Welcome to our stop on the Rules For 50/50 Chances tour for Kate McGovern. This tour is hosted by Fierce Reads.
Rules For 50/50 Chances
Author: Kate McGovern
Reading Level: Young Adult
Released: November 24 2015
Review Source: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
A heartrending but ultimately uplifting debut novel about learning to accept life's uncertainties; a perfect fit for the current trend in contemporary realistic novels that confront issues about life, death, and love.
Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she's going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington's disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother.
With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family's genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she'll live to be a healthy adult-including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules.
RULES was inspired by a story I read in the newspaper many years ago about a young woman who was in a similar situation to Rose. Her story really stuck with me. I've always been interested in medicine, genetic medicine in particular. In the fall of 2011, I found myself in a moment of major change and upheaval in my life. I was considering a total career change—I actually thought about becoming a genetic counselor. Instead, I started doing a ton of research, and ended up writing RULES.
2. Was it difficult writing about disease?
Some of the scenes were hard to write, particularly moments when Rose is dealing with the ways her mother's health is deteriorating and how her mother's personality changes affects their relationship. I'm very close to my mom, and I found that piece of Rose's journey particularly hard. But in my research, I was also very inspired by the personal journeys of many people living with or at risk for Huntington's disease. There's incredible strength reflected in their stories.
3. What were your biggest challenges in writing rules for 50/50 chances?
Probably getting the portrayal of Rose's mother's symptoms right. Some of the symptoms—like how her speech slurs—were hard to portray on paper. I got some very generous guidance from a nurse who specializes in Huntington's care, and Lisa Genova, the amazing author of STILL ALICE whose newest novel, INSIDE THE O'BRIENS, is about Huntington's, also gave me some really helpful feedback.
4. What was your favorite scene to write?
I don't have a single favorite scene, but I will say that the train scenes were really fun. I rode the California Zephyr in 2012 and took a ton of notes that I got to put to use in those chapters. And I loved reliving that train ride by writing about it.
5. What do you aim to teach your readers through rules for 50/50 chances?
I'm not aiming to teach anything in particular—I was really just hoping to tell a good, honest story. But I think as we have more and more access to information about what our genes say about our futures, more people are going to be facing tough decisions like Rose's. How much do we want to know? What helps us live better and what gets in the way of living? So I'd love it if readers gained empathy for people who are dealing with those tough choices, and perhaps started considering what they would do.
6. If you had a writing do-over, would you do anything differently with rules for 50/50 chances?
Oh man, there are plenty of tiny little things I could change—word choices here and there—but that's always going to happen. It took two years for RULES to go from signing the contract to publication,so inevitably, there are going to be little things you'd like to change. That's
why I don't plan to read the book closely again :).
But I wouldn't change anything major. It's the book it's supposed to be (thanks in large part to my wonderful editor, Joy Peskin, who has the magic touch).
7. What are 5 random facts about yourself?
1. I have three fake front teeth. I'll leave it to you to imagine what happened to the real ones...
2. I love trains. I've gone across the country by Amtrak three times so far, and I'd love to do it again.
3. I'm the youngest of four, and the only girl. But my brothers were 13, 15 and 17 when I was born, so in a lot of ways I also grew up like an only child.
4. I did theatre from age 7 all the way through college and for a few years in New York—acting, playwriting, set and lighting design, the whole thing.
5. Thanks to my theatre training and three years living in the UK, I can do a lot of pretty convincing accents from all over the British Isles.
8. What is the best writing tip you've ever received?
My college playwriting professor always told us, "Write the things you obsess over." That's my go-to writing advice. Earlier this year, I scrapped a nearly 200-page work-in-progress because it didn't meet that criteria, and it just wasn't working.
9. What is an unknown fact about rules for 50/50 chances?
I would call this a little known fact: RULES is a "diverse book," in that its central romance is interracial—Rose is white and Caleb is black. And while race isn't the central issue of the story, Rose and Caleb do have some tough and important conversations about race (and class).
10. What is the hardest part of being a writer?
The writing part. Writing is so hard! But I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it, and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to be published and read by amazing readers—I continue to be in awe of this whole experience.