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Book Review

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and [parenting magazine] (https://store.focusonthefamily.com/singleitem/checkout/donation/item/goaa-thriving "magazine").

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Osteopath Dr. David Henry and his wife of one year, Norah, are expecting their first child. In the middle of a 1964 snowstorm, David drives through deep snow to his clinic with his wife, Norah. She is in labor. Her obstetrician was in a car accident and cannot deliver the baby.

David and his nurse, Caroline Gill, prepare Norah for the birth. Norah tells David that if the baby is a boy, he will be named Paul and if it is a girl, she will be named Phoebe. Norah gives birth to a healthy baby boy, but shortly thereafter, also gives birth to a small girl, who has obvious signs of Down syndrome.

David remembers his younger sister, June, who had a severe heart condition. She required much of his mother’s time and attention, and died young, causing his family grief. David makes the immediate decision to protect Norah and himself from the heartache of caring for and losing a sick child. He asks Caroline to take the girl baby and gives her specific instructions to travel to an institution where people with special needs are cared for.

Caroline, who is in love with David and shocked that he would ask her to do such a thing, takes baby Phoebe to the institution. She finds the conditions so deplorable that she takes the baby home. Caroline decides to keep Phoebe until David comes to his senses. When Norah wakes up after giving birth, David tells her that she gave birth to twins, but that the baby girl was stillborn and he already sent the body to be buried. Norah grieves for her daughter and suffers from post-partum depression.

Since Norah never saw Phoebe at birth, she yearns for closure and arranges for a public memorial service. Caroline sees the notice for the service in the paper and contacts David, telling him that she still has Phoebe. David is angry, knowing that his deception has gone too far. But he is unwilling to tell Norah and the world the truth.

He tells Caroline that what happens to Phoebe is her decision. Caroline decides to raise Phoebe as her own and leaves Kentucky, beginning a new life. Norah mourns Phoebe and becomes obsessed with the loss of the daughter she has never seen. While she loves and dotes on Paul, Norah begins to drink heavily. David, living with the intense guilt of what he has done, withdraws from his wife and son.

Caroline moves to Pittsburg and gets a job as a private nurse to an elderly man with dementia. She builds a life and support system for herself and Phoebe. She becomes an advocate for children with Down syndrome, lobbying for them to attend regular school with other children. Caroline’s unrequited love for David fades, and she meets a man, Al, and they marry.

Over the years, Caroline sends David letters with pictures of Phoebe, but with only a post office box for a return address. David sends only money to Caroline, until he writes back and asks to meet Phoebe. Fearing David wants Phoebe back, Caroline panics and stops writing.

Norah struggles to share her loss with David, but he refuses to talk about Phoebe, even denying Norah’s request that they try to have another child. Secretly, David is terrified that they will have another child with a disability, but he never shares those fears with Norah. The rift in David and Norah’s marriage grows wider. After Norah buys David a camera, the Memory Keeper, David becomes obsessed with photography. Norah begins to have affairs with other men.

Paul grows up emotionally neglected by both parents due to their being so crippled by their own pain. At 13, he finds out about his mother’s affairs and begins experimenting with drugs. He grows angry and defiant. Norah pours her time and energy into becoming a highly successful owner of a travel agency, and Paul defies his father by pursing his passion as a musician.

David becomes a successful photographer and holds an exhibit of his work at a museum in Pittsburg. Caroline attends the exhibit, surprising David. She angrily tells him how wrong he was all those years before, and he agrees. David wants to talk to her more, but while he is distracted, Caroline leaves.

David struggles to find her on the streets. Eventually he gets on a bus and travels to his dilapidated childhood home. There, he relives painful memories of losing his younger sister, June. David discovers a runaway in his old house, a pregnant teenager, Rosemary, whom he befriends and unburdens his secret about Phoebe.

After days of being missing, David returns home with Rosemary, refusing to turn her out or allow her to live in squalor. He and Norah argue, and Paul runs away, but he is soon found. Afterward, David moves out, and he and Norah get a divorce. He buys a duplex where he lives on one side of the home, with Rosemary living on the other side.

David treats her like his own daughter and Rosemary’s son, Jack, as his grandson. Rosemary urges David to tell Norah the truth about Phoebe, and he finally decides to do so when he sees her in person, but David suffers a heart attack and dies before he gets the chance. Paul and Phoebe are now 25 years old.

Norah, now engaged to be remarried and move to France, comes back to Kentucky to turn over David’s photography collection to museums. She goes through his prints and notices that David took hundreds of photos of girls who would have been Phoebe’s age at the time. She is saddened that David missed Phoebe as much as she did but never shared his grief.

Caroline visits the house and tells Norah the entire truth about Phoebe, who now wants to get married to her boyfriend, Robert, who also has Down syndrome. Norah is furious to know that David lied to her and burns some of his photo collection. Paul comes over to the house, and she tells him about his twin sister. Together, Norah and Paul travel to Pittsburg to meet Phoebe. Both offer her a life with them, but Phoebe tells them that she has her life, and she has her own mother.

Norah gets remarried, and both Paul and Phoebe participate in the wedding. Phoebe stays with Paul before going to France to visit Norah, while Caroline and Al are on vacation. Afterward, Paul takes Phoebe to David’s grave, and then he takes her home.

Christian Beliefs

Members of the church reach out to Norah after Paul’s and Phoebe’s births and offer her comfort and advice. She holds a memorial service at a church. On the way home from the police station, Norah stops at a church and unburdens her pent-up grief. She eventually gets remarried in that church. Norah’s sister, Bree, takes Norah to church. Bree is sick and on her church’s prayer list. Phoebe begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer at David’s gravesite. Phoebe was confirmed in church when she was 13 and loves to sing in church.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

David decides what is best for his family and makes decisions accordingly. He rationalizes his actions and lies to keep his secrets. David’s many secrets make it difficult for him to have an open relationship with his son, leaving Paul to believe that he was not loved and a disappointment to his father. Norah is a loving and overprotective mother to Paul, but she suffers from loneliness and depression, which Paul feels his entire life. Paul’s attitude toward his mother changes when he finds out about her affairs. He becomes angry and disrespectful toward her.

Caroline loves Phoebe fiercely and strives to get her everything she needs to have a happy and productive life. Caroline is also overprotective of Phoebe, and Phoebe strains for more independence.


Profanity includes s---, h---, b--tard, and d--n. Swearing includes taking God’s name in vain with good, my, thank and knows. Norah is drunk and cuts her foot on glass. She also drives drunk and crashes into a neighbor’s garbage can. Blood is depicted. Phoebe gets stung by a bee and has an allergic reaction. Al is in an accident with his truck and is hospitalized.


Norah kisses David passionately and tells him that she is ready to have another child, but he rebuffs her. Norah’s first affair is with Howard, whom the family meets while on vacation. While the three adults are having drinks on the darkened beach, Howard slips his hand in Norah’s apron and caresses her stomach.

The next day, while David and Paul are fishing, Norah goes to the villa to pose for a sketch by Howard. She strips naked on the beach and goes into the villa where they have sex. Returning from the fishing trip early, Paul goes for a run on the beach and finds Norah’s clothes in front of Howard’s villa. He returns from his run furious but silent, and David goes out to see what upset his son. He also finds the pile of clothes.

David blames himself for emotionally pushing Norah away and into an affair. Norah continues to have sex with Howard, who is also married with children, for the rest of the vacation. Over the years, she sleeps with different men.

Caroline is in love with David and was saddened when he marries Norah. Al asks Caroline to marry him repeatedly before she says yes. Caroline finds Phoebe and Robert together and stops them from kissing. Phoebe wants to marry Robert, but Caroline discourages it.

Paul thinks of a girl that he had sex with six times. His friends warned him not to get her pregnant. Sixteen-year-old Rosemary is pregnant and a runaway. Norah thinks Rosemary and David are having an affair, but they are not. As an adult, Paul lives with his girlfriend, but they break-up when he brings up the possibility of having children with her.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol and drugs: Characters drink alcohol and smoke marijuana.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

16 and up




Kim Edwards






Record Label



The Penguin Group


On Video

Year Published





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