Book Review: Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ballantine (March 2, 2021)
Length: 320 pages
The story of Forget Me Not was a twisted journey that took a while, and at times it was dark and difficult. Ultimately though, I have to hand it to Alexandra Oliva. Gradually, she manages to knit together a complex collection of themes and messages, pulling off a spontaneous transformation to deliver a stunning conclusion that is both heartfelt and thought-provoking.
The story follows Linda Russell, a young woman whose mentally and emotionally unstable mother who only birthed her and her twin for one very specific purpose—to try and replace another daughter, Madeline, who died years before. Growing up on a rural compound, Linda was raised in isolation and prevented from making any contact with the outside world. Her only companion was her sister, Emmer. The two of them were taught only to act like Madeline, talk like Madeline, become Madeline…until the day her mother finally snapped with the realization that her experiment to recreate her lost daughter was a failure, and that neither Linda or Emmer were true clones that will ever replace her.
From that day on, the girls were left to fend for themselves. But eventually, at the age of twelve, Linda finally escapes the compound, only to make headlines and become known as “Clone Girl” when social media catches wind of the incident and her tragic background. Traumatized and confused after witnessing something she was never meant to see, all Linda knows is that she is now alone, though she desperately wants to find out what happened to her twin. With the help of her estranged father and a counselor, Linda is set up in an apartment in Seattle where she can start life afresh with a new identity. Slowly, she begins to learn her way around the city, exploring technology and the internet, gaining the interpersonal skills needed to function in society. All goes well until her old house burns down, once more catapulting Clone Girl into the spotlight and reigniting public interest in her story. Not too surprisingly, the event causes Linda to feel more and more untethered, making her question the relationships she has built since being on her own, including her budding friendship with next-door neighbor Anvi.
Imagine growing up for the first twelve years of your life cut off from the rest of civilization, and the mother you so dearly loved and trusted only cared for you because she wanted to shape you into someone else. Imagine also being told over and over that you were not good enough and punished through no fault of your own. It’s enough to break anyone, let alone a young child. This is Linda Russell’s backstory, and the first half of the novel explores the young woman she became after escaping that neglect and abuse. Despite being rejected and tossed aside, she has found a new strength to continue, though not without considerable difficulty. Trust comes hard to Linda, and she cannot understand concepts like altruism or solidarity since she had never experienced them for herself. She also gets nervous in crowded places and especially in conversations with new people due to her lack of knowledge in reading social cues, and every day she lives with the anxiety of saying or doing the wrong thing.
In the first half, Oliva also begins establishing a number of plot threads as well as filling in the details of this futuristic world. On the one hand, this made the earlier parts of the novel feel rather slow, though on the other, I really enjoyed how the narrative was able to capture Linda’s state of mind in a way that felt genuine and believable. Some of the more fascinating moments involved the character’s exploration of technology, and her subsequent observations about the internet and social media had a slight feel of a cautionary tale. A highlight of this section was also Linda’s relationship with Anvi, not to mention how enlightening it was to view our protagonist through another’s eyes.
And then came the good part: what began as a steady, measured climb to the midway point turned almost immediately into a breakneck downhill race to the finish as everything the author had painstakingly built up in the first half comes to fruition. There were definitely a lot of twists—some I saw coming, some I didn’t. All I will say is that the slow-burn beginning was absolutely worth it, and that the revelations and conclusion will make you glad you stayed on until the end.
Following Alexandra Oliva’s debut The Last One, I must say I had some rather high expectations for Forget Me Not. Now that I’ve read it though, I won’t ever hesitate to pick up another one of her books. This was a pretty special novel, and for fans of suspense who appreciate character-focused stories and who won’t mind a slower ramp-up, this is one you shouldn’t miss.