Diversify Your Shelves--"Saying Yes to Life"
Saying Yes to Life--Francisco X. Stork
When I started writing The Memory of Light I wanted to keep in mind three things.
First, I wanted to write about a young girl whose life is fairly normal. There’s no obvious or recent trauma in Vicky Cruz’ life. There’s no abuse or bullying or destructive behavior. The stresses and pressures in her life are those that are typical to sixteen‐year‐olds. Her family is well off. She lives in a house in Austin Texas with a beautiful view and a heated swimming pool in the back yard. She attends an exclusive private school. And yet, despite all these privileges, she finds herself in a hospital the day after a suicide attempt without the will to live. With the help of Dr. Desai and the other patients in the hospital’s psychiatric ward she slowly comes to understand the effects of the illness we call depression. By giving Vicky an outwardly good life, I was able to focus not so much on the causes of depression or on the situations that may lead to depression but on the illness itself and the effects it has on lives that, in many ways, have many good things going for them.
The second thing I wanted to focus on in The Memory of Light was Vicky’s recovery. There are many young adult books that describe the downward spiral toward a rock‐bottom depression where suicide looks like the only way to alleviate the pain, but not many that focus on the upward path toward a healing, which includes the ability to adjust and function with depression. This upward journey is a
hopeful journey but it can also be rocky and suspenseful. Will Vicky be able to sustain the insights she gained at the hospital once she re‐enters her old routine? Vicky’s journey toward recovery and toward a commitment to life is, in many ways, a journey that we all need to make. For saying yes to life no matter what it brings us, ultimately depends on our ability discover and embrace a purpose for our life. Purpose and the ability to see goodness in the world, despite overwhelming suffering and evil, is a prerequisite to mental health.
But the most important consideration that weighed upon me as I wrote The Memory of Light was the urgent, pressing sense that I needed to “get it right”. Getting it right meant that the characters, the thoughts of a person with depression, the various mental illnesses described in the book, all had to sound and feel real to the reader. Getting it right also involved finding the right tone and voice for the story. It involved creating a harmony for disparate and maybe even opposing realities. The book had to be both realistic and optimistic, for example. It had to be serious but upbeat and at times funny. I was aware, as I wrote, that the book would one day end up in the hands of a person on the verge of deciding for or against life and I needed to make sure that the book tipped the young person’s inner conflict in the direction of life. I had to get it right.
It took me a long time to get the book to a point where it felt right. I think that in the four years it took to write the book I really wrote three books. I started over after the first two versions because there was something about Vicky’s voice or about the story that did not “feel right.” Getting it right required the patient help and feedback of Cheryl Klein, my editor at Scholastic. It also required a lot of quiet
listening to Vicky and the other characters in the book and a willingness to wait for them to reveal themselves to me. Getting it right required re‐living my own experiences with depression and watching carefully for how it manifested itself and remembering the tools that helped me survive. Depression, ugly and painful as it is, can also teach us about life and how to live it, and these lessons also needed to be included in the book in a non‐didactic way.
Throughout the writing of The Memory of Light, I kept reminding myself that the book needed to be interesting and entertaining. I wanted the reader to see himself or herself in Vicky’s life and to root for her recovery. If the book was interesting, if the reader could lose herself in the story, then it would be possible for the book to become a source of light and hope in the reader’s life.
**This post orignally appeared at Diversity in YA and has been brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!
Francisco X. Stork was born in Monterrey, Mexico. When he was six years old, Charles Stork, a retired American citizen of Dutch descent, married Ruth Arguelles, a single mother, adopted Francisco and moved the threemember family to El Paso, Texas. Francisco is the author of six novels including Marcelo in the Real World, which received the 2010 Schneider Award and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, which was the recipient of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award and the International Latino Book Award. The Memory of Light has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly.
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association's Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.