I'm thrilled and truly honoured to be part of the book blog tour for Darren Simpson's superb 'The Memory Thieves'. His first book, 'Scavengers', is one of my favourite children's books from the last couple of years. It is raw, poetic and moving. Read my review here. 'The Memory Thieves' is a masterful follow-up: atmospheric, vivid, dark and daring, and utterly compelling. Darren Simpson writes intelligent and challenging fiction for children, making you think and feel deeply, leaving lasting impressions like startling dreams you can't forget.
Cyan lives on the strange, desolate island of the Elsewhere Sanctuary; a place to go to forget about the past through Dr Haven's rigorous, controlled programme of treatments. But what did Cyan need to forget about his past? Isn't it better to forget what might have hurt you? Finding a strange, carved message on the bones of a whale and befriending a new resident, Jonquil, who resists Dr Haven's treatment, Cyan sets out to discover the truth about himself and the sanctuary. Is it worth facing the pain of the past?
From the very first chapter, 'The Memory Thieves' draws you into a distinctly strange and compelling world - a kind of desert of the human psyche where the debris of humanity, of nature, lies half-submerged and forgotten. Darren Simpson writes vividly and daringly; sometimes with a knife, sometimes with a torch of dazzling light, but always with heart buried underneath. The world he has created is like nothing you have come across before, and at first I thought it had been ravaged by climate change, and in a way it is, but also more than that. Like the junkyard of Hinterland in 'Scavengers', the island of the Elsewhere Sanctuary is startlingly symbolic - a setting where the mind has been forced into desolation, but where memories risk churning up from the shifting sands. Would you choose to forget the pain of your past and live in such as place as Cyan does? Or would you risk facing your past to become whole again? These are excellent questions to explore and, as someone who has had mental health breakthroughs myself, I found the story hugely relevant. It is easy to take pills and turn away from the past, but being brave and open enough to face it with vulnerability and compassion is the greater way to heal. 'The Memory Thieves' explores this brilliantly with a story that is unpredictable, sinister but full of hope and empathy too.
There are wonderful imaginative constructs here: buildings that transform, cruise-ships as playgrounds, whale bones for messages. Darren Simpson is like a combination of Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan for children: the writing tense, surreal and mind-bendingly imaginative. The characters of Cyan, Jonquil, Teal and the others are brilliant too, and their dialogue is some of the best I've read this year. This is a challenging and rewarding read, suited for the more able in Upper Key Stage Two and arguably as a crossover title from middle grade to YA.
Darren Simpson is a unique, talented writer and 'The Memory Thieves' is a children's book that you won't easily forget. A stunning achievement.
Thank you to Usborne for sending me the copy to review and for including me on the blog tour. Also thank you to Darren Simpson for including me in his acknowledgements. I am honoured and chuffed. I can't wait to read 'Furthermoor' next year!