reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
By night, a young boy lurks in the public gardens, agile as a cat, strong as an ogre. But by the time the dawn arrives, he must be in position, frozen as a statue until the day's end. That's the life of our hero, Seth, a troll who survives on consuming the memories of the humans who wander into his path, and who struggles to distinguish between their truths and his own.
The gardens are fenced and Seth is unable to leave, the iron locks repelling his attempts to break them. He knows he's a troll, and that he cannot hold on to memories unless they're repeated back to him, something he and the one other troll in the gardens, the terrifying Celeste, occasionally do. He yearns to know how he came to be in the gardens, what life might be like if he were to venture beyond its gates. His life is a mystery to him.
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The story moves along when Seth strikes up a conversation with a girl, Stella, who lives on the street next to the gardens. The children chat between the bars and Seth is so hungry that although he has some inkling that he will harm Stella by taking her memories, he succumbs. There's something about Stella that draws Seth to her, and once Stella realises Seth's power, she is desperate to get rid of the memories that torment her.
The complexity of the story and its investigation into memory is compelling. Stella is an unhappy child, the many hurts hurled at children on a daily basis by their peers compounded by the sadness of her family's story — her father is dead and her grandfather is suffering from dementia. What happens when our memories are erased or lost? Do unhappy memories form our character just as much as the happy ones? As Stella gives hers away, she begins to lose something of herself and it's up to Seth to sift through his own hazy, out of reach thoughts and see what he can do to save her, and perhaps himself.
The Memory Thief was written whilst the author was Children's Writer in Residence at the University of Otago College of Education. Seth is one of the mystical things her mind's eye found in Dunedin Botanic Garden. It's a magical read, recommended for readers of about 9 and up.