Memories and Monsters [Café Libro]

Emily Dexter

In a sense, every book begins in the same way, with the reader knowing nothing at first and then gleaning information as the story progresses. In Jennifer Armentrout’s novel Don’t Look Back, the protagonist, for once, starts out in the same position as the reader. Suffering from amnesia after a mysterious accident, Samantha struggles to understand the person she used to be—a girl so mean she’s almost glad she can’t remember her—while also determining what she will do with this chance to start over. This second chance would be a lot more freeing, of course, if the incident that led to her amnesia hadn’t also resulted in the death of another teenage girl, one whom everyone says used to be Samantha’s best friend.

I have to applaud Armentrout for the fascinating premise; to a degree, Don’t Look Back is an exploration of Locke’s idea of tabula rasa, mixed in with a heavy dose of high school romance and drama to make it more palatable for a teenage audience. The story is laced with strong emotion and suspense, and leads to a conclusion I was certainly not expecting.

While my overall review of Don’t Look Back is a positive one, I must make at least some protest when it comes to the book’s treatment of mental illness. As a passionate believer in the accurate and beneficial portrayal of mental health problems, I was disappointed to see Samantha continually label herself as “crazy” (even after receiving multiple diagnoses) and treat therapy and other forms of legitimate help in a similarly derogatory fashion. To anyone sharing my concerns on this issue, I am not here to tell you to skip past this novel. Instead, I would just like to advise against taking Samantha’s word as final for anything concerning mental health.


The next challenge:

For this next week, Carson, I’m challenging you to read Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. In this story, Eliza is a teenage girl whose life centers around her webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She has built herself an online empire surrounding her comic—an empire on whose throne she sits, safely anonymous under the username LadyConstellation. As committed to Monstrous Sea as she is, however, she soon finds that the comic has taken over her life to a point at which her mental health comes into question.

I appreciate this novel even more after reading Don’t Look Back; to anyone who is in need of a positive message about mental health and getting help, I would definitely recommend Eliza and her Monsters. Filled with cool illustrations as well as a captivating story, this one is a genuine treasure in my book.

On this blog, Emily Dexter and Carson TerBush will put their book recommendations to the test. Each week, one will challenge each other to read a book she has read before and enjoyed. The following week, they will judge the recommended book and then propose the next challenge. They hope to inspire new readers to read some new books. To read more, check out the Café Libro blog at