In this latest YA novel from Brenner (A Place for Me, 2003), a teenager seeking to shed his past gives up far more than he intended.
When Brent Harper decides that his life is too much to bear, he turns to his best friend, Max, a quirky girl who loves the occult as much as she loves Disney movies, for a magic spell to erase his memory. No one thinks that the spell will work, but when it does, Brent finds that he has no knowledge of who he is or where he came from. As he attempts to piece together his broken past with help from a motley crew of friends and family, he soon realizes that his only chance at a better future will come from facing his demons instead of leaving them behind. Brenner’s treatment of classic coming-of-age themes sometimes strays into triteness, as when Max reflects that “Brent may have been the one who was broken but, in a way, I think we all needed to be saved.” Occasionally awkward prose detracts from the story, and frequent switches between simple past tense and past-perfect tense are especially confusing (“She froze when she’d seen me”). Brenner succeeds, however, in capturing a seemingly authentic slice of the modern teenage experience: On the one hand, Brent and his friends are nice suburban kids who watch the TV show Glee and get excited about football games; on the other, they’re budding adults, forced to confront deeply existential issues before they’re quite ready to do so. The plot details may be supernatural, but the kids’ essential struggles are completely down-to-earth, involving ideas such as how to forgive, or what it means to be remembered after death. The author also draws on a variety of mythologies and spiritual traditions to great effect. This story will likely appeal to teenage readers looking for a reflection of their most pressing dilemmas. One of Brent’s friends, for example, observes that “the people who are the most worth knowing are the ones that most of the world overlooks,” and the book ultimately offers a moving argument for compassion and self-acceptance.
An earnest, if occasionally clichéd, supernatural tale.