age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction; memory loss
If Scout Finch had had a sister, she would be future “world-famous lawyer” Guinevere St. Clair….Makechnie’s debut will have readers in stitches. Gwyn’s voice is distinct and likable, carrying readers through the eventful narrative with ease. Guinevere St. Clair is indeed 100 percent unforgettable. — *STARRED Kirkus Reviews
The smart dialogue and flowing description…highlights the eccentric, yet wholly believable characters. This is part mystery, part study of the human heart, and one pierced with rays of hope. Everyone here, adults and children, have lessons they need to learn, and first-time novelist Makechnie offers them those paths, in startling ways. — *STARRED Booklist Review
Please tell us about your book.
Guinevere St. Clair has just moved to Crow, Iowa. She’s going to be a lawyer. She was the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to know about the brain. And now that she’s living in Iowa, she wants to ride into her first day of school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. But Gwyn isn’t in Crow, Iowa, just for royal cows. Her family has moved there, where her parents grew up, in the hopes of jogging her mother Vienna’s memory.
Vienna has been suffering from memory loss since Gwyn was four. She can no longer remember anything past the age of thirteen, not even that she has two young daughters. Gwyn’s father is obsessed with finding the cure to his wife’s injured brain, but Gwyn’s focused on problems that seem a little more within her reach. Like proving that the very strange Gaysie Cutter who lives down the road is behind the disappearance of an old farmer named Wilbur Truesdale.
Gwyn is sure she can crack the case, but when she does she finds that not all of her investigations lead her to the places she would have expected. In fact they might just lead her to learn about the mother she’s been doing her best to forget.
What inspired you to write this story?
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is based on the true events of a woman I knew who suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving her unable to remember anything after the age of 13. I was fixated on the relationship between an incredibly patient husband and a wife who could not remember him or their children. It was a story I could not let go of. I wrote a fictional story from the point of view of a child and what it might be like to be literally “forgotten.”
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I read a lot of books. The one that really kicked off my interest in the brain was The Brain That Heals Itself by Norman Doidge. The premise is that the brain is not fixed but always changing, and with the right therapy, can actually change and heal itself. I also teach Anatomy & Physiology, so any subject involving the human body is of huge interest. I’m not even close to being a brain expert, but I’m crossing my fingers I got it all right in the book.
Brain details were the hardest, but there were smaller details that needed to be consistent and accurate. I created a fictional town in Iowa and had to make sure that tree species, weather, and smell details were accurate. Also: cows. Had to get cow facts right! Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn was my father’s pet cow when he was a child in Idaho – I just love that.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
Because I started with a true event, it was really hard for me to start fictionalizing. In the beginning I hesitated with even the smallest of details, like hair color or the arrangement of furniture in the living room where I conducted a short interview. I kept having to tell myself that the brain diagnosis and therapy had to be medically accurate, but otherwise, I had to create a fictional world – and I think this is important. If you aren’t writing non-fiction, then it’s probably best to stay away from writing exact replicas of people you know. But for a long time it always felt like a betrayal or lie to deviate from original events. Eventually, when my story world was built, I was at peace with it and loved my fictional St. Clair family – they have become very real to me!
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Family themes play heavily in the book, especially between Guinevere and her little sister and between Guinevere and her mother and father. There is also the theme of friendship and how those relationships can really sustain you in hard times. There is the theme of being vulnerable and letting yourself be hurt so that you can continue to hope. Guinevere is also a huge and curious reader. She loves stories, loves learning, and loves figuring out hard problems. Memory and the brain would also be a fun classroom discussion.
Thanks for having me – I appreciate it!
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Amy!