The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork follows Vicky Cruz, an affluent, Mexican American teen recovering from depression. After a suicide attempt, Vicky begins group therapy and meets Mona, E.M., and Gabriel, three other teens working through mental health and psychological issues. Through the friendships built with her fellow group members and the guidance of her therapist, Dr. Desai, Vicky begins to uncover the roots of her depression and find purpose in her life.
In If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Amanda Hardy is looking for a new start. Recovering from a suicide attempt, Amanda tells her family her true feelings – assigned male at birth, she identifies as female. After a violent attack, Amanda moves to a new town with her estranged father. With only her senior year left, Amanda plans to keep a low profile and move on to college. However, as she finds friendship and love, she struggles to keep her secret.
This was a great match up between two realistic fiction novels dealing with intense issues. So many parallels! Both delve into suicide, depression, and its aftermath, sensitively breaking down the stigma around depression. Each book features well developed, diverse characters written by authors whose own experiences reflect their characters. Both include supportive adults and peers to counteract the confusion, hate, and adversity Vicky and Amanda faced. Most importantly, I feel like teens can empathize and relate with the characters in both novels. So how to choose?
In the end, I chose If I Was Your Girl. While both thoughtfully portrayed the inner lives of teens struggling with issues of depression and identity, I felt Russo captured the teen voice more successfully.
I also found two of the major events in The Memory of Light a bit excessive, specifically the near drowning and drug overdose rescue. While one of these situations could help move the story forward, putting both in the story felt like too much action. I felt the story was more powerful during Vicky’s reflective sections, such as her description of depression as a “heavy, thick fog, yellow and pale purple, the color of a bruise, that fills up a room with no windows, no air, no light.”
Be sure to read the author notes at the end of both books! Both give valuable insight into the authors’ backgrounds and support resources. I appreciated Russo’s notes to both her cis and trans readers, especially her assertion that Amanda’s story shouldn’t serve “as dogma other trans people must adhere to but rather as inspiration to pursue an ever broader understanding of our lives and identities, as well as your own understanding of gender and sex.”
Despite choosing If I Was Your Girl as my pick, if you’re looking for books offering teens a compassionate and understanding story, both of these titles are ideal examples.
WINNER: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Jessica Frazier is the Assistant Department Head of Adult Services at Bloomingdale Public Library. She’s not a fan of writing personal statements.