The Memory Thieves

Darren Simpson

Nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2022

Shortlisted for: The Sheffield Children’s Book Award, the Portsmouth Book Award.

Winner of the Ysgol Bae Baglan Book Award 2022

The Memory Thieves

‘Gripped me from the very first page. Vivid storytelling, wonderful world-building and characters you’ll think about long after the end.’ Jasbinder Bilan, award-winning author of Asha and the Spirit Bird

Welcome to the Elsewhere Sanctuary. Situated at the heart of the remote and mysterious Island of Elsewhere, the sanctuary offers children and teens the chance to escape their troubles and forget their past lives. At the Elsewhere Sanctuary, no day is ever quite the same, with rooms, walls and corridors regularly shifting and reconfiguring. The resulting disorientation – along with medication and strobe treatment – is part of the Leathe Method, the sanctuary’s pioneering programme, led by its director, Dr Haven. On this sandy island of stranded ships, whale skeletons and ever-receding tides, there is no time or routine, no past or memory. Indeed, there are not even names, with all children being renamed after colours.

Cyan has lived at the sanctuary for as long as he can remember. Whenever curiosity about his past prickles, he needs only to open his locket. Like all residents, Cyan is required to carry this electronic locket at all times. One of its key functions – beyond aiding navigation through the sanctuary’s shifting corridors – is replaying footage of his younger self, crying, desperate and pledging his commitment to forgetting.

Cyan’s curiosity is rarely piqued, though. Life at the sanctuary is fun and carefree, with Cyan spending most of his days with his friends, Ruby and Teal. Plus things have become even more exciting since Ruby discovered a way to explore the dark, mechanical world between the sanctuary’s shifting walls. But when Cyan finds a warning carved into whale bone, and a new resident struggles to adapt to the sanctuary’s methods, Cyan starts to suspect that all is not as it seems, and decides it’s time for him and his friends to start remembering again. Dangerous schemes, blossoming friendships and dizzying chases soon ensue.

The Memory Thieves is fantastical and furiously ingenious middle grade adventure. It explores themes of memory, repression and institutionalised power, and is a story about friendship, trust, courage, and confronting the past.

‘Marvellously visual and gripping’ A. M. Howell

‘A highly original story of dark deceptions and fierce loyalties’ The Bookseller

Pacy, profound and original.’ Book of the Month, The Observer

‘Simpson combines fast-paced visual storytelling with a complex, thought-provoking message about coming to terms with the past.’ The Guardian, best new novels

‘From Scavengers author Darren Simpson comes The Memory Thieves (Usborne), a tense sci-fi thriller. In the Elsewhere Sanctuary, young residents, including Cyan, submit to Dr Haven’s memory modifications to escape deep-rooted trauma – but when Cyan finds a cryptic message carved into a whale skeleton, and sees a new arrival resist the regime, he begins to rebel, too. Simpson combines fast-paced visual storytelling with a complex, thought-provoking message about coming to terms with the past.’ The Guardian best children’s books round up

‘There are wonderful imaginative constructs here: buildings that transform, cruise-ships as playgrounds, whale bones for messages. Darren Simpson is like a combination of Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan for children: the writing tense, surreal and mind-bendingly imaginative. The characters of Cyan, Jonquil, Teal and the others are brilliant too, and their dialogue is some of the best I’ve read this year. This is a challenging and rewarding read, suited for the more able in Upper Key Stage Two and arguably as a crossover title from middle grade to YA.’ Chris Soul, writer, reviewer, teacher


  • Usborne Publishing World English
  • Timaş Yayınları Turkey
  • EKSMO Russia
  • WF Howes Audio

Material: finished copies 297pp