Laura Avery's new book

The Memory Book (Poppy/Little, Brown, 2016), a novel about a high school valedictorian who is losing her mind to the late onset of Niemann–Pick disease, won the Young Adult Literature prize at the 2017 Minnesota Book Awards. The author is Lara Avery ’10, and this book is her third YA novel (following Anything But Ordinary, 2012, and A Million Miles Away, 2016). Her fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in The Onion, Revolver, Pollen, ARTNews, and Women In Clothes (Blue Rider Press). Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Avery came to Minnesota 10 years ago to study film and cultural studies at Macalester. She lives in Minneapolis.

Reviewers loved Avery’s book as much as the Minnesota Book Award judges did.

From the Barnes & Noble Teen blog: “Avery has managed to both fit the best of life inside her book, all the love and pain and mess of it, and to express with painful clarity the impossibility of the task. Sammie’s voice and potential spill over the sides of The Memory Book. She’s brainy and bitchy and bold and deeply real, and that her story can’t go on and on will break your heart.”

From Publishers Weekly: “Avery’s novel stands out for its strong characters, a heartbreaking narrative that shifts to reflect Sammie’s condition, and a love story that will leave many readers in tears.”

From School Library Journal: “Sammie’s voice is a bright, relatable, and uncompromising one…Strengths abound in Avery’s touching novel, and Sammie’s relationships, both friendly and romantic, are no exception. Fans of John Green’s work and Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places will be reaching for the tissue box at the book’s tear-inducing end.”

Following is a Q&A reprinted with permission from the blog A New Look on Books (, written by Raven Eckman.

I’m always fascinated by the different paths authors take to become published. Tell me your author story and what writing means to you.

I’ve always wanted to be an author, probably since I was around seven or eight years old. I wrote in journals constantly. I didn’t realize that a career in writing was an actual possibility until I was out of college, when I published my first book. Until that point, I figured I would be just be a waitress forever, writing for myself and maybe submitting something someday.

Lately, writing means work. I feel lucky to do it, even though I have to have two other jobs just to make sure I can afford to have time to meet my deadlines (I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but student loans throw a wrench in everything). I work incredibly hard for hours on end, but it’s worth it because I am just in love with novels as a form, and as I grow older, it feels good to realize that it was no accident that I write novels and novels alone (as opposed to short stories or poetry). They’re my bread and butter. I love fantasy, I love losing myself in someone else’s story, and it blows my mind that I get to do that for people.

What is one thing you want readers to take away from reading your novels?

Almost all novels are an exercise into stepping into someone else’s thoughts, and if my books can help readers develop that habit off the page—to take a pause and consider their fellow humans more, all those invisible inner lives—I would be very proud to contribute to that. This kind of thinking builds empathy, and the more lives that operate with empathy, the more compassionate and just we can be in our communities.

While writing your novels, do you find your characters speak to you and follow what you intended or that the story just sucks you in to the point when you finished you were surprised by the outcome?

I am never surprised by the outcome, because my editors and I plot our books meticulously beforehand. But my characters definitely talk to me. No matter what story I’m yanking them through, they always resist, they make me laugh, they frustrate me, and they become very real people. Not friends, per se, but somewhere in the middle of being my children and someone I follow around all day.

What is the hardest thing about writing YA fiction and why do you write for a YA audience?

I write for young adults because young adult stories allow for a wider range of characters. Young protagonists are allowed to make more mistakes, and as a result, they have more adventures.

I also can’t forget how much YA books meant to me when I was young. I read every single book available for young adults at my library growing up, and they made me into the reader, writer, and all-around human I am today.

How do you tackle writing something fiction-based that deals with real-life problems, such as the disease Niemann–Pick Type C in The Memory Book or memory loss and coma in Anything But Ordinary?

Research. I read as much as time allows, and in the case of my most recent book (the one that comes after The Memory Book), I interviewed people who have had these experiences. In the case of NPC’s dementia–related symptoms, I pulled from my own experience with my grandparents, where Alzheimer’s and dementia have been present on both sides. I thought a lot about how memory loss was likely in my future, and what that would feel like. It’s not always enough, though. The Memory Book is certainly not medically accurate. A lot had to be adjusted to fit Sammie’s story. If you’re curious about NPC, I encourage you to go to and read through the accounts sent in by real families.

September 25 2017

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