ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN
CBTB Rating: 2.5/5
The Verdict: starts out strong & takes a nosedive
I was so genuinely excited to read ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN by Wendy Walker, and it pains me to have to write a fairly negative review of it. As I mentioned on Instagram, ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is the latest psychological thriller to catch Reese Witherspoon's eye for movie adaptation—and Reese's taste is usually impeccable. While this book starts out incredibly strong and raises some thought-provoking questions surrounding trauma and its treatment, its lack of character development and utter lack of emotional depth left me wanting.
ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN begins with a horrific act of violence: at a high school party, a teenage girl is brutally raped. Her parents elect to treat her with a drug that erases her memory of the event, theoretically preventing her from developing PTSD, and allowing her to move forward and return to "normal" as soon as possible. Narrated by an initially-nameless individual, this story traces the success (or lack thereof) of this treatment. Our narrator observes both the girl and her family, describing the fallout from this crime and tracing its impact on the family.
I still completely love the concept for this crime book, even after having read it and been seriously disappointed by its execution. There are so many powerful topics explored in this novel: trauma, memory, and how the two intersect to craft our identities.
The beginning of this book explores these concepts very effectively—we discover that, while the fictional treatment effectively bars the brain's ability to store the memory of the assault, it can't remove the patient's emotional memory. I was fascinated by this concept - that we have both the technical memories of events in our past, and the emotional memories of those same events. I really wish Walker had explored this further. We certainly see Jenny, the story's protagonist, grappling with her body's emotional response to an event she can't remember, but I wanted to really get inside Jenny's head and understand more fully how Walker imagined that experience playing out. The limited surface-level exploration of this theme, coupled with extremely limited time spent developing Jenny's character, was my first inkling that this story might fall short for me.
Where things really fell apart, in my opinion, came a bit later in the book. I got about halfway through before I began to feel fatigued by the story, but once that shift happened, there was no going back. This story spends a lot (a lot) of time trying to establish the narrator as an omnipotent, possibly evil character overseeing the story. I'm totally, completely on board with unreliable narrators—bonus points when they turn out to have hidden motives! But this narrator was over-the-top unlikable, making comments that started as provocative and quickly became simply irritating. I love to be challenged and even shocked by books I'm reading, but always for a purpose, never simply for effect.
Last but certainly not least, I held out hope for this book because of reviews proclaiming that it had a "shocking ending." I have to say, I was sorely disappointed by the ending—it was unpredictable, sure, but hardly satisfying. What could have been a tangled web of interpersonal relationships and deceits turns out to be nothing so compelling. I didn't fully realize that I wasn't enjoying this book until I came to its conclusion, and realized all that I had just read was essentially for nothing.
Many of my reviews on CBTB are quite positive—if I'm not enjoying a book, I simply say so on Instagram and put it aside. But my experience reading this book was totally unique; I don't think I've ever read a book that I loved at the beginning and almost hated by the end. My Instagram pictures of this book express my enthusiasm for the book's very strong beginning, and I want to clear any questions about where I stand on ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN with this review. I wish my experience with the first 100 pages of this book had held true for the duration of the read. Unfortunately, I would be hesitant to recommend this title.