Archive | September, 2018

Confessions of a Teenage Leper — Blog Tour

17 Sep

 

Publisher: Penguin Teen Canada
Released: Sept 25th,  2018
Genre: YA contemp
Source: ARC from publisher

 

Abby Furlowe has plans. Big plans. She’s hot, she’s popular, she’s a cheerleader and she’s going to break out of her small Texas town and make it big. Fame and fortune, adoration and accolades. It’ll all be hers. 

But then she notices some spots on her skin. She writes them off as a rash, but things only get worse. She’s tired all the time, her hands and feet are numb and her face starts to look like day-old pizza. By the time her seventeenth birthday rolls around, she’s tried every cream and medication the doctors have thrown at her, but nothing works. When she falls doing a routine cheerleading stunt and slips into a coma, her mystery illness goes into overdrive and finally gets diagnosed: Hansen’s Disease, aka leprosy. 

Abby is sent to a facility to recover and deal with this new reality. Her many misdiagnoses mean that some permanent damage has been done, and all of her plans suddenly come tumbling down. If she can’t even wear high heels anymore, what is the point of living? Cheerleading is out the window, and she might not even make it to prom. PROM!

But it’s during this recovery that Abby has to learn to live with something even more difficult than Hansen’s Disease. She’s becoming aware of who she really was before and what her behavior was doing to others; now she’s on the other side of the fence looking in, and she doesn’t like what she sees. . .

From Goodreads

 

I love when books take cliches and topes and approach them in a completely new way, making them something original again. “Mean girl has something happen that takes her down a notch and she redeems herself” has been done quite a lot in YA, but man, Confessions of a Teenage Leper, adds such a unique twist on it.

I had a feeling this was going to be a very different book, and it was. I loved finding out more about Hansen’s Disease and its history and I loved the coming of age aspect to the story, but what I absolutely adored was watching Abby’s relationships develop and deepen, especially the one she had with her brother.

This was a very addictive read and once I got into it, it was nearly impossible to put down.

I had a chance to ask Ashely a couple of questions and I am so glad that I did!

What made you decide to write about Hansen’s disease?

Kind of a long story, but while I was doing my undergraduate degree in creative writing, a prof assigned our class a historical fiction piece. So we had to find something in British Columbia’s history that interested us and then research it using three different sources (microfiche, interviews, encyclopedias, maps, etc. i.e. not the Internet) and then write a short story about it. I found out about a place called D’Arcy Island; a leper colony on a tiny island off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, not far from where I was going to university, in Victoria; it ran from 1891-1924. I did my research and wrote a short story from the perspectives of four men and one woman that had lived there. The idea had always stayed with me because it was so haunting, and the people sent there lived in really poor conditions and were basically sent there to die, not get better. So, about ten years later, I decided it was time to write a novel about D’Arcy Island; I went to the island and stayed three nights and visited the orchard they had kept and saw the foundations of the buildings that had housed them. I did about six months of research towards a historical fiction novel and sometime in the spring of 2015, June, I think, my friend sent me this article because he knew I was researching leprosy/HD, and it basically said that leprosy/HD is alive and well in the United States today in states like Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, because these states have high populations of armadillos and armadillos can transmit leprosy/Hansen’s Disease to humans and vice versa.

And that, just that one line about it still being a disease in these modern times — gave me the idea to do a young adult novel set in present day about a character who is very concerned with appearances and ends up contracting Hansen’s Disease. The whole novel shot into my mind like a single, focused, beam of light after reading that short article. And the next day, or maybe a few days later, Abby started talking to me and after that, there was no shutting her up.

What kind of research did you do for the novel?

Well, I mentioned that I stayed on D’Arcy Island; a former lazaretto. I went to the BC Archives and saw photos of the people who had lived on D’Arcy Island as well as some old newspaper articles about it and –fascinatingly– a letter from a concerned citizen to a doctor, pleading with the doctor to let a woman friend of his go to D’Arcy Island to care for these people (they had no nurses or medical care).

I also did a lot of secondary research through books and film. I read quite a few memoirs from people who had lived at Carville (the centre in Louisiana where Abby goes for treatment in the novel) and an excellent ethnography of Carville as well, which helped me get a lot of the small details right; the fact that Carville does their own Mardi Gras parade for example, and has special gold doubloons pressed for the occasion, featuring an armadillo on both sides. I liked that so I used it in the novel. I read a non-fiction book by a doctor who had worked with Hansen’s Disease sufferers in India for forty years. I read a great novel called Molokai about a young woman with Hansen’s Disease who is banished to Hawaii’s island of lepers, and the films, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, The Motorcycle Diaries, and a handful of documentaries. I called the Hansen’s Disease Treatment Center in Baton Rouge, the same one Abby goes to, and I told them I was writing a novel about this young woman who contracts HD, etc. and was it okay if I asked a few questions. They said sure and were glad to help me. So that’s how I confirmed a few final details that I needed to know for the novel.

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