Saturday, 20 February 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Memories and Secrets by Diane Winger

Memories and Secrets is the story of Deborah and Ashley, a grandmother and teenaged granddaughter, spending six weeks of the summer together at Deborah's home in western Colorado while Ashley's father is in Europe on a business trip. Deborah can't wait for the visit to begin, but at seventeen, the last thing Ashley wants is to be babysat for the entire summer. As the weeks go on, the two begin reconnecting and sharing laughter, tears, memories and more than a few secrets.

The story is written in present tense, first person from alternating points of view between Deborah and Ashley.  This can be very difficult to pull off well, but Winger accomplishes it with exceptional flourish. Both characters confront personal demons and fears, learning to lean on each other the way family are meant to. Overall Memories and Secrets is a very good and easy read. It is well-written, engaging and hard to put down. The drama is palpable and the emotion visceral. The internal and external dialogue, particularly for Deborah, is both natural and convincing.

At times, Ashley's attitude and comments seem a bit too mature and sophisticated for a modern seventeen year old (e.g. "flailed taking geometry" or "Spartan offering") and some of her teenage activities with her peers (e.g. the limbo) seem a bit dated (Winger states she based some of it on her own teenage memories). Likewise, the detailed descriptions of rock climbing and mathematical procedures briefly slowed the pace. Ashley also seemed to get over her fear of heights a bit too easily. However, these are very minor complaints.

A more serious issue is the time-frame in which the story is meant to take place. The technology and structure of the story led this reviewer to think that the main action occurs in the present time. However, the epilogue and seeming inconsistency between Deborah's age and what she did as a teenager and young adult (dancing "The Twist" or to Johnny Mathis") seem to suggest that this might not be the case. But again, this is hardly a fatal flaw.

Regardless, Memories and Secrets is a strong novel about loss, remorse and love. It shows a magical journey of discovery taken by two women long-separated by distance, time, secrets and a fifty year age gap. It is well worth reading.

5 out of 5 stars

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