Liam to visit Ellia and tells him to just be there for her and to "Give her a reason to know who you are or leave her alone."

Liam's father, a former Navy man, is a force to be reckoned with. He insists that Liam do two volunteer placements and questions Liam if he's still involved with Ellia who he has forbidden him to see. Liam attempts to tell his dad that he loves Ellia but that doesn't go over well. Even worse when Ellia shows up on his street and Liam is caught by his father talking to her, she is forced to leave.

Ellia begins cognitive therapy sessions with Dr. Kavanagh at the Serenity Behavior Health Center. On her first visit she meets Cody Spencer who goes to St. Pedro, a private all-boys academy and who has anterograde amnesia. Cody has no short term memory because of a surfing accident that resulted in him going without oxygen for a lengthy period of time. To help him function, Cody records any important information in his phone.

Believing Liam's dad is a racist, Ellia wonders about her past relationship with Liam, but Stacey tells her she's reading too much into what happened. Ellia gradually begins integrating into her friends from school, even though she is not back at school yet. She declines attending the Valentines Day dance and in a rare talk with her mother, learns that her parents were not keen on Liam. Meanwhile, Liam, upset over his father's reaction to Ellia, is confronted by Stacey who wonders why Ellia's memory loss is confined only to the time she has been involved with Liam. She tells Liam that Ellia is taking therapy and she suggests he meet her at Serenity. Liam surprises Ellia outside the health center and upsets her by kissing her. However this meeting sees them begin to communicate and Liam reveals more of what their relationship was like. They agree to meet at the park where Liam will tutor Ellia. As Ellia struggles to heal, regain her memories and return to her routine, she begins to uncover the true nature of her relationship with Liam.


Keep Me In Mind is a story told in two voices, that of Ellia Dawson and her boyfriend Liam McPherson. Ellia's narrative feels genuine and down to earth as a teen struggling to remember the last two years of her life and regain her identity. As she learns about her life over the past two years, Ellia embarks on a journey that leads her to re-evaluate just who she was as well as her relationship with Liam. Ellia begins to discover an image of herself that is less than pleasing. From her friends she learns that she was constantly involved in pranks such as sneaking into a frat party and almost getting hazed and breaking into a run down department store to steal a mannequin. Liam confirms what Ellia has discovered from reading various posts, that at a model search in Quintero, she threw a chair at a model who caused her to trip on the runway and that she drove around with a homeless man in the trunk of her car. Dr. Kavanagh tells Ellia that the amnesia causes people not to "recognize parts of themselves." But, Ellia admits to Dr. Kavanagh that she doesn't like the girl she's discovered. Her therapy changes focus, from working on regaining her memories, to discovering why Ellia was acting out.

Ellia already knows that there are serious problems with how she and her parents relate to one another. Earlier in the novel she mentions her father's complete absorption with his work and she and Stacey often talk about how her life is very controlled. Her parents never fully communicate with her; they talk about her but never really include her in the discussion."The Dawsons were doers, fixers, movers, and shakers from a long line of overachievers with the title Dr. or Prof. in front of their names. Words like impossible, fail, and can't were considered cuss words in our household. Any attempt at angst or a pity party quickly led to a rundown of our family tree, stemming back to the British Crown and the sugarcane fields of Barbados." 

At her session with Dr. Kavanagh, Ellia states, "My parents are very performance driven. Dress with decorum. Stand up straight; never slouch. Behave like a lady at all times and never bring shame on your family. On sight, people will judge you, and your life must contradict their stereotypes and preconceived notions. Work harder than everyone else and get good grades. Go to an elite college. Get a well-paying job and marry a successful..." Exploring further, Dr. Kavanagh believes that Ellia's father, used to taking control, tried to manage how she grieved when her beloved dog, Babette died. She believes that Ellia not being allowed to grieve on her own terms,  may have been the trigger for her rebellion, rather than hanging out with Liam and Dr. Kavanagh encourages her to tell her parents how their pressure and control is affecting her.

Ellia also begins to get a sense that her relationship with Liam was not a healthy one;  she was very controlling and Liam allowed her to boss him around. Liam's narrative reflects his obsession with Ellia and his determination to recover her as his girlfriend, even asking her, "Is there any chance of us getting back together/" When Ellia learns of  her controlling behavior from Liam, she tells him "You live your life on your own terms. Don't let anyone -- not even a girl -- keep you on a leash. I don't care how fabulous and awesome she is, no one is worth forgetting who you are."  Revealing this to Dr. Kavanagh, her therapist suggests that their relationship may have been co-dependent, possibly because something is lacking in Liam's life.

Both Liam and Ellia discover their parents are not quite lying to them but committing "a lie by omission". To Ellia this is worse than a lie because "The other person had knowledge, leverage, that they could hold over your head or use to manipulate you." causing fear and anger. For Ellia when her father blames Liam for her accident, she knows that he's not telling her the entire truth because Liam was the one who found her. This causes Ellia to question who is withholding the truth, Liam or her father? When Ellia reads Liam account of their relationship, she confronts her parents, especially her father. Their discussion helps all involved understand what happened to cause Ellia to act out before the accident and leads Ellia to discover something important for Liam. For Liam, he learns from Ellia that his father also lied by omission - he never told Liam the court order preventing him from seeing Ellia has expired. He too confronts his father who accuses Liam of using Ellia to fill the void of his mother who left. Eventually Liam does call his mother on the urging of Wade and he tells her how her leaving the family has affected him.

The underlying theme of the book is the loss of friendship and connection. That loss can come about in many ways but in Keep Me In Mind it is the loss of friendship and love as a result of an unexpected accident - a serious head injury. As Ellia struggles to understand her relationship with Liam, whom she has no memory of, Liam mourns the loss of his relationship with her. Unable to express his loss in words and wanting to tell Ellia, he decides to write the story of their relationship. For most of the novel he experiences "writer's block", that is he is unable to write about the events that led to Ellia's injury and their broken relationship. For Liam, writing the account of his relationship with Ellia is cathartic; it helps him learn about himself and Ellia and it helps him process what has happened the loss of their relationship so that if their relationship is truly over, he can move on. He comes to recognize that he was using Ellia to escape his family problems. His account also helps Ellia because it forces her to see herself as she really was (but doesn't remember) and that she also was using Liam for the same reason.

Ellia herself wonders how Liam must feel and she too experiences as sense of loss. "These were supposed to be the best years of my life, and I couldn't recall most of them. What other experiences had been stolen from me? What other friendships, bonds, and trusts had been stripped away?" She recognizes that Liam is "waiting for the return of Ellia Dawson...My life wasn't the only one that was at a standstill, and it was hard to tell what was worse: forgetting or being forgotten."  She experiences deep conflict over the state of her relationship with Liam, who wants things to continue as they were. Ellia however, does not feel for Liam the way she did before her accident and that causes her to evaluate why this might be.

Eventually both Liam and Ellia come to realize that one cannot live in the past, that we must keep moving forward. Liam decides to let Ellia go, giving her the account he wrote of their relationship. Ellia is encouraged to view her amnesia in a different way: instead of a loss, to consider it an opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to reinvent herself. "Yesterday was gone and there was no point in reaching behind me for something I couldn't even hold. Time moved in one direction: forward. And I needed to keep my eyes straight and do the same."

Keep Me In Mind is an interesting read that focuses on the curves life can throw at us unexpectedly and how we sometimes struggle to cope. Fans of contemporary novels will enjoy how Liam and Ellia eventually work out the unexpected curve they've been dealt to begin anew.

Book Details:

Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed
New York: Point and imprint of Scholastic Inc.    2016
329 pp.

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