The Memory of Light
(2016), a novel by Mexican-American author Francisco X. Stork, chronicles the healing process of a sixteen-year-old girl, Victoria Cruz, who wakes up in a hospital after an attempt to commit suicide. As she meets other people who share mental illnesses, Cruz comes to understand that everyone suffers from some degree of depression and responds to it uniquely. The novel is loosely based on Stork’s own experience dealing with depression and a suicide attempt in his youth.
The novel begins as Victoria Cruz comes to consciousness in Lakeview Hospital. She has foggy memories of being sent to the emergency room and remembers the unpleasantness of getting her stomach pumped. She had been admitted to the hospital after trying to kill herself by taking too many sleeping pills. Cruz’s doctor, Lina Desai, tells her that her childhood nanny, Juanita Alavarez, discovered her in the middle of her overdose and called an ambulance. Cruz tells Dr. Desai that Juanita is about to return to her home country, Mexico, because she suffers from arthritis. Cruz calls Juanita, who explains that she discovered her unconscious after hearing the meows of her cat, Galileo. Juanita asks Cruz why she tried to kill herself, but Cruz is at a loss for words. Juanita promises not to return to Mexico until Cruz comes home from the hospital.
Dr. Desai meets with Cruz’s stepmother and father and recommends that she remain at Lakeview for several weeks to undergo supervision. She also signs her up for group therapy, hoping that she will learn to manage her depression and avoid a future suicide attempt. Cruz is placed in a dormitory style room with another patient, Mona Salas. Mona explains that there are two other patients currently in therapy: E.M., who is working through violent tendencies, and Gabriel, who also suffers from depression. The four get lunch together, where Cruz tries to explain how she rationalized her suicide attempt. E.M. declares that suicide is a display of cowardice, while Gabriel sympathizes with Cruz, arguing that mental illness causes people to make destructive decisions that they would not normally make. Cruz finds that she feels comfortable opening up to her acquaintances.
The following morning, Cruz’s stepmother and father come to get her. They intend her to return to school while intermittently attending therapy sessions with a renowned psychiatrist in Austin named Dr. Sanez. Cruz rejects this plan, explaining that she feels she will quickly fall into bad shape again if she leaves her therapeutic environment. Dr. Desai sides with Cruz, convincing her father to let her stay despite his reluctance.
In the coming days, Cruz’s thoughts of suicide diminish. She also learns more about Gabriel, E.M., and Mona. Gabriel explains that he has never met his father, and lives with his grandparents. When his grandfather had a heart attack, he dropped out of school to help take care of the family. E.M. says little about his life, but suggests that he has a violent relationship with his father. Mona reveals that she has never met her father, and lives with her mother and stepfather, who both suffer from drug addictions. Her stepsister, Lucy, was taken by social services and relocated into a foster family. Recently, Mona has been searching for her sister, but to no avail. Cruz explains that her mother died when she was young after a two-yearlong battle with breast cancer. Her father married his office assistant, Barbara, shortly after. Cruz describes her memories of her mother, who loved poetry and board games.
As they learn each other’s life stories, every member of the therapy group begins to heal from their respective mental illnesses. At the novel’s end, they believe that they have established a strong mutual trust and helped teach each other self-acceptance. Mona, Gabriel, E.M., and Cruz leave the hospital but commit to staying in touch. The Memory of Light
suggests that mental health is a journey tied to socialization rather than a one-off treatment performed in solitude, achievable whether one is within or without a hospital’s walls.