Many YA books are written about depression and suicide, but few are as honest and gripping a read as Francisco X. Stork's The Memory of Light. As Stork has shown in one of his previous books, Marcelo in the Real World, he is a writer who dives into moral quandaries, balancing concerns for self and other. Stork's writing is never condescending or insensitive and his moral compass as a writer never strays into didactic territory.
Stork avoids the potential pitfalls of romanticizing mental illness, promising quick and easy recovery, or minimizing the suffering that depressed teens experience. His writing is informed by his personal experience of his own depression in young adulthood, which is appended in an author's note. And as a Latino attorney who works in affordable housing, he brings knowledge to his book's discussion of class and Latino identity.
The relationship between Vicky and Mona is reminiscent of the dynamic between Susanna and Lisa in Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted. Mona is bipolar and gregarious, while Vicky is depressed and withdrawn. I appreciated that Vicky wasn't a hard character to like and that she didn't have secret pain; the plot didn't hinge on a dramatic reason for her depression, other than her mother's death which the reader knows about from the beginning.
As Vicky wisely says, "Depression can be a normal reaction to a life event, like my mother's death, or it can be a symptom of another physical illness, or even a side effect of drugs. But sometimes depression is in itself the illness -- an illness like any other illness, like the flu or the mumps."
The Memory of Light shows that individuals are complicated and recovery is not easy. One of my favorite aspects of the book is how Vicky struggles to understand her worth and her identity. While she has been fortunate to have been born into privilege, she does not fit in with her family of birth. She learns her strengths through belonging to her group of fellow sufferers in the hospital. Vicky learns that even though her father belittles her for not being Ivy-bound, she is brave and sensitive and skilled at hard work.