September 29, 2014

The Memory Maze: The Hypnotists, Book 2

by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 9-14
August, 2014

Prolific award-winning author Gordon Korman hit last year's awards lists with the first book in his newest series The Hypnotists, the story of Jax Opus, a teen in middle school who learns he has inherited the ability to bend minds i.e., hypnotize others. Unfortunately the manipulative power-hungry Dr.  Elias Mako attempts to use Jax's gift to manipulate an election and Jax and his parents are forced to flee NYC to the relative anonymity of Connecticut, where The Memory Maze begins.

Now known as the Magnus family, Jax and his parents are living in a rundown house with  Jax's ally, Axel Braintree, whom they refer to as his uncle, but is the head of the Sandman's Guild of New York City. But giving up everything, including others' memories of them, is tough on the Opus family.  Mom is no longer working as a chiropractor but stays at home and endures Axel's endless array of exercises. Dad has gone from a Bentley dealership to a used car salesman. And Jax is now Jack and is trying to control his mesmeric abilities and not draw attention to himself, which becomes impossible when he starts winning chess games and even a tri-borough championship.

In fact, it's through his chess-playing that Jax is introduced to billionaire Avery Quakenbush, a 96-year-old man, who knows Jax's real identity. Quakenbush enlists Jax's services to stave off his imminent death by hypnotizing him so deeply that his body would enter statis, essentially hibernation, until a cure was ready to save him. With $500,000 being offered to his family who'd given up so much for him, Jax accepts Quackenbush's offer readily.

Axel knows that only Jax is gifted enough to take on Mako but, until he learns to control his mind-bending ability, he is a danger to himself and others.  Axel takes on the role of mentor to Jax, teaching him about the history of mesmerism and how to control his gift, while keeping tabs on his Sandman's Guild.  However, when some of the Sandmen start disappearing, Axel has yet another worry to occupy his mind.

Everything becomes muddled when Jax begins his regular hypnosis sessions with Quackenbush, reliving all of the billionaire's memories from his war experiences on the beach at Normandy, the hardships of the Great Depression, and his financial triumphs,  often emphasizing his relationship with his brother Oscar.  What begin as short, targeted mind-bending attempts become frighteningly real episodes of tragedy that last hours.

With the FBI on the hunt for the Vote Whisperer (i.e., the moniker they've given Jax; see The Hypnotists, Book 1 for details), a lip-reading neighbour questioning Jax's family dynamics, Quackenbush reliving 96 years of reminiscences, Sandmen disappearing in New York City, and, most importantly, Jax discovering memories of a brother named Liam, The Memory Maze is aptly titled.

The farce that is Jax's attempt to not bring attention to himself is balanced well with the realism of Quakenbush's life, having lived through many historical milestones and significant events.  The hilarity of the mind-bending that Jax and others perform, both innocently and deliberately, adds a lightness that is necessary when juxtaposed against tricking death and the burden of guilt.  Gordon Korman has always successfully introduced drama into humourous situations and humour into dramatic storylines, so that his young readers are able to enjoy a little bit of everything.  The Memory Maze accomplishes that as well, drawing the readers in with the amusement of mind-bending and Jax's own comic failings, but showing them the downside of that ability and the consequences of manipulating others.  If Gordon Korman didn't have a sense of humour, it would be rather frightening.

Luckily, one thing we do know at the conclusion of The Memory Maze is that Jax and his parents are on their way to a new adventure and we'll need to wait until Gordon Korman shares that one before we know whether our heart or funny bone will be aching.


Gordon Korman will be in attendance at Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair in November.


  1. Terrific review! You are such a wonderful writer, Helen. -- Monica Kulling

    1. Thanks, Monica. You are always so kind. --Helen

  2. I simply enjoy reading your writing, Helen. And I have a sneaky suspicion that you might write your own book one day, and I'll be the first in line to read and review it. -- Monica