Reviewed by Shruthi Rao
Title: Memories Cached
Author: Cameron Su
Publishers: Cameron Su (co-funded via the Act!on for a Cause programme of Kids4Kids Hong Kong)
Across the world, there are tremors of the beginnings of a youth movement, sparked by young people tired of the status quo – teenagers who are no longer satisfied with sitting around and waiting for adults to do things for them; youngsters who want change, and are not afraid to take on any situation by the horns.
There is still a considerable amount of eye-rolling about millennials and disapproving head-shakes at ‘this new generation’ that will ‘never amount to anything’. I believe that this attitude is unfair to those young people out there who are actually standing up and making a difference.
Cameron Su is one such person. He is a 17-year-old high school student in Hong Kong, who wants to tackle the issue of bullying through his book Memories Cached. Set in a high school in Singapore (which is ranked by a study as third in the world in bullying among 15-year-olds), Memories Cached takes the reader through a few months in the life of a handful of high school kids on the cusp of college. Dominic Chiu is a regular high school guy who, on a dare, kisses his girlfriend in school. Savannah Dixon, another high school student, captures it on her camera, and on an impulse, uploads it on YouTube. The video promptly goes viral.
Dominic is now in trouble, both from the principal (PDA is banned in the school!) and from Ryan Chang, the school bully and the brother of Talinda, the girl he kissed.
The rest of the book takes us through the repercussions of this incident, in two POVs – that of Dominic Chiu, and that of his cyber bully, Savannah Dixon. Savannah’s POV is interesting. It highlights the reason why she chose to upload the video, her almost-immediate regret but with the knowledge that once a video is out there, she has no control over it. It takes us through her insecurities, her wanting to fit in, and makes us feel sorry for her. She wants to make amends, however, and at the end, she redeems herself.
This incident in the book highlights a very important aspect – that a private moment that would’ve gone unnoticed or uncommented upon in an earlier era is now potentially in the public domain, up for everybody to see. You need to have eyes at the back of your head; if you drop your guard for a moment your privacy is not yours any longer.
The book is a breezy read. There are umpteen moments of humour, some in unexpected ways and places, and they actually made me break into laughter many times. Pithy, witty observations on teachers, other students, parents and situations add to the charm of the novel.
There are also moments of deep wisdom and astute observations that made me pause and think, and this is remarkable in the writing of a young person. There is also some excellent imagery. The storytelling is compelling and well-paced. Some sentences, consisting of just one word, or two-three words, create a sense of immediacy. Su knows how to use dialogue to propel the story forward, to keep the reader interested, without overwhelming the reader. The characters introspect quite often, and these moments inside the brains of the two characters serve two purposes: one, they provide respite from the energy and speed of teen-speak; they give the reader peeks into the situation from two perspectives, thus making it more real.
Dominic’s voice is very real and strong. One cannot say the same for Savannah’s voice, but Su has overcome that by italicizing passages that are in Savannah’s POV. The book also brings out the dynamics of a high school very well. Even though the situations are very different from what they were during my own teens, I was transported back to the time and could relate to many of the feelings and situations. ‘I’m not old enough to facilitate my own decisions, yet I’m not young enough to be deemed innocent.’ How many of us haven’t felt this way growing up?
Su still has a long way to go in terms of his writing, but the potential is evident. However, the book could have used a thorough edit. I wanted to pick up the book and shake out all the wordiness from it. Some sentences feel like the author took trouble to insert a difficult, long word where a smaller, simpler word would do. Also, there are some obvious plot holes (the bully takes things out on Dominic much later even though he had ample opportunity to hurt him or accost him beforehand, even sharing the same room with him at camp). There are other simple, yet glaring discrepancies that could easily have been avoided.
I also wish there had been a little more information on how Talinda, the girl Dominic kissed, felt about all this. Not another POV – that would have been too much – but an inkling of her state of mind wouldn’t have been out of place.
There was a missed opportunity here, to bring in another aspect of cyber bullying in which a person is bullied online by threatening messages or mean rumours. You can run home to escape from a traditional bully, but there’s no escape from a cyber bully. Maybe Savannah herself could have been the victim of a societal backlash online. Or perhaps Talinda and Dominic’s kiss could have been blown up, their actions questioned and rumours spread about them. It would have added another layer, raised more awareness about cyber bullying, and perhaps made the novel more effective.
It is to the credit of the author, though, that these drawbacks don’t take away from the experience of the book. Cameron Su was one of the students who won the Powered by Youth/Action for a Cause programme by Kids4Kids in Hong Kong. This book was published in part by grants that he received from this programme. And the proceeds from the sale of the book will go as a donation to Kids4Kids. Not only that, over the next couple of years, the author plans to collaborate with Kids4Kids and child psychiatric professionals to spread the word in private and public schools of Hong Kong on the effects of bullying. More power to him.
Shruthi Rao has published four books for children. Her short fiction has won multiple awards and has been published widely, both in print and online. Her essays on travel, science, culture, lifestyle, and parenting have been published in National Geographic Traveller India, Huffington Post, BLink, Scroll.in, Livemint, The Hindu, etc.