When Robin and her best friend, Emily, fall from a ride at the local fun park, Robin is left with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Worse still, Emily is in a coma and no one knows when – or if – she is likely to wake up. Robin has to piece together the truth about her life, who she is and, most of all, what happened the night that she and Emily fell.
Notes to Self is a moving and yet enjoyable novel about a teenager’s slow recovery from the traumatic incident that completely changed her life. While the content of the book is emotive and sometimes confronting, as Robin deals with the intellectual and social consequences of her injury, it is never cloying nor melodramatic. Robin is not represented as a victim to pity, or the archetypical Brave Invalid, but rather as a very normal teenager who is just trying to learn about who she is. In this way, Notes to Self is as much a coming-of-age story as it is the tale of Robin’s slow recovery.
Robin’s voice is cleverly crafted by Avery Sawyer. Her confusion upon regaining consciousness and the intellectual struggles of the ensuing weeks are very well portrayed. I’m not an expert on acquired brain injuries, so can’t attest to the accuracy of Robin’s experiences, but they certainly felt very real and it seemed like a lot of research had informed Notes to Self‘s plot and characters.
It would be very easy for Emily to remain little more than a name, given the circumstances described in the novel, but Sawyer does an excellent job of fleshing out her character. At first, it is a little hard to understand what Robin sees in a best friend who encourages her to do unsafe things but, through flash backs, the reader is introduced to Emily’s supportive side, and thus becomes a lot more invested in her waking from her coma.
In contrast, Reno is likeable from the moment he enters the text. A little bit nerdy and a whole lot caring and thoughtful, he is one of my favourite types of Potential Love Interest – the best friend, seen in a new light. He is the perfect steadying influence for Robin, while she’s in the process of dealing with everything that has happened, and I can see him being a firm favourite with Sawyer’s readers.
Notes to Self is a strong novel about a topic that is rarely focussed upon in the world of YA fiction – disability, injury and illness – and it explores this topic in a thoughtful and sensitive manner without ever feeling too much like an ‘issues’ piece. Robin is a likeable and sympathetic character whose personal journey will appeal to many, and Sawyer has produced a tight and engaging novel that was a pleasure to read.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)