Rules For 50/50 Chances Published by Macmillan on November 24, 2015
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 will tell 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 going to ballet school 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 in California, Rose begins to question her carefully-laid rules.
Describe Rules For 50/50 Chances in 5 words.
Tough choices. Genetic destiny. Love.
How did Rules for 50/50 Chances come about? What made you think you had to write this story?
I’ve always been interested in medicine, genetic medicine in particular, and in 2007 I read an article about a young woman who was deciding whether or not to get tested for Huntington’s disease. Her story really stuck with me, and I started researching and learning more about the disease. Five years later, I wrote RULES.
What was the hardest scene for you to write Rules For 50/50 Chances and why?
The hardest section of the book to write was the chunk that takes place on the train. I love trains and have taken the California Zephyr myself, but I had a hard time figuring out what exactly was going to happen to Rose on that ride that would propel her toward the end of the book. Rose had to change on that journey in some fundamental way, and that was challenging. Originally, there was a much more complicated subplot involving a secondary character Rose met on the train. I liked the character, but it was almost as though she’d wandered into RULES from her own book. My agent and editor wisely nudged me to rethink that entire section of the book. It was absolutely the right call, but figuring out what to replace that subplot with was tough.
Were there any scenes that had to be cut that you wish would have stayed in?
Related to the section I just mentioned, there was a car chase scene—I know, it’s hard to imagine—that I really enjoyed. It had to go, but it was fun to write!
While illness and dealing with the effects of it are a big part of this novel, you also touch on race issues a bit. Was that planned or how/why did you decide to include that with an already somewhat heavy book?
I wanted Rose and Caleb to be a mixed-race couple, in part because that comes from my own experience, and in part because I think we still don’t see enough interracial couples in YA literature. As more and more young people date across racial lines, I think we need to see those relationships reflected—and not just in books where race is the central issue at play. I wanted to write a book that featured some tough, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race, but I also didn’t want race to be the primary thing that defines Caleb and Rose’s relationship. It’s just one piece. I think that’s realistic for many of us whose partners are not the same race we are.
I really loved Caleb as a character, sometimes he’s incredibly harsh to Rose. At first I wanted to kind of hate him, but as I looked at it from his point of view it made sense. Were you worried people wouldn’t understand his point of view and the things he was saying, especially since this is from Rose’s point of view?
I’ve heard mixed reactions to Caleb. Some people find him overly hard on Rose. Some people love him, and still others find him a little too perfect. I really wanted him to be sweet and loveable but also flawed. I wanted him to call Rose out on her crap—because she needs that (don’t we all??)—but also love her and see through the guarded exterior she puts on. He should push her and challenge her to open up. To me, that’s what makes their relationship work.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I just had to ask my boyfriend for help with this one because I wasn’t sure. He says, “You don’t share your writing until you’re done.”
That’s pretty much true, unless I’m taking a workshop, in which case I will bring in chunks to share with the class. I like to write and revise and then share with a select group of readers for feedback. I’ve been in a critique group in the past, where I shared more frequently as I went along, and I might return to that at some point, but I’m not in one right now.
Can you share (without spoilers) a line or section of Rules For 50/50 Chances that was your favorite?
One of my favorite moments in the book is when Lena tells Rose that she would take care of her. Female friendships are the best! My girlfriends are so important to me, and I wanted Rose to have a really deep, sustaining friendship too. Here’s an excerpt from that scene:
Lena gnaws on the end of her highlighter. Then she gets a kind of quizzical, serious look on her face, and puts the marker down. “You know I’d take care of you, right? If you need me to?”
A rock forms in my throat. Then the absurdity of having this conversation in the reading room of the school library hits me, and I start cracking up at the same time that my eyes flood.
“I’m serious!” she says. “What’s funny?”
What are you currently reading?
The Thing About Jellyfish, by my agent-sib Ali Benjamin. Loving it so far!
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. It’s tempting to get bogged down thinking about writing, planning to write, outlining, researching. All those things are important at times and in moderation, but also—write. I wrote RULES in spurts of 500 words a day, five days a week. Eventually, it adds up to a book.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I’m working on a second contemporary YA. It’s a love story at heart, more so than RULES, but it also grapples with some big, complex issues of race and violence.
Favorite Song (right now): “Baby, I Need Your Loving” by the Four Tops. I’ve been on a major Motown kick lately.
Favorite Book (right now): Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.
Favorite TV Show/Movie: The Affair on Showtime. One of my college roommates and best friends, Brooke Lyons, is currently guest starring on three episodes!
Favorite Word: Inchoate. I don’t really know how to use it—I wish I did. I just like the way it looks and sounds.
Favorite Color: Green
Favorite Curse Word: A holdover from my time living in the UK: “f*&$ing hell.” It’s quite satisfying.
In Rules for 50/50 Chances we meet 17 year old Rose Levenson. She’s a student, a dancer, a daughter and a friend. She’s also possibly carrying the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease. At the age of 12 her mom was diagnosed and over the years she has seen the way it has changed her once vibrant and loving mother and it scares her. She has a fifty-fifty chance of carrying the mutation herself and she can’t seem to picture a promising future until she knows for sure what it might entail.
Her unease about what her future holds also has her holding back in the relationships in her life. She’s known how draining and hard it is to take care of her mother and the idea that she would put that responsibility on someone else eats at her and so she avoids relationships. That is until she meets Caleb…. A boy whose family is also dealing with genetic anomalies in the form of Sickle Cell. Their connection is immediate and she finds that despite her determination not to fall in love, she’s struggling with keeping Caleb at arm’s length.
This book takes a deeper look at a teen faced with the idea of life and death at a time when anything in the world should be hers for the taking. Rose’s struggle with determining her future path was really the main story here. She’s unsure what her plans after graduation should be, but she has the opportunity to audition for an amazing ballet school, the drawback is that it’s on the other side of the country. She’s also unsure if she should take the test that will possibly predict whether her future will look like her mother’s.
I have to admit that I truly liked Rose, despite her pessimistic attitude about her future. I got it. It made sense that after watching her mom turn into someone she can’t even recognize most days that this would be the one thing that she struggled to get a grasp on. If I was in her situation I don’t know what I would do. Take the test or not, mentally it still would be draining to know that you have a 50% chance of your life turning into this. Was Rose short-sighted? Was she over-dramatic? Did she focus solely on her problems never considering that everyone has something in their own lives? I’d say yes to most of that, but it didn’t make me dislike her in the least.
I think that in part was because this story is told from her point of view.
There were times that Caleb was harsh and even a bit cruel to her, and I was worried that it was going to make me dislike him, (and I’ll be honest, I truly didn’t love him, but more on that in a minute) but by the end of the story I didn’t. I got it. I understood his frustration with Rose and how he truly wanted her to focus on some of the positive in her life.
The relationship in this story was well-done. It’s not going to make you swoon … at least it didn’t for me, but I liked it. We get glimpses of their connection, but I almost feel like experiencing a bit more of the evolution of the relationship would have helped me feel that connection a bit more between them. Caleb was all-in with Rose pretty quickly and not seeing much of the why made it seem pretty abrupt and sudden. That’s not to say it was bad, I just wanted more of the why Rose would tell Caleb something after only knowing him for a short time before she would reach out to the best friend who has weathered ups and downs for years and years if that makes sense. (well it will when you read this!)
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. While it deals with pretty heavy topics, the read itself wasn’t heavy and depressing. McGovern adds some lighthearted moments that really make the story flow well and bring some lightness to a story that could otherwise have dragged me down. I’ll definitely be looking forward to more from McGovern.
Definitely pick this one up if you’re looking for a realistic novel that addresses issues of love, life and death and finding your path in life despite how unclear your future just might be.
Thank you to the publisher for an advanced copy of this in exchange for my honest thoughts.
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