Today the spotlight is on Sarah Aronson and her amazing young adult novel debut, HEAD CASE. Enjoy!
One bad night.
One too many drinks.”
Frank Marder is a head, paralyzed from the neck down, and it’s his fault. He was drinking. He was driving. Now Frank can’t walk, he can’t move, he can’t feel his skin. He needs someone to feed him, to wash him, to move his body. Now he must learn to deal with his lack of independence, his parents, his sister, his friends.
Will he ever feel like a whole person?
When you’re a head, do you ever get to forgive yourself?
But if you ask most of the people who post on www.quadkingonthenet, he hasn’t been adequately punished. Two people are dead because of him. Frank should go to jail. Only “Anonymous” disagrees.
A powerful and heartbreaking debut novel about a guy who had it all… until he drank that one last beer and got into the car. Head Case will make you consider how we judge each other. And how we can move beyond our mistakes—with honesty, compassion, and even humor.
“…full of humor and the strength of the human spirit.”—Reading Rants
“It will make a strong impression on readers with its raw emotion and bitter narrative tone.”—Booklist
“Aronson’s raw first novel delves into the emotions, mobility, daily functions (e.g., eating, talking on a phone and using a computer) and even the pleasures and sex of quadriplegics. Above all, it asks us to consider how we value individuals with disabilities.”—Kirkus Reviews
“First time novelist Sarah Aronson’s take on a situation that most people would consider nightmarish manages to not only be hopeful, but also full of humor and the strength of the human spirit.”—Reading Rants
Okay, Sarah, I was blown away by Frank and the raw, beautifully honest look into his life that you gave us. How were you able to tap into his emotions and were there times when it felt as though his story was too difficult to tell?
I am so glad that you enjoyed the book, Laura. Frank’s voice was the first thing to come to me—and it was always clear and raw and honest. The inspiration for the book came from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. I asked myself who would be today’s Hester Prynne—and what crime would that person have to commit to receive universal shunning. In my mind, the crime was vehicular manslaughter—and driving while drunk. The scarlet letter was the chair. Tapping into those feelings—isolation, the pain of being labeled, the inability to help yourself—helped me understand Frank better.
As a physical therapist, you’ve helped many people who have experienced a traumatic injury. Has being around patients with a spinal cord injury, or telling Frank’s story change you or your outlook on life?
Working with people with disabilities definitely changed my outlook on life. When you are recovering from an injury—when you are dependent on others for the most intimate activities of daily living—a lot comes up. As a physical therapist, I held some of the keys to independence. The families I got to know were strong. They were determined and stubborn and loyal and optimistic. They held on to their memories—but eventually, we had to look forward together. There was always a moment when they had to let go of the person that was for the person that would be. Those moments changed me forever.
We all take risks. We can’t live in fear. But now I take nothing for granted.
Has HEAD CASE always been the original title?
Yes. I’m a titler. I can’t write a word without a title.
You initially wrote HEAD CASE as a poetry novel. What was it that made you decide to turn it into prose?
Honestly, it was not my choice. I loved that poetry, or maybe, I loved that I had written it, but my trusted readers (including my advisors at Vermont College) encouraged me to try it in prose. They made me re-imagine the book. Starting from scratch was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I’m glad I did. The poetry acted like an emotional springboard. The prose helped me enrich and deepen the story.
I was intrigued by Frank’s mother and the obsession she developed after 911 over bad news and petty gossip, especially since her own son was involved in a tragic accident that sparked much debate in their small town. Will Frank’s decision to face his fears and speak at his school inspire her to change or will she still hold on to this obsession?
I hope so, but the truth is, I know a lot of people like this. Before we’ve gotten out of bed, we scan the media for bad news—from gossip to tragedy. I don’t think that’s about to end.
I love your cover, from the photo used, to the red font color and the black outline of the wheelchair. Did you have any input in this?
No. Not at all! I am so grateful to Laurent Linn for designing this perfect cover. He understood the book. (And I love that the back text is on the slant!)
Another fascinating character is Freeberg, a patient who first shares a hospital room with Frank and then later returns after having another accident. Has this ever happened to any of the patients you worked when you were a physical therapist?
Freeberg is a totally fictional character, but I did treat one patient twice for two separate injuries. Risk takers don’t stop taking risks just because they’ve been injured.
I remember reading on the Class of 2k7 blog that you didn’t discover young adult literature until you were an adult. What sparked this discovery and why did you want to write young adult books as a result?
When I was a kid, I hated reading. I grew up loving TV, theater, and film. I found young adult literature after I started writing. One of my writing pals, Cindy Faughnan, got me hooked on books. She started handing me classics and contemporary YA and MG novels. I owe her a lot! I don’t think you can be a writer without being a reader first.
While I don’t want to give away the identity of “Anonymous” for those who have yet to read your book, that person’s role was so poignant and beautiful, the perfect way to end your book. Has this always been the original ending?
No. But teshuvah—forgiveness—has always been an important theme. The ending came from that.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from the book, one that can still give you chills?
“Once I was a boy who became a man. Then I was a man who became a head.” That line makes me sad.
Can you tell us a little bit about your next book or what you’re working on next?
I’m working on two projects. A middle grade novel about luck, and a young adult novel about the aftermath of a young woman’s attempted suicide.
How’s Frank doing now? Where do you see him in ten years?
In early drafts, I hinted at a future that included college and love. But it felt convenient and unrealistic. Unfortunately, many people with high complete spinal cord injuries die young. My greatest hope is that the book will inspire people to raise money for spinal cord injury research, and we will find a cure—and make this book historical fiction!
Thanks so much, Sarah, and best of luck with HEAD CASE and your current projects!