False Memory by Dan Krokos is a twist-filled science fiction novel set in near-present day Ohio. A teenage girl finds herself in a Cleveland shopping mall with no memory of her past. She knows only her name, Miranda North, and some basic facts about her environment. And, she soon learns, she knows how to defend herself, to an alarming degree. When threatened, she lets loose a mental energy that terrifies everyone around her, and leaves five people dead.
A boy named Peter rescues Miranda from the mall, telling her that she, like him, is the result of a genetic experiment, created as a scientifically engineered human weapon. Various twists follow as Miranda, Peter, and two friends attempt to escape their captors, and understand why they are the way they are in the first place.
This book is not for the faint of heart, Miranda unintentionally kills five people in the first chapter, and then has to live with that knowledge. Various other people die over the course of the book, all in a violent manner. The mere notion (as Ms. Yingling mentioned in her review) of children created to be weapons is more than a little bit disturbing.
But, if you can get past that, False Memory is an entertaining ride. There are twists on top of twists. There is hand to hand combat, and genetic engineering. There are betrayals and surprises. There are also love interests, and friends close enough to feel like family. The characterization in False Memory felt a bit thin to me, but perhaps a this is a necessary outcome of the theme of the book. These kids barely even know who they are. And if they go too long without a special medication, they lose their memories. And who are any of us without our memories? Pretty much all of the adults are villains.
Krokos's prose is focused on action and technology, without a lot of time spared for description (though some time is spent on Miranda's internal musings). Here's a sample passage, in which Peter tells Miranda about her background:
""You are a high-tech version of crowd control. When you were two, a doctor drew your blood. It revealed an abnormality that allows you to survive the gene therapy needed to become a Rose. That's what we call ourselves, because we don't have a name."
My hands are shaking now. I clasp them together and squeeze, but it does nothing. His words bounce around in my head -- waves powerful enough, crowd control, gene therapy." I should've stayed in the mall and let the police take me. I should be in a jail cell, or better yet a dungeon. A place where I can't hurt anyone ever again. I don't know what I expected to hear, but it wasn't this." (Page 24)
I must admit that I didn't personally love False Memory. This may have been because Miranda's life had almost no intersection with that of ordinary teens. The Roses are raised in bunkers by trainers and such - they have little connection to popular culture, and none at all to other people. This made them difficult to for me to connect to. But I was certainly intrigued enough to finish False Memory, and to read the second half of the book quite quickly. I will keep an eye out for the sequel. And I think that teens will enjoy this series.
False Memory is a book that will make readers think, mulling over both the mysteries of the kids in the book, and the mystery of identify itself. Recommended for fans of speculative fiction set in the approximately real world, like Mary Person's Jenna Fox Chronicles, and for those who like weapon-filled teen spy novels like Ridley Pearson's Steel Trapp series.
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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