Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Persistence of Memory/Token of Darkness is two short novels (or novellas, depending at what point you call something a novel or novella – the stories are 212 and 197 pages) in one book. The front cover of the book is the cover for Persistence of Memory and the back cover is the cover for Token of Darkness. It is designed to read half way through the book then flip it over and read the second story in the other half of the book.
What struck me about these two stories is both Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s ability to write the mannerisms of the teenage characters well and her ability to incorporate psychological insight into the stories. Her use of supernatural elements, such as vampires and shapeshifters in Persistence of Memory and ghosts in Token of Darkness, is bound to go down well with many teen/young adult readers, given the current popularity of teen/young adult speculative fiction, but it’s the well written characters that appeal most to me.
The following is an excerpt from Persistence of Memory:
Marissa blinked, but that was her only reaction, as if she were too emotionally drained even to feel surprise. “You’re prone to hallucinations?”
Forcing the words out, Erin said bluntly, “I’m prone to outright psychosis. I spent most of my childhood institutionalized, and then spent the last two years with nearly constant supervision so my doctors could make sure I didn’t relapse. I’ve finally stabilized my medication enough – or, to tell the whole truth, they’ve finally stabilized my medication enough – that I’ve been almost completely symptom-free for the last eighteen months, which is why I’m enrolled in your school. This is the first time I’ve been in public school since the first grade.”
She lifted her gaze, then looked away again when she saw exactly what she had feared: horror and pity.
Marissa struggled to rally. “Things have been normal for almost two years?”
Erin nodded miserably. Like I said, sometimes when I get too tired or I’m under a lot of stress, things get funky, but I haven’t had a major episode since March twelfth, last year,” She was half begging, and she knew it. Please, she wanted to say, trust me. I’m okay now. Believe me. “So, you see, it wasn’t your fault. Whatever you said or did, I know it wasn’t personal, and my reaction wasn’t anything you could have predicted. You were upset and-“
“You remember the exact date?” Without waiting for a response, Marissa sighed. “It must have been really tough to pull yourself up from that. I’m sure it took a lot of courage.”
Erin looked up again with a self-deprecating smile. “You don’t have to humor me.”
“I’m not. I’m just imagining how hard … It does sound like I’m patronising you, doesn’t it?” Marissa said. “I don’t mean to. I’m impressed.
“Impressed that I’m crazy?”
“Impressed that you’ve kept fighting.” Marissa instantly corrected her. The horror and pity were gone, replaced by determination. “Change has to be hard when you’ve spent so much time struggling to know what’s real.”
Persistence of Memory features the highs and lows of teenage life, but they are amplified in Erin because she is not your average teenager. Erin’s psychological state and the fact that is receiving institutional support/treatment allows Atwater-Rhodes to explore psychological issues without being preachy or reading like a textbook. The teen sensibilities of the characters are always at the forefront, making the psychological stuff both an integral part of the story and an interesting sideshow to the main event which is the characters, their relationships with one another and the problems they face, against the backdrop of Boston.
Likewise with Token of Darkness, well-written teen sensibilities are evident in the characters. Token of Darkness has more of a supernatural focus than Persistence of Memory but the intricacies of supernatural forces never overtake the characters as the central concern of the story, even in the opening which plunges straight into the supernatural elements of the story:
Cooper gave a start. He had been lost in reverie, the content of which had fled his mind the moment Samantha had spoken.
“Necromantic golem,” she repeated. “I’m just saying. It’s an option.”
Cooper looked down, and realized he had nicked himself with the knife when she startled him. The cut wasn’t bad, but he pulled his hand and the knife away from the counter and the compulsively neat apple slices sitting there.
“You’re going to have to clarify for me,’ he said as he washed the cut and reached for a bandage. “And get off the counter.”
“I”m not technically on the counter,” she objected “and I should think it would be the natural answer to our situation.”
She certainly looked like she was sitting on the counter, but of course it didn’t matter. She could as easily have been standing in the counter, or on the wall or in the ceiling. She did things like that sometimes, defying the laws of physics without seeming to notice or care.
If she had been alive it probably would have been considered a health hazard when she walked through the food, but since she was a ghost and not dripping ectoplasm, it was only annoying. But only to cooper, because no one but him seemed to be able to see her. Even when she lay in the middle of the pastries display case as if it were Snow White’s glass coffin, everyone else was oblivious to her presence, including Cooper’s father who owned the shop.
“Seriously,” she insisted now, apparently not ready to let the idea drop. “Golem.”
He rolled his eyes. “I assume you mean for you.”
“And I assume you mean I should make one so you can … take it over, or whatever.”
Both stories are worth reading for the depiction of the teenage characters alone; covering impulsiveness, caring, anxiety, fear, friendship, honesty, acceptance, frustration, determination, etc and, as mentioned on the cover(s), love, loyalty, illusion, secrets and power. Persistence of Memory and Token of Darkness are stories which a teenager could pick up and instantly identify with the characters and also have psychological insight sophisticated enough to provide a lot to interest adult readers, even if a reader does not normally read stories involving supernatural elements. For readers who do enjoy supernatural in fiction, there is a lot to like for teens and adults.
Persistence of Memory/Token of Darkness was released together in the same book on January 3rd 2011 in Australia, and both stories have been released separately in the US. More on Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and her fiction is available at http://www.randomhouse.com/features/atwaterrhodes/home.htm
The Australian Literature Review