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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1108

Author: Francisco X. Stork (b. 1953)

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realistic fiction

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Austin, Texas

Principal characters

Vicky Cruz, a teenaged girl who is recovering from a suicide attempt

Mona , her hospital roommate, who suffers from bipolar...

(The entire section contains 1108 words.)

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Author: Francisco X. Stork (b. 1953)

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realistic fiction

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Austin, Texas

Principal characters

Vicky Cruz, a teenaged girl who is recovering from a suicide attempt

Mona, her hospital roommate, who suffers from bipolar disorder

Juanita Alvarez, her beloved nanny

Dr. Desai, a psychologist who works at Lakeview Hospital

Miguel Cruz, her father

Barbara, her stepmother

Gabriel, her friend at the hospital

E.M., a teen at the hospital who has anger and violence issues

The Story

Vicky Cruz wakes up in the mental ward of Lakeview Hospital. She has been admitted to the hospital after she attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. In the following weeks, with the help of the other patients at the hospital and their group-therapy leader Dr. Desai, Vicky learns to understand the reasons behind her suicide attempt and the feelings of emptiness that she lives with every day. Before coming to the hospital, Vicky had felt alone. She loved her mother, but her mother had died of cancer years earlier. She loves her longtime nanny, Juanita, but her father and stepmother have planned to send her back to Mexico because the woman is advancing in age and suffering from arthritis and therefore unable to do the housekeeping for which they are paying her. The rest of her high-achieving family makes Vicky feel inadequate. The result is depression that she cannot understand or deal with, and suicide seems like the only option. Even after being admitted to the hospital, she knows, "Two weeks, two days, two minutes, it's all the same. Lakeview or home, here, there—does it really matter? Sooner or later, I will kill myself."Courtesy of Scholastic Inc.

Though Vicky's suicidal thoughts and depression are the driving force of the novel, her recovery becomes the story's central focus. Furthermore, her friendships with three other struggling teens expose readers to a variety of mental disorders that affect both teens and adults. These friendships help form the core of much of the novel. First, there is Mona, who struggles with bipolar disorder. This character is often so tightly wired that she seems to bounce off walls, but she then sinks to depths of despair that she has a hard time overcoming. Mona's former struggle with drug addiction complicates her view of herself and sense of self-worth. Gabriel is angelic but troubled. His deep insights help Vicky understand her own struggles a bit more, but he suffers from schizophrenia-like symptoms and hears an inner voice that tells him what to do. Mona tells Vicky, "He may not be a serial killer, but he's sick. Sicker than you can imagine. . . . We're all mental, but what he's got is worse because it's not obvious. You can see him begin to rip if you look carefully. Trust me on that one. He's going to split wide open." E.M. is in Lakeview under court orders for anger management issues. On the surface, E.M. presents an intimidating and frightening façade, but deep inside, he is a caring young man who struggles with guilt because he was not able to defend his mother from his father's abuse. He tells Vicky, "Truth is, I was a coward. Not just afraid. That's nothing. I was a coward." His strong sense of responsibility and hidden kindness help Vicky learn to cope with her own sadness. The friendships that these teens form are unlike anything they had known outside of Lakeview and give them hope and support to overcome the problems that they face.

Just when Vicky thinks she has begun to heal, tragedy strikes and she must return home, where she will be forced to face the issues that led her to the suicide attempt in the first place. Stork's gripping descriptions of her struggles will help other teens understand that they are not alone and that recovery is possible.

Critical Evaluation

This novel addresses a number of critical areas of interest for teens, parents, teachers, and librarians. The most important of these is mental health, but this idea is connected with friendships, family expectations, and coping mechanisms.

As revealed in the author's note at the end of the novel, Stork's own suicide attempt at the age of twenty-four was the inspiration for this novel, and it lends a credibility to the descriptions of mental health issues and the characters' experiences. Stork says, "One key to the long, painful process of getting out of those other woods was the eventual realization that I was ill. The illness that sought to diminish (and extinguish) my life is called depression." Stork beautifully illustrates the process of coming to this realization throughout the novel as he follows Vicky while she accepts the daily sorrow that led to the suicide attempt.

Family expectations are also explored. Vicky's father, stepmother, and sister do not know how to accept her, and this worsens her depression. Her father's constantly demeaning remarks about her intelligence undermine her sense of worth, and his inability to comprehend that she cannot be "fixed" with a simple set of activities threaten to undermine any progress she has made at Lakeview. The other teens also deal with family issues. Mona is the child of an addict. After Mona's baby sister, the reason that Mona got off drugs herself, was taken into the foster care system, Mona landed in Lakeview. Unlike the girls, Gabriel has a supportive family and he struggles with guilt over not being able to help his grandparents as he believes he should be. Finally, E.M.'s physically abusive background shows another side of family dysfunction.

Ultimately, Stork tells the story of survival and what it takes to live day to day with mental illness. While critics praised Stork's compelling storyline and fully drawn characters, his frank discussion of mental illness, suicide, and recovery is what most distinguishes this book. Many young-adult books deal with depression, but few explore the process of treatment and recovery as fully and honestly The Memory of Light does.

The Memory of Light received the 2017 Tomás Rivera Book Award from the Texas State University College of Education for its outstanding depiction of the Mexican American experience. Stork's earlier novel Marcelo in the Real World (2009) received the Schneider Family Book Award.

Further Reading

  • MacGregor, Amanda. Review of The Memory of Light, Francisco X. Stork. Teen Librarian Toolbox, School Library Journal, 21 Jan. 2016, www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2016/01/book-review-the-memory-of-light-by-francisco-x-stork. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
  • Stork, Francisco X. "One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Francisco X. Stork." Interview by Julie Bartel. The Hub. Young Adult Library Services Administration, 8 Sept. 2016, www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/09/08/one-thing-leads-another-interview-francisco-x-stork. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
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