Book Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks


Emily Barr made her start in journalism, but says she always aspired to being an author. Emily had written thirteen books previous to ‘The One Memory of Flora Banks’ but this was her first Young Adult novel, (Y/A). Her second Y/A novel is coming out in January 2018, which will be called ‘The Truth and Lies of Ella Black’. Whilst ‘Flora Banks’ is sold as a Y/A novel, it appeals to a wide range of readers.

The themes Emily discusses, such as drinking for the first time, first sexual encounters, travelling away from home and fighting for independence, are highly resonant with her target audience. Her use of Flora’s memory becomes a metaphor for the many difficulties that young people struggle with today. For me, this makes ‘The One Memory of Flora Banks’ the epitome of Y/A. Emily uses a bildungsroman-esque style in ‘Flora Banks’ to inform the reader, however she twists the traditional bildungsroman style with the addition of Flora’s memory, which substitutes the protagonist’s developmental passage with the reader’s understanding and knowledge of Flora’s story.

Emily’s unique use of memory creates a world that is completely and utterly absorbing, making the book difficult to put down. What Emily reveals to the reader and what she doesn’t, gives the book a crime-fiction edge, which makes sense given Emily has written several crime novels. She creates a tension in Flora’s world that is intoxicating to any crime-fiction lover. She mainly creates this tension through memory, although she does use some more traditional crime-fiction devices – such as over-hearing conversations you weren’t meant to hear. In several instances you know you are not being given the whole story, chunks of time appear to be missing but there still seems to be a linear narrative. She discovers people are hiding things from her, and so although Flora might forget, we now have the information.

Emily uses location in ‘Flora Banks’ to represent several different things, Penzance represents both home and prison to Flora. She knows the place and the people know her, it is safety but also banality. Whereas Svalbard represents a dreamland where magic could happen, Flora often starts to think that she has imagined the whole place. It also represents danger and adventure for Flora, an opportunity to assert her independence. The mystical north is a setting frequently used in Y/A, for example, Philip Pullman uses it in ‘The Northern Lights’. In a similar fashion to ‘Flora Banks’, Pullman’s protagonist Lyra uses the opportunity of the freedom in the landscape to assert her own freedoms.

Emily has made herself relevant to young people, partly through her gift for story telling, and partly through her use of social media. Emily has been very involved in all the social media publicity of both ‘Flora Banks’ and ‘The Truth and Lies of Ella Black’. She has accessed a world wide audience in this way, ‘Flora Banks’ has been published in 25 languages across the world. ‘Flora Banks’ was recently recommended by the ‘Zoella and Friends 2017 Book Club’ and Penguin released a special edition of the book in recognition of this.

by Áine Casey