There are a lot of books and stories out there about the dead or dying teenagers, but Lara Avery’s heart-breaking and life-affirming novel The Memory Book is a standout. Although the book is absolutely one about a teen with a terminal disease, it’s hard to think of it as a story about death, or a girl preparing for it. Rather, it’s a story about a young woman who is hanging on to hope, learning to live and love in the present when she had previously been far too focused on a future that she was never going to have.
In this beautifully written, emotional young adult story, Avery has crafted a journey of a young woman that will have you laughing and crying all at the same time.
Not only is Avery a writer, but she is also a teacher and has written branching narrative games for FoxNext, award-winning Young Adult novels for Alloy Entertainment, and her articles and essays appear in San Francisco Chronicle, Gay Mag, Pollen, ARTNews, and Women In Clothes.
In a recent and exclusive interview, Avery opened up about her writing and all things The Memory Book.
Q: How did you come up with the story for The Memory Book?
LA: My editor Annie Stone had researched Niemann Pick C and reached out to me because she knew I had family members with memory loss. We came up with Sammie’s story together and fell in love with her as a character the more I wrote in her voice. It should be noted that Sammie’s story is highly fictionalized. There are some NPC improbabilities, if not impossibilities. Through research and through important interactions with family members of those with NPC, I learned a lot. If you want to know more, check out: http://www.npcfund.org/
Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she’s going to win the national debating championship, then she’s going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she’d planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.
So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won’t wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.
Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it’s not the life she planned.
LA: My main goal in writing Sammie was to strike a tone of honesty. I am not a terminal patient myself, so I can’t write with accuracy, but I have seen and been close to death, so I tried to inhabit that place. Any sense of upbeatness came out of that effort, because from what I know, being ill does not always mean being sad. Life has its moments of joy and humor and silliness whenever humans are involved, breaking through the worst of times.
Q: Did you always plan to end the story the way you did, or did the ending come to you later?
LA: It was planned, which made the process of enjoying writing as Sammie all the more heartbreaking.
Q: When reading The Memory Book, I felt like there was a strong message in it about remembering to actually live your life and be fully present with the people you love, and who love you, in the process and not get too caught up in all the planning for the future. Was this deliberate?
LA: Absolutely. Whether you are healthy or not, life can be taken away so quickly. Now in the time of COVID we see that more than ever. Goals are not the only thing that should give life meaning. This is a lesson I have to learn over and over.
Q: Did you feel you related to any particular characters in The Memory Book?
LA: All of them are little parts of me!
Q: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
LA: A novel about a girl’s basketball team in Kansas. 🙂
Grab your own copy of The Memory Book here!