Book Review: The Forgetting by Nicole Maggi
Georgie’s new heart saved her life…but now she’s losing her mind.
Georgie Kendrick wakes up after a heart transplant, but the organ beating in her chest doesn’t seem to be in tune with the rest of her body. Why does she have a sudden urge for strawberries when she’s been allergic for years? Why can’t she remember last Christmas?
Driven to find her donor, Georgie discovers her heart belonged to a girl her own age who fell out of the foster care system and into a rough life on the streets. Everyone thinks she committed suicide, but Georgie is compelled to find the truth – before she loses herself completely.
Let me just say right off the bat that I can’t talk about this book without major spoilers of the most spoilery kind. If you do not like spoilers then do not read this discussion. Read the book and then come back and we’ll talk.
The Forgetting came to my attention in part because it deals with the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking, which is an important contemporary topic. Although the numbers of people involved in sex trafficking is hard to track and controversial, it is estimated that around 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked annually. Frontline has some good information on the topic in a variety of different pieces which can be found here.
When we first meet Georgie she is waking up from a heart transplant. The remainder of The Forgetting involves Georgie’s quest to learn more about her heart donor. Georgie comes from a place of privilege, which she learns to understand throughout the course of this book. Her family is wealthy, she is musically gifted, and she lives in a safe environment where she has not witnessed some of the more seedier sides of her community. Until now.
The Forgetting is about opening your eyes to the world around you. George is asked to quite literally step into a life different than her own and the revelations she makes are jarring, life changing. She witnesses things which require some type of response, asking the reader through Georgie how will you choose to respond when you learn about the trials and tribulations of those around you? Georgie is forced time and time again to answer this question as she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her heart donor and what she is supposed to do about it.
It is how Georgie is forced to answer this question that also becomes part of the problem that I had with this book. You see in order for Georgie to learn more about her donor, she keeps losing parts of her own personal memory as it is being overwritten by her donor heart. At first it is little things, like she can’t remember her last Christmas with her grandfather or the day her brother was born. But eventually it becomes much bigger, to the point where Georgie is forced to willingly lose key parts of her identity in order to gain the knowledge she needs to learn about her heart donor. This to me was problematic. Here we have a book that is trying to highlight the plight of women being unwillingly forced into prostitution, losing their sense of self and autonomy, by forcing the main character, who is supposed to be our hero and champion, being forced to lose parts of herself in a way that seems eerily similar and counter-productive to the message of female autonomy. As readers we’re supposed to be upset about these girls being forced to do things against their will when the author in effect does a type of the same thing to her main character who is constantly being forced against her will to give up parts of herself in order to discover and free these girls in the sex trafficking ring. Yes, sex trafficking is a horrific abuse and I’m glad that the author uses her craft to try and raise awareness, but I was also disturbed because Maggi does it in a way that effectively seems to disempower her main female character, seemingly negating the very messages she is trying to raise awareness of. In the end Georgie does make a conscious choice to sacrifice something personal for information, but in the beginning those choices are not her own. And the better question as a reader is, why is Georgie being forced to make this choice? What does it bring to the story?
Another element of the story that troubled me is the relationship between Georgie and Nate, who may or may not be attracted to Georgie in part because he was attracted to the original owner of the heart that beats within her chest. In the end, after we have learned that Georgie has lost key memories and elements of her identity in order to solve the main mystery, Georgie is left with a good feeling inside because she did get Nate out of the deal. Again, this to me is a troubling message to suggest that it is okay to lose pieces of who you are if you get a guy out of the end deal. As a woman that works with teens and parents two little girls, I’m hesitant to recommend any book that could even be construed as suggesting that losing parts of yourself is okay if you get a guy at the end.
In the end, I thought that there were really good elements to this story. I’m all for raising awareness about sexual abuse and sex trafficking and thought that many of the scenes did a really good job of highlighting the plight of girls in these scenarios, especially when establishing the brutality of their pimp and the continuous danger that they live in. These scenes were brutal and necessary to help us understand the dangerous lives these girls lead. I found Maggi’s choice to have Georgie lose such important parts of herself in order to propel the story forward problematic. I understood the premise of the heart kind of overwriting Georgie’s life, though that’s not scientifically how heart transplants and memory works, but as a speculative device to give the story momentum and empathy, it basically worked until you realize that at the end the main character is stripped of so much in order to tell this story and what kind of message that can be seen as implying. A few simple plot twists could have changed this problematic ending and made the overall story much more effective. The idea that we have to lose so much of our selves in order to help others is a problematic message; yes, there is sacrifice involved in wanting to help others, and yes, gaining knowledge of the world changes the core of who we are, but that is not the same as having our memory and identity quite literally written over by outside forces. It’s more a process of allowing your eyes and hearts to be open and then choosing to respond to the new knowledge you gain. It’s about assimilating new information into your core and actively choosing to be a different person, and that doesn’t have to mean giving up everything you love and define as being important to who you are.
The Forgetting succeeds as a thriller, it has heart (no pun intended actually), and it raises awareness. I’m just left struggling with what I thought is a problematic ending when viewed from my feminist lens. I would be interested in knowing what others thought. I’m going to reread it, so let’s discuss.
The Forgetting by Nicole Maggi, February 3rd from Sourcebooks Fire. Electronic ARC provided by Edelweiss.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network