age range: 8-12
genre / form: contemporary fiction; verse novel
topics: illness, disability (brain aneurysm)
Joanne Rossmassler Fritz’s website
A compulsively readable account of a young teen’s journey toward hope.
Engaging verse ferries vulnerable emotion as poet Fritz (Everywhere Blue) excavates hope from medical drama in this quietly powerful story about healing.
— Publisher’s Weekly
Please tell us about your book.
Is it wrong to grieve for someone who is still alive?
RUPTURED is a novel in verse. It’s the story of thirteen-year-old Claire, on vacation with her parents in Maine in the summer, when her mother suffers a ruptured brain aneurysm – right after telling Claire a secret. Will her mother live? Will the family survive this setback? Will Claire be able to handle the fear and grief of having a mother who is out of her mind? Will her mother remember the secret she confided in Claire?
One of my early reviewers called it an emotional journey, and I think that says it perfectly.
What inspired you to write this story?
I am a survivor of two ruptured brain aneurysms, twelve years apart. For those who don’t know, an aneurysm is a bulge or bubble in a weak spot on an artery. The constant pumping of blood through arteries makes the aneurysm grow bigger. Eventually, it can burst or rupture, sending blood into the brain and killing brain cells.
For me, the recovery period was long and difficult, especially with the second rupture in 2017, when my brain bleed was a 4 out of 5 on the Hunt and Hess scale. I was hospitalized and out of my mind for about six months.
Yes, I am extremely fortunate to be alive! But believe it or not, only about half of all ruptures lead to death. Most ruptures seal themselves temporarily. Many people don’t know this. I’m not a medical professional, but I believe the ruptures that can put you in a deep coma or kill you are the ones where the aneurysm doesn’t seal itself. When each of mine ruptured (and sealed itself), I then underwent a procedure called endovascular coiling to prevent it from rupturing again.
In that procedure, a neuroradiologist inserts a sheath or microcatheter into your femoral artery and all the way up to the brain, and using contrast dye and x-rays, guides the coils (they look a bit like tiny springs) into the aneurysm and packs them in tight. The packed coils stop the flow of blood into the aneurysm, so it won’t grow any bigger.
As the Brain Aneurysm Foundation says, “Aneurysms are Beatable and Treatable.” With continued research, and more brain scans for headache sufferers, I hope it will be possible to find more aneurysms before they rupture! Treating an unruptured aneurysm is much easier, and the recovery process is a lot faster.
I know many people who were lucky enough to find their aneurysms before they ruptured and had them repaired with coiling, a relatively simple procedure if you haven’t had a brain bleed! Others are repaired with craniotomies and clippings, which is a little more involved (after all, they’re cutting out a section of your skull, and temporarily removing it), but recovery is much faster than it used to be.
In 2019, I had brain surgery to repair a third aneurysm before it could rupture. That craniotomy and clipping meant only two days in the hospital and a few weeks recovering at home, instead of many months or years. I have many dents in my skull now, but that’s par for the course.
Could you share a few interesting tidbits about your writing process with this book?
Normally, I spend a year or more with the main character and the idea in my head. Once I have the story problem, I start a notebook. Just a plain spiral-bound notebook, and I use a different color for each book. For EVERYWHERE BLUE, my first published novel (the fifth I’d written), the notebook was, naturally, blue! For RUPTURED, my notebook was red. I fill the notebook with ideas, character sketches, images, metaphors. I spend a long time on my image systems, figuring out what leitmotifs would be best for the story. For this one, it was water and light. For EVERYWHERE BLUE it was music. I even make long lists of words, mostly verbs and nouns, for that image system. When I finally begin to write poems, I open a Word document.
EVERYWHERE BLUE took four and a half years to write, with twelve drafts.
But this book was different, because my wise and wonderful editor, Sally Morgridge, offered me a contract in June 2021 based on an idea and the first 5000 words of a very rough draft. Since I’m a pantser, not a plotter, I had only the vaguest idea of where the book would go and how it would end. And that changed by the second draft! The main character’s name changed in the second draft too, from Phoebe to Claire. I finished the rough draft in October 2021. We ended up with one major revision and two more minor ones, so altogether it was four drafts, over the space of a year. Sally guided me gently through every draft, making suggestions, but letting me find the story as I wrote. I handed in the last draft in October 2022.
And the tagline, “Is it wrong to grieve for someone who is still alive?” was the first line I wrote.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
Writing about brain aneurysms is something I’ve wanted to do for many years, since my first rupture in 2005. But finding the right approach was difficult. I actually tried twice before to write a YA novel (one in prose, one in verse) from the POV of a teen girl experiencing a brain aneurysm rupture. It was… excruciating! Too difficult to separate myself from the character. I never finished either one.
So I put it on a back burner and went on to write the book that became my debut novel in verse, EVERYWHERE BLUE. Just a few months before that book launched in 2021, I thought about the aneurysm novel possibility again. This time, I came up with the idea of separating myself from the action by having a young teen girl whose mother had the rupture. As soon as I had that “aha” moment, I started jotting ideas and even phrases and images, in a notebook. I knew that I was onto something and never looked back.
Another challenge was making sure it stayed fiction, and that I didn’t lapse into my own story anywhere along the way. For instance, the setting is a town very much like Boothbay Harbor, Maine, which is where both of my ruptures occurred, twelve years apart. So I changed the name of the town and a few of the details. I also spent a lot of time inventing the Sloan family, the father, the mother and Claire, an only child, and a story centered on them, not on my family at all. (I have two grown sons, no daughters.) Also, while I was revising, Sally had to remind me a few times that some of my phrases sounded like the author, not like Claire!
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Many topics! Poetry and imagery. Symbolism. The importance of libraries (and I mention some well-known middle-grade and YA books).
There is plenty here to start a discussion about family dynamics. Perhaps most importantly, there’s the challenge of having a parent who is ill or disabled.
My book also touches on friendship and how friends can help you through a difficult time in your life.
And finally, RUPTURED talks about famous paintings (because Claire’s mom works at an art museum), photography, and even cooking!