The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kim Edwards's The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards was born in Texas and raised in upstate New York. A graduate of Colgate University and the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, her short stories have been published widely in respected literary journals, and her collection The Secrets of a Fire King was a finalist for the 1998 PEN/Hemingway Award. Edwards sprang to national prominence in 2006 with her first novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which received a Barnes and Noble Discover award and went on to spend 20 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, and another 100 weeks moving up and down the charts. Edwards has stated that she’s drawn to writing about explorations of the past and the long-term effects of lingering secrets. She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky.
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Historical Context of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter spans a period of 25 years, as the events of the novel begin in 1964 and continue to unfold through 1989. Those 25 years in American history encompass some of the country’s most important social changes and conflicts, and throughout the novel, there are references to the Vietnam war, the Kent State massacre of 1970 (and the burning of the ROTC building at the University of Kentucky in Lexington in response to the Kent State shooting,) and the education reform of the 1980s. As the characters within the novel grow and age, the society they live in changes, too—the strict gender roles and repressive social atmosphere which mark the earlier portions of the novel give way to social protest and revolution, sexual liberation, and a more equitable education system for special-needs children like Phoebe.

Other Books Related to The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a massive bestseller which lingered for 122 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and was included in uncountable book clubs across the country, is in many ways an issues book—a novel which deliberately asks hard questions of its readers, often engaging them in an ethical dilemma and forcing them to confront the choices they might make were they placed in the characters’ shoes. David Henry’s decision to give away his Down syndrome-affected daughter Phoebe sparked a national conversation, and the book quickly joined the ranks of popular book-club reads like Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.
Key Facts about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
  • Full Title: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
  • When Written: 2000s
  • Where Written: Kentucky
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Literary fiction; family saga; coming-of-age tale
  • Setting: Lexington, KY and Pittsburgh, PA
  • Climax: After David Henry’s death, Caroline Gill travels to Lexington, Kentucky to inform Norah Henry that her daughter Phoebe is alive and well in Pittsburgh.
  • Antagonist: David Henry
  • Point of View: Third-person

Extra Credit for The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Inspiration. Rumor has it that Kim Edwards got the idea for the stranger-than-fiction premise at the heart of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter from a local pastor who told her a story about a man who, much later in life, discovered he’d had a twin brother with Down syndrome who’d been placed in an institution at birth.