Book Review: “The Memory of Light” by Francisco X. Stork

The Memory of Light follows Vicky Cruz’s journey to recover after she is hospitalized following a suicide attempt. Unlike many novels for teens, this book traces not the circumstances leading up to a suicide attempt, or the grief that follows a successful one, but instead the trying and unglamorous journey that awaits those who are lucky enough to fail. Inspired by Stork’s own experiences as a young man, you won’t forget this one any time soon.

I found this book to be profoundly moving. As anyone who has had a friend or family member work towards recovery after a suicide attempt – or has worked to recover from one themselves – knows, it is a long, uncomfortable road. Vicky wakes up to find herself in Lakeview psychiatric ward under the care of Dr. Desai, who also looks after three other teenagers with mental illnesses: Mona, who is bipolar and has also attempted suicide, E.M., who has anger management issues, and Gabriel, who doesn’t want to reveal to his peers why he’s at Lakeview. Stork pulls no punches in depicting Vicky’s recovery, following her one-on-one sessions, her group therapy, the apathetic worldview she has to constantly fight against, the painful truths she has to confront, and even the disapproval of her own family, who can’t seem to understand that depression is a disorder. The Memory of Light is a rare book that can not only divert and entertain, but could really, truly, help teens struggling with these issues.

I appreciate so much that the bulk of the book’s action takes place in the hospital, as that’s the reality for the thousands of teens who survive suicide attempts each year. It doesn’t glamorize Vicky’s illness or recovery – there’s no dreamy guy who professes his love to her and makes her want to live, or fractured friendship whose repair makes her see the light. Her recovery is hard, and the vital first step is Vicky choosing to try – she is the one who decides to stay at Lakeview for a few extra weeks in order to give herself a chance to get better, in direct defiance of her father’s wishes. I also loved the fact that Stork depicted the friendships and systems of support that can blossom in a hospital environment, fighting against prejudice towards those who are mentally ill all the while.

This is a beautiful little book, and one that you’ll want to take your time reading.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.