Review of The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

To be published on Sept 6, 2015 by St. Martins Press

Source: copy for review from publisher

Synopsis from Goodreads: On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. 

Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. 

'With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. 

What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? 

Review of The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

I've lived in New York for a long time and am always a little afraid to read books like this. Has it really been fifteen years since that day? It feels like an eternity ago; it feels like yesterday.

The Memory of Things takes place on the morning of September 11, 2001, and opens as Kyle is fleeing from his downtown high school as the first tower falls. 

He's headed over the Brooklyn Bridge when something catches his eye - a girl wearing costume wings, huddled on the bridge. Concerned that she's contemplating a jump, he goes back and convinces her to accompany him home.

I'd like to talk about the girl (without spoilers) because she's entwined in the story in ways that I had complicated feelings about. 

On the positive side, Kyle's rescue of her is the beginning of his stepping up into a new role of caregiver and family rock. At the time of the attacks, Kyle's mom and sibling are in California. His dad, a cop who's part of a Terrorism Task Force, is at work. 

Kyle's left home alone to deal with the mystery girl and his Uncle Matt, who's confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident.

The girl has some sort of memory loss, and her POV is inserted sporadically into the story as poetry. Regular blog readers know that I'm not at all a fan of narrative in verse, but I actually thought that translating the disjointed thoughts of an amnesia victim into poetry made a lot of sense. (I still didn't really love those parts, but thought it was a creative choice.) 

So Kyle has two main jobs: take care of his uncle, and help the girl figure out who she is.

Another strength of The Memory of Things was its attention to small details. 

Obviously, everyone's 9/11 memories are different, but the book made me relive some of mine. The flyers. Right after the attack, the families of the missing made photocopied flyers with photos and descriptions of their loved ones and taped them up all over the city. For me, those flyers came to represent all the feelings I had about that terrible time. The flyers were so heartbreaking, and even more so when the people of New York collectively began to realize that all those people were forever lost. I will never forget looking at all those faces, so young and alive in their photos. 

I will also remember the kindness and strength of so many, whether they were volunteers working on "the pile," or people lined up to donate blood that wasn't needed, or neighbors collecting supplies that might have never reached anyone who needed them, or all of us checking in on each other. 

I think everyone just wanted to feel like they were doing something useful, because there was really nothing we could do.

Kyle seemed to feel this way too, which is I guess the reason for the mystery girl. I must confess that I might have liked the story better without her, with just Kyle trying to hold his family together. But that's hard to say, since she is an integral part of the story.

If you enjoy books with lyrical or poetic elements, this is definitely a book for you. I remain a fan of Gae Polisner and look forward to her next book!


  1. I really enjoyed this book as well, but not really in a happy manner. When 9/11 happened, I was merely a child, so I didn't really comprehend the impact of what happened. Not to mention, I am from the Philippines. It was only through this book that I understood the tragedy of the day, and it made me feel as though I was there that day. Anyway, great review!

    Kim @ Divergent Gryffindor: BLOG || VLOG

  2. I would actually love to explore the creativity behind this book. I wouldn't enjoy a full novel in verse, but a chapter here and there, especially well done and with good reasons, might just be perfect.

  3. I'm really excited to read this. I like books about tough stuff and this one ughhh. I don't even know if I'm emotionally ready for a Sept. 11th book, but this one sounds very strong.

  4. I'm not into lyrical books either. Just not my thing. I'm sure 9/11 hit even harder because of where you live, but even for me, on the other side of the country, it was a moment I will never forget as I was driving to work and heard and then saw it happen. Thanks for the review!

  5. I have been hearing more and more about this book and it seems like the girls story is interestingly important in that of the main character. I am curious to see more about how the author works her story in so well and the mysterious element to it. It also sounds so well written!


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