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The Memory Thief

Book #1 of Thirteen Witches
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“This expertly crafted story thrums with magic, love, and tense action.” —Booklist (starred review)

Perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, this fantastical and heartfelt first book in a new trilogy from critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson follows a girl who must defeat thirteen evil witches.

Twelve-year-old Rosie Oaks’s mom is missing whatever it is that makes mothers love their daughters. All her life, Rosie has known this...and turned to stories for comfort. Then, on the night Rosie decides to throw her stories away forever, an invisible ally helps her discover the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book that claims that all of the evil in the world stems from thirteen witches who are unseen...but also unstoppable. One of these witches—the Memory Thief—holds an insidious power to steal our most precious treasures: our memories. And it is this witch who has cursed Rosie’s mother.

In her quest to save her mom—and with her wild, loyal friend “Germ” by her side—Rosie will find the layers hidden under the reality she only thought she knew: where ghosts linger as shades of the past, where clouds witness the world, and a ladder dangles from the moon leading to something bigger and more. Here, words are weapons against the darkness, and witch hunters are those brave enough to wield their imaginations in the face of the unthinkable. The knowledge of her beloved stories is an arsenal in this world, but to unlock their power, Rosie must dare to have hope and believe in herself in the face of daunting odds.

Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1 Rosie
It’s on the night I burn my stories that the danger begins. Or maybe that a life begins that’s different from the one I knew before.

It starts with me and Germ, the way most things do. I am in the backyard reading Germ a story I wrote.

The story is about a woman asleep in a pile of white feathers. No matter how her daughter tries to wake her, the woman is so deeply asleep, she won’t stir. She sleeps for years and years and years.

Then one day the daughter finds a beautiful black iridescent feather buried deep amongst all the white ones. She plucks the black feather, and there is a shudder as all the feathers begin to move. And the girl sees that the pile was never a pile at all but instead that her mother has been sleeping on the back of a giant feathered beast who has been holding her captive and enchanted.

The girl’s mother stirs as the beast does. She tumbles off the back of the beast, and together they escape to a remote village at the edge of the earth. Safely hidden, they live happily ever after.

Germ listens in silence and stares out at the ocean as it crashes against the rocks far below my yard. She wraps her coat tighter around herself to ward off the early fall chill. She’s got a new look today—thick black eyeliner. It looks weird, and Germ is clearly aware of this, because she keeps swiping at it with her thumb to wipe it away. She’s trying to look older but not doing a very good job. I don’t know why she tries, because her eyes are pretty as they are.

When I finish and look up at Germ, she frowns out at the water, her brows lowering uncertainly. I can predict something like 1,021 of Germ’s moods, and I can tell she’s reluctant to say what she’s thinking.

“What?” I ask. “You don’t like it?”

“I do,” she says slowly, stretching and then settling herself again, restless. (Germ never looks natural sitting still.) Her cheeks go a little pinker. “It’s just…” She looks at me. She scratches the scar on her hand where—at my request—we both cut ourselves when we decided to be blood sisters when we were eight. Her freckles stand out the way they do when she’s feeling awkward.

“Don’t you think we’re getting too old for those kinds of stories?”

I swallow. “What kinds of stories?”

“Well…,” Germ says thoughtfully, “the mom waking up.” Germ looks sheepish. “The happy ending. Fairy tales.”

I look down at the paper, my heart in my throat, because it’s so unexpected. Germ has always loved my stories. Stories are how we met. And what’s the point of writing a story if there isn’t a happy ending?

“It’s just…” Germ flushes, which again makes her freckles stand out. “We’re in sixth grade now. Maybe it’s time to think about real life more. Like, leave some of the kid stuff behind us.”

If anyone else said this to me, I would ignore them, but Germ is my best friend. And she has a point.

Suddenly I find myself studying the two of us—Germ in her eyeliner and the plaid coat she saved all of last year’s Christmas money for; me in my overly large overalls, my too-small T-shirt, my beloved Harry Potter Lumos flashlight hanging around my neck like a bad fashion accessory. I’ve been doing this more and more lately, noticing the ways Germ seems to be getting older while I seem to stay the same.

“Well, I’ll revise it,” I say lightly, closing my notebook. Germ lets her eyes trail off diplomatically, and shrugs, then smiles.

“It’s really clever, though,” she says. “I could never come up with that stuff.”

I knock her knee with mine companionably. This is the way Germ and I rescue each other—we remind each other what we’re good at. Germ, for instance, is the fastest runner in Seaport and can burp extremely loud. I’m very short and quiet, and I’m stubborn and good at making things up.

Now Germ leaps up like a tiger, all athletic energy. “Gotta get home. Mom’s making tacos.” I feel a twinge of envy for Germ’s loud, busy house and for the tacos. “See you at school.”

Reaching the driveway, she hops onto her bike and peddles away at top speed. I watch, sad to see her go, and thinking and thinking about what she said, and the possibility of a choice to make.

Inside, the house is dim, and dust scuttles through the light from the windows as I disturb the still air. I walk into the kitchen and tuck my story away into a crevice between the fridge and the counter, frowning. Then I make dinner for me and my mom: two peanut butter and banana sandwiches, some steamed peas because you have to eat vegetables, Twinkies for dessert. I use a chair to climb up to the top shelf over the counter and dig out some chocolate sauce to drizzle onto the Twinkies, scarf my meal down—dessert first—and then put everything else on a tray and carry it up two flights of stairs.

In the slanted attic room at the end of the third-floor hall, my mom sits at her computer, typing notes from a thick reference booklet, her long black hair tucked behind her ears. Her desk is littered with sticky note reminders: Work Eat. Take your vitamins. On her hand she has scribbled in pen simply the word “Rosie.”

“Dinner,” I say, laying the tray down on the side of her desk. She types for a few more minutes before noticing I’m there. For her job, she does something mind-crushingly boring called data entry. It’s mostly typing things from books onto a computer and sending them to her boss, who lives in New York. There is a sticky note on the corner of her computer where she’s written down the hours she’s supposed to be typing and the contact information of her boss; she never stops early or late.

Against one wall, a small TV stays on while she works, always on the news. Right now there’s a story about endangered polar bears that I know will break my heart, so I turn the TV off; Mom doesn’t seem to notice. She does that strange thing where she looks at me as if adjusting to the idea of me.

Then she turns her eyes to the window in dreamy silence. “He’s out there swimming, waiting for me,” she says.

I follow her eyes to the ocean. It’s the same old thing.

“Who, Mom?” But I don’t wait for an answer because there never is one. I used to think, when I was little, she was talking about my dad, a fisherman, drowned at sea before I was born. That was before I realized that people who were gone did not swim back.

I fluff up the bed where she sleeps to make it look cozy. She sleeps in the attic because this is the best room for looking at the ocean, but her real room is downstairs. So I’ve decorated this one for her, lining the shelf with photos of my dad that I found under her bed, one of my mom and dad together, one of me at school, a certificate of archery (from her closet) from a summer camp I guess she used to go to.

I don’t have my mom’s artistic skills, but I’ve also painted lots of things on the walls for her. There’s something I’ve labeled Big Things about Rosie, which I’ve illustrated with colored markers. It stretches across years, and it’s where I write the things I think are big and important: the date when I lost my first tooth, the date of a trip we took to Adventure Land with my class, the time I won the story contest at the local library, the day I won the spelling bee. I’ve decorated it with flowers and exclamation points so that it will get her attention. I’ve also painted a growth chart keeping track of my height (which goes up only very slowly—I’m the shortest person in my class). I’ve also drawn a family tree on the wall, though it’s all just blanks except for me and my mom and dad. I don’t know about the rest of my family. I guess we don’t really have one.

Still, as strange as it may sound, none of it means anything to her—not Big Things about Rosie, not the family tree. It’s as if none of it’s there. Then again, most of the time it’s as if I’m not here either.

“Tell me about the day I was born,” I used to say to her, before I knew better.

I knew the when and where of my birth, but I wanted to know what it had felt like to see me for the first time. I wanted to hear my mom say that my arrival was like being handed a pot of gold and a deed to the most beautiful island in Hawaii (which is what Germ’s mom says about her).

But eventually I gave up. Because she would only ever look at me for a long time and then say something like, “Honestly, how could I remember something like that?” Flat, exasperated, as if I’d asked her who had won the 1976 World Series.

My mom doesn’t give hugs. She’s never excited to see me after school or sad to see me leave for the bus. She doesn’t ask me where I’ve been, help me shop, tell me when to go to bed. I’ve never in my life heard her laugh. She has a degree in art history, but she doesn’t ever talk about her professors or what she learned. She never says how she fell in love with my dad or if she loved him at all.

Sometimes when she’s talking to me, it’s as if my name is on the tip of her tongue for a while before she can retrieve it. Before meetings with my teachers or my pediatrician, she asks me how I’m doing in school and how I’m feeling, as if to catch up before a test. It’s all she can do to keep track of the facts of me.

I’ve known for a long time that my mom doesn’t look at me the way most moms look at their kids—like a piece of light they don’t want to look away from. She barely looks at me at all.

Still, I love her more than anyone else on earth, and I guess it’s because she’s the only mom I have. My paintings on her wall are one of my many ways of trying to love her into loving me back. And I guess my stories are my way of pretending I can change things: a pretend spell and a pretend beast and a pretend escape to somewhere safe together. And I guess Germ is right that they’re never going to work.

And the thing that bothers me is, I’ve been thinking that too.

I head out into the hall. I flick my Lumos flashlight on because one of the chandelier bulbs has burned out, and go down the creaky old stairs to the basement. I throw a load of laundry in, then run up the stairs two at a time because the basement gives me the willies.

On my way through the kitchen, I pick up my story from where it’s wedged by the counter.

I have a plan.

And, though I don’t mean it to, it’s my plan that makes it all begin.
Reading Group Guide for

Thirteen Witches, Book 1:

The Memory Thief

By Jodi Lynn Anderson

About the Book

Why doesn’t Rosie’s mother remember her own daughter? Why doesn’t she hug Rosie or laugh with her? After years of being sad about it, twelve-year-old Rosie learns that a witch called the Memory Thief cursed her mother long ago. Rosie and her best friend, Germ, can suddenly see ghosts in Rosie’s house and around their small Maine town. With the help of Ebb, a fourteen-year-old ghost, the girls scheme to remove the curse. But the Memory Thief and her powerful companion witches hate humans. How can Rosie and her friends defeat them? Rosie, who loves to write stories of magic, must turn to her greatest strength to save herself and her mother from total destruction.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the prologue and how it foreshadows important parts of the story, citing specific connections. What main characters does the prologue introduce? How does it create atmosphere? Why do you think the author chose to include it instead of just starting with chapter one?

2. “I’m very short and quiet, and I’m stubborn and good at making things up.” Rosie describes herself this way early in the story. How accurate do you think this is? Which of her actions support the description? Does she change over the course of the book? What else would you add to her character description?

3. Why is Germ so important to Rosie? Describe their relationship. What are Germ’s strengths and talents? What is her family like? Why do the other kids at school want to be around her? Describe what’s going on with Germ and Bibi, and how Rosie feels about it.

4. Why is Rosie worried that Germ is “losing that strange, wild, fighting-spirit piece of herself that makes us fit together so perfectly”? When does the story reveal that “strange, wild” part of Germ? Give examples of when the two of them fit together so well. What are signs that Germ is changing? Do you ever feel this way with any of your friends?

5. Discuss Rosie’s mother. How does she treat Rosie for most of the story? Why does she do this? What does Rosie learn about her mother’s background and her earlier adventures? How has Rosie’s mother changed by the end of the book, and how is she still the same? Compare and contrast Rosie’s mother and Germ’s mother.

6. Discuss the scene where Rosie burns her stories. Why has she written these stories? Why does she burn them? How does her decision relate to Germ? What are the consequences of burning them? Do you agree or disagree with her choice?

7. Rosie says that one thing her stories do is to “fill in a half of me that’s missing.” Find other places in the novel where she talks about feeling like something is missing. How does that feeling turn out to be related to the hospital and the day she was born? How is it related to her mother gazing out to sea?

8. Who is Ebb, and what is his history? How do Rosie and Germ get to know him? How does he help Rosie? What motivates him to assist, and how does it put him in danger? Describe his role in going with Rosie to find the Memory Witch’s home.

9. Who is the Murderer, and what is his history? What is his connection to Rosie’s house and to St. Ignatius Hospital? Why is Rosie afraid of him? Why does Rosie think that doing a good deed might help the Murderer? Do you agree or disagree with her?

10. Where is the novel set, and how is it important? Do you think the story could have been set in a different place or time and still have felt the same? Explain your answer. Where do the witches live? Describe the Memory Witch’s home. Describe the Moon Goddess’s home and how to get there.

11. Identify ghosts other than Ebb and the Murderer. Who else lives at Rosie’s house? Who is Homer, and what does he look like? What is Rosie’s initial reaction to him, and how does that change? What is the story of his past? Describe the cemetery and the other ghosts there.

12. Discuss the Memory Witch and the Time Witch, and what you learn about them in the prologue. What does Rosie find out from Ebb and Homer about the other witches? Describe the Moon Goddess. What are the witches’ relationships to the Moon Goddess? How does Rosie interact with the goddess?

13. Describe Rosie’s journey to reach the Memory Witch’s home. What role does Ebb play in the journey? Why doesn’t Germ go down the tunnel with Rosie and Ebb? Give details about how Rosie defeats the Memory Witch. What kind of skills or character traits does she rely on that are helpful to her?

14. The spider, Fred, turns out to be vital to Rosie’s success. Describe Fred, his past, and how he ends up with Rosie when she enters the Memory Witch’s home. What does he do to help her? How do his skills make a difference? If you’re familiar with the book Charlotte’s Web, draw a comparison between Charlotte and Fred.

15. Books matter a lot to Rosie. How have they helped her and made her life better? What kind of books does she particularly love? Name the books that her mother takes back from Rosie’s room, and explain why her mother removes them.

16. Describe The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe. How does Rosie learn about it? Who wrote and illustrated it? Talk about the “hidden and invisible fabric that permeates the world” that is discussed in the guide. Why does the guide say, “Imagination is a piece of the hidden fabric that only humans can wield”? How is the topic of imagination explored throughout the novel?

17. How does the novel end? Did the ending surprise you? What role do Ebb and Wolf have in motivating Rosie? What do Rosie and Germ intend to do as the book closes? How do you think their mothers will react? How has each of them changed since the book opened? How has their friendship changed?

18. What does Germ mean when she says, “‘It’s my world, too, Rosie . . . And I want to fix it.’” Why does Rosie then think, “I’m not the only one who’s been trying to choose between doing nothing and doing something.” Find indications earlier in the book that Germ is worried about the world. What are her concerns?

Extension Activities

1. The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe describes thirteen witches. Invite each student to create a fourteenth witch to add to the guide. They should write a description based on the guide’s format that includes a curse, skills, familiars, and victims. Students should also draw a picture of the witch. Create a classroom book of these witches.

2. The novel is filled with figurative language that paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. Below are some examples. Have students discuss their imagery and then find five more examples that they like from the book. They should write a sentence or two about each example, commenting on the imagery, the comparison that’s being drawn, and why they like it.

“like spinning grass into gold” (chapter two)

“Germ is bottled lightning.” (chapter three)

“a strange, sea-urchin feeling prickling in my chest” (chapter six)

3. Gather copies of Where the Wild Things Are, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. Have students meet in small groups to read the stories and discuss how the stories relate to The Memory Thief. Ask students to think of other stories about lost children, and then talk about why the theme of lost children is common in fairy tales.

4. Ask students to write an essay reflecting on the conversation Rosie has with her mother about art. Rosie’s mother says, “‘like poetry and stories—art is a way of looking for something true.’” She continues, “‘A great man once said, “An artist is here to disturb the peace.”’” Students should address how the conversation relates to the novel, and explore the role of poetry, stories, and art in their own lives.

5. BookSnaps are ways for students to respond to a page of text by photographing or writing down the selection and annotating it. Have students choose a page from The Memory Thief and create a BookSnap to share with classmates. Annotations can be made by circling, underlining, or adding words, or by adding emojis. Students should note imagery, vocabulary, tone, or other ways the author conveys the story. Find how-to videos using different online tools here: tarammartin.com/resources/booksnaps-how-to-videos/.

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a youth librarian for seventeen years who chaired the 2002 Newberry Award Committee. She now gives all-day workshops on new books for children and teens. She tweets at @kathleenodean.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photo Credit:

Jodi Lynn Anderson is the bestselling author of several critically acclaimed books for young people, including the May Bird trilogy and My Diary from the Edge of the World. She lives with her husband, son, and daughter in Asheville, North Carolina, and holds an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College. 

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. 336p. (Thirteen Witches: Bk. 1). S. & S./Aladdin. Feb. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481480215.

Gr 4-8–Growing up with an indifferent mother, Rosie quickly learns to take care of herself and find the love she seeks in her own stories, which she shares with her best friend. When she decides that she is too old for storytelling, she unknowingly opens up her inherited power of “sight.” Rosie comes from a long line of witch hunters who have the ability to see deeper into the world around them. She learns of witches, ghosts, a moon goddess, and how dangerous her life may become. Coming face-to-face with one of the 13 original witches, Rosie has to learn her place and powers in this new world. Anderson weaves a beautiful tale of beauty and darkness. This larger world is described eloquently in its magical details and terrifying dangers. Readers will come to understand the importance of love, friendship and imagination, while being warned against those who feed off of these good parts of the world. This first book in a new series ends on an intriguing note for future titles. VERDICT For fans of Cornelia Funke’s “Inkheart” and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, fantasy fans will have much to enjoy with this one.–Julie Jesernik, Warrenville P.L., IL

– School Library Journal, December 2020

It’s always been up to Rosie to make sure things get done around the house, because her mom simply can’t. Existing in fog of forgetfulness, her mother spends her days in the attic office doing data entry and staring out at the sea. Otherwise, the sixth grader is going through typical tween growing pains, chief among them the worry that her best friend, Germ, is outgrowing their friendship. This fear prompts Rosie to destroy her notebooks of “childish” stories, unintentionally activating an ability to see magic in the world around her. Ebb, a ghost who lives in her house, fills in many blanks for Rosie about her mother’s past and her own destiny as a witch hunter. Rosie doesn’t have much time to absorb this information before she has to confront the Memory Thief, the witch who stole her mother’s memory on the night of Rosie’s birth. Anderson skillfully applies this layer of magic to a relatable story of growing up and coming into one’s own. The dynamic between Rosie and Germ rings true in both its reliability and its newly felt strain, and Anderson’s malevolent witches are truly unsettling. First in the Thirteen Witches series, this expertly crafted story thrums with magic, love, and tense action, and it’s a sure bet for Joseph Delaney or Kelly Barnhill fans.

– Booklist STARRED Review, January 1, 2021

A girl uncovers family secrets and faces off against a witch called the Memory Thief.

Sixth grader Rosie wishes her cold, neglectful mother loved her—readers know from the prologue that her mother’s under the Memory Thief’s powerful curse—and copes by writing fairy-tale–esque stories. But when Rosie’s bold best friend, Germ, starts growing up faster than Rosie, she worries she’ll be left behind. Deciding to set aside her childish things, she burns her stories; in doing so, she awakens her sight, which allows her to see all the ghosts in her house. Friendlier ghosts lead her to her mother’s hidden witch hunter’s manual and educate her on her family’s long, tragic quest against the 13 evil witches who counter the good Moon Goddess. But the sight also draws the attention of the Memory Thief’s servants, bringing the witch directly up against Rosie. With help from Germ and a ghost friend, Rosie must learn how her mother protected her as a baby and obtain a weapon to use against the witch. The will-they-grow-apart friendship storyline is handled with love and nuance. The magical plot requires lots of exposition but reads quickly. At times, development of the themes—for example, the magic and power of stories—can be a little heavy-handed, but readers who connect with Rosie likely will benefit from such reassurances. After the resolution, the stakes are ramped up to tease sequels. Whiteness is situated as the default.

A bighearted adventure. 

– Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2021

On the night Rosie Oaks was born, her witch hunter mother managed to hide her from the Memory Thief and the Time Witch, two of thirteen embodied cosmic forces of darkness and human suffering. They took Rosie’s twin brother, though, and left her mother without memories. When aspiring storyteller Rosie exhibits the ability to see the magical and spiritual layers of the everyday world, it’s up to her to defeat the Memory Thief to protect herself and try to cure her mother’s amnesia. Readers will feel their heartstrings tugging as Rosie makes the best of having to be the present, responsible one in their family of two. Her fear of losing best friend Germ to popularity and her awkwardness around Ebb, a helpful boy (even if he is a ghost), speak to solidly middle-grade social dynamics. The witches are too vaguely defined to be really effective villains or metaphors for worldly ill, but they may be developed in subsequent volumes of the series. Ultimately, the forces of evil (and teenagerhood) prove no match for faithful friendship and inner strength, and Rosie procures both a happy ending and the beginning of a new adventure to be continued. The emphasis on stories as vehicles for hope and empowerment will speak to anyone who’s ever found comfort in a book.  FHK

– BCCB, February 1, 2021

In this heavily allusive fantasy set in coastal Maine, narrator Rosie, an avid fantasy writer, lives alone with her neglectful mother, leaving herself parental notes (“You look taller today, sweetie”). When her best friend, assertive and athletic Germ, suggests that the new sixth graders abandon childish things, Rosie burns her stories, inadvertently unlocking a special sight that reveals the ghosts—some friendly, some menacing—coexisting in her home. Helping to locate an old volume, The Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, the ghosts disclose the existence of 13 witches who conjure the world’s evil, Rosie’s mother’s past as the last known witch hunter, and the root of Rosie’s mother’s neglect in the covetous Memory Thief’s curse. But the sight also places Rosie, and others, in danger of that witch and her emissaries. In this novel of ghosts, memory, and story, Anderson (Midnight at the Electric) weaves components of children’s literature mainstays into a dreamlike first-person narrative. Though reveals are clearly telegraphed, an atmospherically rendered villain and a layered portrait of two friends intent on rescuing each other elevate this trilogy opener. Ages 9–13. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Mar.)

– Publishers Weekly, March 1, 2021

More books from this author: Jodi Lynn Anderson