Tag Archives: Canadaian author

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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Review: Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

3 Jan

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: January 3th, 2011
Genre: Chick-lit, general fiction
Review copy from publisher

Anne Blythe is lucky. She’s got a brand new book contract, a great newspaper job and a steadfast best friend, and she can land just about any man she sets her sights on — and the ones that appeal are typically tall, dark and handsome.

Problem is, the men she chooses never last. Shortly after yet another relationship goes down in flames, Anne comes across a card for what she believes is a dating service, and pockets it just in case. If she’s so unlucky in love, maybe she could use a little assistance. Then her best friend announces she’s engaged, and envy gets the better of Anne. Now’s the time, she decides, to give the service a try — and she is shocked to discover that what the company specializes in are exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriages. After learning of the company’s success rate, however, she overcomes her reluctance and signs on. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, and she’s not done so well selecting a mate on her own. So why not use a professional service that claims it can produce the perfect match?

Some time later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort, where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack, the man they have chosen for her. And against all odds, it seems to be working out, until Anne learns that Jack and the company who arranged their marriage are not what they seem at all.

From HarperCollins Canada website.

 

So yesterday Catherine McKenzie’s first book, Spin, made it on my list of favorite reads for 2010. I know we’re only three days into 2011 but I can tell you that Arranged will make it on my best of 2011 list. I loved it that much. I stayed up until 3 am to finished it and immediately wanted to reread it again. Arranged may seem on the surface like a light “chick lit” read, but underneath it’s about more serious issues like loneliness, stability and trust. And it’s a book that I know will stick with me for a long time.

Anne Blythe isn’t always the most likable character in the world. She has a certain “type” of guy she’s into and she’s, well, kinda shallow when it comes to looks. For the first part of the book I spent a lot of time wanting to smack her upside the head. I mean, quit complaining that you can’t find a decent guy when you only go for men who have movie star looks. Honestly. But as the book went on, and McKenzie let me slowly see deeper into Anne’s psyche I felt a connection to the character that I rarely feel when reading. I think a lot of women are going to see aspects of themselves in Anne. I know I did.

Okay, here’s a bit of background on moi. You need to know it so that you can understand how fully and completely connected I felt with Anne by the time I got about half way through the book, and why I became so entrenched in her story and her happiness. The hubs and I met in a bit of an unconventional way: I answered his personal online ad . I was sick and tired of the dating game and wanted to meet someone I knew I’d be compatible with. I also wanted to avoid that awkward does-he-like-me-like-me stage when you first meet someone of the opposite sex. Since I was answering a personal ad, all I had to do was meet the guy, see if we clicked, and if we didn’t, so be it. Sure it’s not as serious of a commitment as an arranged marriage, but I could still identify with everything Anne was feeling pre and post wedding. For me the connection was at times painful, and some of the things Anne goes through broke my heart so bad that I had to set the book down for a bit and gather myself.

As an Island girl, I got a kick out of all the Anne of Green Gables reference. I mean, there’s no one on PEI who doesn’t have some kind of a connection to Anne. Most of us have the seen the musical. And, if like me, you’ve ever worked as an usher at The Confederation Center of the Arts, then you’ve seen the musical enough times to know it off by heart 15 years later.

The author’s writing was once again great. McKenzie has a straight-forward writing style that lends itself perfectly to the story. She has the amazing ability to handle some tough issues in a light way without being condescending, rude or awkward about it. In her books it seems effortless but I know that it must be hard to maintain that balance.

Arranged was way more romancy than Spin and -gasp- there may even be a bit of a sex scene it in, something that would normally turn the extremely prudish me off from finishing the book. But I felt such a strong connection to Anne and was so tied up in the plot and the writing was so great that I didn’t give a hoot. I loved the book despite the fact that it had elements in it that I normally don’t love. And that, my friends, is the sign of excellent writing, an amazing plot and stand out characters. All of which Arranged has.

Still not convinced this is a must read book? Browse inside Arranged and see for yourself.

Oh, and pop back to the blog because in the next week or so I’ll be hosting a Q & A with Catherine and giving away a copy of Arranged, thanks to HarperCollins Canada and The Savvy Reader.