age range: 12 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
A tender, often funny tale, this story’s heartbreaking ending packs no less of a punch even though readers are prepared for it. — Kirkus Reviews
Rife with compelling contemporary issues, this novel delivers a heartfelt story to a diverse readership. — School Library Journal
Please tell us about your book.
My publisher did a great job of describing 100 DAYS, so I’ll just go ahead and use the synopsis from the Macmillan website:
Agnes doesn’t know it, but she only has one hundred days left to live. When she was just a baby, she was diagnosed with Progeria, a rare disease that causes her body to age at roughly ten times the normal rate. Now nearly sixteen years old, Agnes has already exceeded her life expectancy.
Moira has been Agnes’s best friend and protector since they were in elementary school. Due to her disorder, Agnes is still physically small, but Moira is big. Too big for her own liking. So big that people call her names. With her goth makeup and all-black clothes, Moira acts like she doesn’t care. But she does.
Boone was friends with both girls in the past, but that was a long time ago—before he did the thing that turned Agnes and Moira against him, before his dad died, before his mom got too sad to leave the house.
An unexpected event brings Agnes and Moira back together with Boone, but when romantic feelings start to develop, the trio’s friendship is put to the test.
What inspired you to write this story?
I was initially inspired by reading and watching videos about real-life kids with progeria, such as Adalia Rose and Sam Berns. It’s cliché to describe anyone struggling with a terminal condition as “inspiring,” but I discovered there’s a reason that word is used so often; childhood and young adulthood can be challenging enough without aging at roughly ten times the normal rate, which is what happens for young people with progeria.
I’m always interested in the changing nature of human relationships as well—how we find, hold onto, lose, and sometimes rediscover, friendships throughout life. One of my goals when writing 100 DAYS was to explore how young people do this while simultaneously dealing with their own personal challenges in the complex, often harsh world of modern adolescence.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I have one word for the research I dove into while writing this book: INTENSE. (Okay, maybe I have two words: INTENSE and rewarding.) During the two-ish years that it took to write and revise the novel, I researched everything from body image issues in teens to severe parental dysfunction (substance abuse, rage, depression, divorce) to family religion/spirituality to the aforementioned terminal medical condition called progeria.
When you read enough stories about people who survive and even thrive after dealing with the various blows this life can dole out, it’s hard to not come away completely (here’s that word again) inspired. The human spirit is, indeed, resilient and, I believe, inclined toward seeking out joy and connection even in the harshest situations.
What are some special challenges associated with writing about a character with a terminal medical condition?
A big challenge for me was doing what I could to avoid having Agnes’s story being categorized as “sick lit.” We’re all aware of the success of John Green’s wonderful novel The Fault in Our Stars, but I didn’t want readers to think, Oh, boy, here’s another author trying to cash in on the kid-with-a-terminal-illness trend. So, I tried to show Agnes as a real teen with ordinary teen concerns who also happened to be engaged in a fairly extraordinary struggle. And while I have seen some comparisons to TFiOS, they’ve been (for the most part) kind and complimentary.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The overarching theme that I touch upon with 100 DAYS is empathy. It just seems so needed more than ever in these volatile times. The book recently sold in Turkey, and a friend who has traveled there and loves the country mentioned to me what a good thing this was, since empathy is often lacking in that region of the world. I agree, but I would also argue that empathy is just as needed everywhere else, and the classroom is no exception: I’ve been an educator since 1992 at virtually all levels of the academic spectrum, and I’ve seen what can happen when empathy is reinforced in an academic environment—whether it’s a classroom full of kindergarteners or an online seminar full of MFA students. Being reminded of our responsibility to care for, support and help one another tends to have overwhelmingly wonderful results, in my experience.
Thank you for this interesting and fascinating interview and book.
You’re welcome. I’ve just requested a copy from my library. Happy Thanksgiving to you!