Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
Kim Edwards

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve been working my way through fiction set in Pennsylvania and just finished The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. First published in 2005, the story begins in 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky. Norah and David Henry, newly married are expecting their first child. On a snowy night, Norah goes into labor and David, who is a doctor, takes them to his clinic where the obstetrician will meet them. Because of the weather, the obstetrician doesn’t make it and David delivers a son they name Paul. To their shock, Norah gives birth to a second baby, a girl. As soon as she’s born, David recognizes that the baby has Down Syndrome and believes she will not survive long. While Norah is unconscious from the last dose of ether, he quickly hands the baby to his nurse, Caroline, and instructs her to take the baby to a home for the disabled. When Norah wakes, David tells her she had twins but that their daughter died. They name their lost baby Phoebe and move on with their lives. The title refers to a camera Norah gives David on an early anniversary, called the “Memory Keeper.” David becomes obsessed with taking pictures, perhaps to escape the real world.

Instead of giving her away, however, Caroline takes Phoebe to Pittsburgh and decides to raise the baby as her own. While Norah mourns their daughter and Paul grows up without his sister, David resolves never to tell. Readers learn David’s backstory and his reason for giving Phoebe away, an explanation of sorts. Meanwhile, Caroline keeps in secret touch with David, sending him updates and pictures, but mailing them from random locations so he can’t trace her. And David sends her money, to Post Office boxes her truck driver boyfriend has set up across the country.

Because of what hangs over the Henry family, David, Norah and Paul suffer in unforeseen ways, and they grow distant from one another. The story concentrates on the Henrys, but follows both families for twenty-five years.

The author also shows the difficulties of raising a child with Down Syndrome during the 1960s and 70s. Caroline becomes an advocate for children with learning challenges and fights for Phoebe’s right to a public education. As Phoebe grows to adulthood, Caroline must make important decisions about Phoebe’s future. The author does a good job showing Phoebe as a strong-minded young woman who falls in love and wants a life of her own. Caroline worries about Phoebe but knows she must plan for a time when Phoebe moves out.

That’s the premise of a story that starts out great, but loses steam as the characters settle into their lives. I became frustrated by several unrealistic plot lines and connections that no actual person would accept or make. So just an okay book, with a fair amount of repetition and a lot of minute description that makes the book overly long.

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39 thoughts on “Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

  1. I read this many years ago and then saw the movie. From what I recall, I think this was one of the rare instances where I liked the movie better. I loved the little girl who portrayed Phoebe.

    1. Hi Jill – I didn’t realize it was a movie – I’ll have to look for it. Thanks for reading and commenting – hope you’re not getting as much rain as we are right now!

    1. Hi there Mischenko! Great to see you here 🙂 Yes, I re-read it because I’m doing a virtual book chat for work on books set in Pennsylvania, so I wanted to get a few under my belt. I remember thinking it was okay the first time, but forgetting much about the plot. I finished with the same feeling – it was just okay and a little too long. Thanks for stopping by – hope you are doing well!

  2. Interesting to read your review- I read this book when it first was published and only remember thinking “I don’t think I can ever write a book like this.”

    1. Hi Betsy – thanks – I’m an upbeat happy person, but you can’t like everything. I appreciate you saying this. Hope your kiddies are saying or doing something cute 🙂

  3. I’ve never read this book because most of my friends who did read it didn’t care for it. This review sounds familiar, oddly enough. Ditto what Betsy, too.

  4. I read this book a long time ago and I’m vague on the details — but I think my reaction was in line with yours. After a strong start, I know I felt like there were elements that didn’t make sense or just didn’t convince me. Nice to revisit a book from my reading past!

    1. Hi Lisa, yes this was a big book club book as I remember. Some of the plot lines were a little crazy, but it is fun, like you say, to revisit books from our reading pasts!

  5. I think that is often the problem with books that have a message…the message takes center stage, and the plot and characterization suffer. Personally, I prefer character driven books that have a message as a result. They feel more real to me, and have a greater impact.

  6. EXACTLY what I thought. Great premise, not all that well executed. I read this when it came out, and was so excited about it, but then… it fizzled out for me as well.

    1. Hi Davida – it was a long time ago – lots of books between then and now, but I had the exact same experience reading it a second time. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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