Escape from Memory

Escape from Memory

4.4 97
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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While playing around with hypnotism at a party, Kira remembers fleeing a war-torn country with her mother, speaking a language she can't identify. A few days later her mother disappears, and a woman who calls herself Kira's aunt Memory takes Kira to Crythe, a country that doesn't officially exist, in order to rescue her — or so she says.
Kira soon learns

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While playing around with hypnotism at a party, Kira remembers fleeing a war-torn country with her mother, speaking a language she can't identify. A few days later her mother disappears, and a woman who calls herself Kira's aunt Memory takes Kira to Crythe, a country that doesn't officially exist, in order to rescue her — or so she says.
Kira soon learns that Aunt Memory is not what she seems, and Kira and her mother are both in terrible danger. There are memories locked in Kira's mind that could get her and her mother killed. But those memories are the only things that might save them...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When 15-year-old Kira's friends hypnotize her, she remembers a "Mama" who is not the woman she knows as her mother speaking a language that's not English. Her mother, Sophia, won't answer her questions, and shortly afterward, a stranger calling herself Aunt Memory appears, telling Kira that Sophia has been kidnapped and that Kira must go to Crythe, her true homeland, to save her. This is the promising start to Haddix's (Turnabout) science fiction novel; unfortunately, her premise gets muddled amid confusing details. Once in Crythe, the alleged Aunt Memory tells Kira about native culture and history; after the Chernobyl meltdown, she says, the village was relocated to California (Kira, raised in Ohio, had believed she was born in California). War broke out, and Kira's birth parents were executed. Haddix steadily infuses creative ideas: Crythe is a memory-obsessed culture where children learn from an honorary "Aunt Memory" to record every detail. Kira's birth parents, both geniuses, had built "a system to replicate memory on a computer. But it was human memory they could copy, not digital." Kira, apparently, has her parents' memories embedded within her, and these now put her in danger. Fans of the author's Shadow Children series can count on an abundance of twists and cliffhangers, but ultimately readers may be frustrated by the plot's vagueness, especially around the state of current Crythe. Additionally, the book's villain is too much of a caricature to be truly scary. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Haddix has another surefire hit in this riveting, philosophically provoking tale of an ordinary small-town American girl who lets her best friend hypnotize her, as a joke, at one of their weekly sleepovers: under hypnosis, Kira reveals fragments of memory that lead her to the inescapable conclusion that she and the woman she has always thought was her mother have escaped from a bizarre past, as refugees from a lost country whose inhabitants are trained from birth to forget nothing, nothing at all. Short, suspenseful chapters show Kira and Lynne beginning to unravel the secrets of Kira's distant, silent mom, until the girls are kidnapped by Kira's menacing "Aunt Memory" and taken to Kira's quasi-medieval native country of Crithe (transplanted, after Chernobyl, to isolated mountains of California), where both girls are threatened with death if Kira cannot produce secrets she doesn't even realize she has the means of knowing. Haddix once again takes readers on a wild ride replete with cliff-hanging climaxes and courageous choices on the part of her heroine, along the way raising deep and fascinating questions about the nature of memory: what is worth remembering, and what is worth forgetting? How much of our identity is constituted by what we remember, and how much by what we allow ourselves to forget? 2003, Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 up.
— Claudia Mills
When people call a book "tight," this novel is what they're talking about. It has it all: suspense, laughter, tears, twists, action, and thrills. I can only read certain kinds of books because I am very picky, and this book was one of the best I've ever read. It was a blast. I would recommend it to anyone who has ever dreamed of the unbelievable happening. I give it a 4Q/5P. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Simon & Schuster, 224p,
— Lindsay Lutes, Teen Reviewer
Haddix (author of Turnabout, Just Ella, and Takeoffs and Landings) writes a thriller about a teenager living in a small town in the Midwest who is hypnotized by her friends as a party entertainment only to uncover odd facts about her past buried in her memory. For starters, in her hypnotic trance, Kira speaks a foreign language. She decides to pursue these clues to find out more about where she came from; her birth certificate, photos, parents' identity papers, anything. Kira lives alone with a woman she knows as her mother, a woman who cares for Kira. She supports them by working in the public library, but she has never revealed details of their family or their past to Kira. Their quiet existence is shattered when a woman calling herself Aunt Memory shows up and kidnaps Kira, flying her across the country to a place settled by their countrymen, a place called Crythe. Fortunately for Kira, her best friend Lynne is a stowaway on the plane and is there to help Kira understand what has happened. Also, the woman who Kira knows as her mom is there. Kira is a special person, the daughter of two brilliant Crythians, who, knowing they would die, stored important data in Kira's memory, which could only be recovered through hypnosis. The plot gets wilder and wilder, and cannot be summarized easily, but as you can imagine, there is a happy ending. Haddix writes well and YAs who like suspenseful stories that are akin to science fiction will enjoy this Escape. KLIATT Codes: JS; Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, 218p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-At a sleepover, Kira, 15, agrees to let her friends hypnotize her for the fun of it. Instead of the expected revelation of a secret crush, her friends hear a child's buried memory of fleeing from danger with her mother and speaking in a language none of them understands. Kira's assumptions about her life in their small Ohio town are challenged, and her reticent, eccentric mother is frightened rather than reassuring when confronted with her daughter's questions. Then she disappears, and a woman shows up claiming to be Kira's benevolent Aunt Memory from a community called Crythe, where memories are valued above all else. Aunt Memory claims that the woman Kira thinks of as her mother is being held hostage and that only Kira can save her. Thus ensues a race across the continent involving Crythian political intrigue, deception, kidnapping, and blackmail. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and there are enough plot twists to satisfy Haddix's loyal readers. The plot-driven narrative moves at such a brisk pace that only by the end of the story do readers have time to ponder the unresolved questions concerning the power and role of memory in our lives.-Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thrill ride ensues when an all-American teen discovers her mysterious origins. Goofing around with hypnosis at a slumber party, Kira unearths buried memories of violent escape that don't fit in her Ohio childhood. For reassurance, she turns to her mother-who, now that she thinks of it, seems oddly foreign-and is brusquely rebuffed. Further investigations are interrupted when Kira's mother vanishes, and Kira is carried off by a mysterious stranger who claims to be rescuing Kira's kidnapped mom. Somehow, the answer to Kira's buried memories lies with this stranger and a mysterious land called Crythe, where memory is more important than happiness. The true identities of both Kira and her mother are concealed by layers of lost memory that hide secrets for which many have died. Greed, family love, and remnants of Cold War politics combine into a startling and intricate thriller. Some odd plot inconsistencies, but an exciting adventure, climaxing in a tense armed standoff. Well worth it. (Science fiction. 12-16)

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Simon Pulse
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Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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Chapter One

I woke up.

"See?" I said as I opened my eyes. "Wasn't that stupid?"

I blinked a few times, so my eyes could readjust to the dim light in the Robertsons' family room.

"So what great buried memory did I come up with?" I asked. "The trauma of second-grade math? I told you it wasn't worth hypnotizing me. My life has been too — " I stopped without saying "dull," because I suddenly realized that all three of my closest friends were staring at me. Their faces, starting with Lynne's thin, dramatic one and ending with Courtney's heavyset, normally placid one, all held identical expressions: eyes wide, eyebrows raised, mouths agape.

"What?" I said. "What'd I say?"

Some thread of memory tickled my brain, then it was gone. Everything around me was too ordinary and familiar: our sleeping bags spread out on the Berber carpet, the brightly colored bags of Fritos and M&M's we'd been eating before we decided to experiment with hypnosis. It was Friday night, and we were having a sleepover at Lynne's house. That's what we did every Friday night. It didn't fit with the wisp of fear I still felt, without knowing why.

"You never told us," Lynne said slowly, "that you and your mother came here to escape danger."

She sounded pleased and intrigued, as if I had presented her with a fascinating physics question. Lynne was the only person in Willistown history who'd ever taken physics as a freshman — or, as Andrea liked to remind her, who'd ever wanted to.

"Or that you had a nursery when you were a baby," Courtney said. She emphasized the word "nursery" as though it were something only movie stars and royalty had for their children. Certainly no one in Willistown did.

"Or that you called your mother 'Mama,'" Andrea added.

"Don't all little kids call their mothers 'Mama'? Before they can say 'Mommy'?" I said defensively, though I didn't really know. I was an only child. My friends were the ones with younger brothers and sisters and cousins and — in Andrea's case — even nieces and nephews. They all had family coming out their ears.

All I had was Mom.

"But you said it with an accent," Lynne said. "And those other words — Sazahlya? Molya ste eha dostahna?" She pronounced the words carefully, but her flat Ohio vowels sounded all wrong. "What do they mean?"

"Sazahlya's like 'Hush, hush, it's all right, everything's okay.' People say it to babies," I answered without thinking.

My friends gave me their bug-eyed, drop-jawed stares again.

"Not around here, they don't," Lynne said cautiously. "What language is that?"

"I don't know," I admitted.

"Then how do you know what it means?"

"I don't know," I said again. I squirmed a little. The Robertsons' family room, where I'd probably spent half my life, suddenly seemed strange and uncomfortable.

"Then what's that other phrase mean? Molya ste eha dostahna?" Lynne asked. She narrowed her eyes, the way she did when a teacher actually managed to find a homework question that was hard enough for her. Courtney and Andrea watched in silence, willing, as usual, to let Lynne speak for them.

Usually I would have been letting her speak for me, too. But now I was trying to shut out the sound of her voice, to hear Molya ste eha dostahna the way someone — Mom? — had said it in my memory. I shivered, remembering the cold wind on my face. Remembering hiding my face in my mother's coat.

But that was all I could remember.

I was trying too hard.

"Why does it matter?" I asked. "I probably just read it somewhere. Or heard it on TV. Maybe what you say under hypnosis is like dreaming. Just nonsense."

"But you made it sound so real," Andrea said. It had been her idea to try hypnosis, just because she hadn't liked the video we'd all picked out. I didn't know why I had to be the featured entertainment instead.

I got another flash of memory — the feel of my chubby toddler arms around my mother's neck.

Mom and I did not hug each other.

I sighed. "Tell me everything I said," I asked reluctantly. I resisted the urge to pull my legs toward my body and clutch them with my arms, to huddle like a terrified child.

Why was I scared if it was all just a crazy story I'd made up?

Defiantly, I stretched my legs out and leaned back on my arms — the typical teenager sprawl. A triumph of body language. My fear ebbed. I refused to treat this seriously.

Lynne was already telling my story, word for word, she claimed. Then, of course, she had to analyze it.

"Well, it's pretty clear to me," she said. "You're obviously a refugee from some war-torn country. Your mother must have smuggled you across some border....You moved here when you were two, right?"

"Yeah, from California," I said, rolling my eyes. "No wars there."

"That's what your mother says," Lynne countered. "Hey, maybe you're illegal immigrants." Her face brightened, as if she liked that possibility. "Your mother's one clever woman. Who'd look for illegal immigrants in Willistown, Ohio?"

"Every single employer in town," Andrea said, sounding pleased at outsmarting Lynne for once. "You have to show proof of citizenship when you get a job." She was the only one of us so far who had attempted that feat. She was going to be lifeguarding at the town swimming pool as soon as it opened in the summer.

My mother had worked at the town library for the past thirteen years. Maybe thirteen years ago people didn't have to prove their citizenship.

I didn't share this obvious gap in logic with my friends.

Lynne had already moved on to the next puzzle.

"But where are you really from?" She squinted at me, as if trying to read some hidden map on my face. "Let's see, thirteen years ago there were battles in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. The Irish-English squabbles were relatively calm" — trust Lynne to carry around a social studies time line in her head — "and there's almost always some conflict in the Middle East and Central America and parts of Africa."

"Do I look like I'm from the Middle East? Or Central America? Or Africa?" I asked.

"There are all sorts of people living in all of those places," Lynne retorted. "In fact, that might have been why you had to leave, because the indigenous people threw out the imperialist invaders."

Great. Now I was an imperialist invader.

"You do look kind of different," Courtney offered. "No offense."

I'd been afraid someone would say that. I blushed, knowing that, even with the extra color, my skin was still paler than my friends'. My hair was dark and cut the same way as theirs — longish and pulled back in ponytails or tucked behind my ears most of the time. But in the right light my hair had an almost bluish cast to it. And my eyes were just as dark and ever-so-slightly slanted. Not enough to look Asian. Just enough to look...different.

"Then there's your name," Lynne said thoughtfully. "Kira. Kira, Kira, Kira — Slavic, maybe? Russian?"

"That doesn't prove anything," I protested. "Look at, uh, Natasha Jones. Natasha's a Russian name too. Do you think she's an illegal immigrant? A refugee?"

Natasha Jones was a year ahead of us at school and served as the county Beef Queen. She had blond hair and blue eyes, and Lynne had joked once that she looked corn-fed, just like the cattle she promoted. Natasha was Willistown, through and through.

Wasn't I, too?

Andrea reached for a handful of Fritos, as casually as if we were discussing some ridiculous soap opera, not my life.

"You guys are being way too hard on Kira," she said. "You don't have to make her into a foreigner or something." I almost forgave her for the Fritos. Then she went on. "I know what must have happened. Kira's dad must have been an alcoholic or a drug addict or something, and he was always beating up Kira's mom, so she ran out on him. Disappeared without a trace. Then she hid in Willistown, because he would never look here. I saw a TV movie about that once. This woman changed her whole identity and her kid's — your name probably isn't even Kira at all."

Andrea was looking straight at me. I stared straight back. I hoped she thought I was struck speechless by the craziness of her explanation. I hoped she and Lynne and Courtney couldn't tell that if I so much as breathed, I was going to cry.

"Kira's dad is dead," Courtney said. "Isn't he?"

Now she was looking at me too, appealingly.

"Of course that's what Kira's mom would say, to cover up," Andrea said.

I wanted so badly to scream, Stop it! This isn't a joke! But I couldn't find my voice.

And didn't I want this to be a joke? If it was a joke, it wasn't real.

Lynne's calm, rational voice came as a relief.

"There are lots of things wrong with your explanation," Lynne challenged Andrea. "First, Kira mentioned cobblestone streets and alleys. That doesn't sound like California, where she's supposedly from."

Andrea shrugged.

"It's a big state. I'm sure there's a cobblestone somewhere out there. Anyhow, if you were running away, wouldn't you lie about the place you were running away from?"

Lynne ignored the question. "Two, there's the foreign language Kira was speaking...."

"It's probably just Spanish, and we didn't recognize it. Lots of people speak Spanish in California."

Lynne could have pointed out that all four of us were taking Spanish in school. But we knew Mr. Sutherland, our teacher, had been hired more for his basketball coaching skills than his perfect Spanish accent. He probably wouldn't even recognize real Spanish himself.

Lynne moved on to her next point.

"Three, what about the 'thunder and lightning' that was probably gunfire and bombs?" she asked.

"That doesn't have to be war," Andrea said sarcastically. "Maybe Kira's dad was chasing Kira and her mom and shooting at them."

Lynne was clearly losing the argument, but she didn't act like it.

"And third, and most important," she said, "can you honestly picture Kira's mom as an abused woman?"

I could see Andrea struggling with that one.

"Maybe she's changed?" she offered halfheartedly.

Lynne grinned triumphantly.

"Gotcha!" she declared. She turned to me. "So what are you going to do about this, Kira?"

"Do?" I whispered, the best I could do. I tried to remember how to make my voice sound normal, how to make my face look normal. "Why do I have to do anything?"

"Aren't you going to talk to your mom and find out the truth?"

My friends had met my mother, plenty of times. They knew she didn't drive her car, wouldn't touch a computer, wouldn't allow a TV in our apartment. But they'd never really talked to her beyond, "Hello, Mrs. Landon. Is Kira there?" They still seemed to believe that she was like Lynne's mom, who'd given Lynne the menstruation talk a full month before the school nurse brought it up. Or Andrea's mom, who kept better track of who was dating whom at Willistown High School than Andrea did. Or Courtney's mom, who shared dieting tips and hot fudge sundae splurges with her daughter on a regular basis. My friends actually thought my mother was someone you could talk to. Someone you could ask a question.

I forced my hand to reach into the bag of M&M's. I placed three pieces of chocolate on my tongue. I chewed. I swallowed.

"Okay, sure," I said, proud of how steady I managed to keep my voice. "I'll ask."

That wasn't good enough for Lynne.

"But if she tells you none of it's true, will you believe her?"

"Yeah," I said. "My mom doesn't have enough imagination to lie."

None of my friends disagreed.

Copyright © Margaret Peterson Haddix

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