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.
“In a strong debut, McGovern investigates mortality, romance, family, race, and class. As narrator, Rose is articulate and sympathetic… McGovern skillfully engages with questions of fate, choice, and truly terrible luck.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“In her debut novel, McGovern writes with a sure hand about loss, love, and living with uncertainty… This standout contemporary read should have wide appeal.” — Booklist
“Readers will stick with Rose through her dilemma—and her decision—rooting for her to make the choice that’s right for her.” — Horn Book
“A page-turning portrayal of living at risk for Huntington’s disease, rich with the complex layers of tormented indecision that come with genetic screening. Would you want to know? A great read.” — Lisa Genova, New York Times-bestselling author of STILL ALICE and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS
“I loved this book for its unflinching portrayal of living with a parent with chronic illness as much as for the wonderful relationship between Rose and Caleb. Highly recommend…” — Kathryn Holmes, author of THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND
You have lived in some very cool places. Any favorite sites/moments/events from any of those locations? When I was living in London, I had the chance to visit a lot of beautiful European cities…I love Edinburgh, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin…but one of the all-time coolest travel experiences I’ve ever had was visiting the Great Wall of China with my college roommates. (One of them grew up in Hong Kong, so we traveled to Beijing and then Hong Kong together.) When we got there, there was no one else in sight. It was just us on the Wall as far as we could see. That was pretty incredible.
Favorite theatrical production? As an audience member – Billy Elliot. It combines two of my favorite things: ballet and British things!
Given your background/degrees, how did you decide to become a teacher? I’ve always loved working with kids. I was a counselor at an arts camp during high school and college, and in college I also started volunteering in a local kindergarten classroom. When I was living in New York, doing theatre, I took a job working at the Harlem Children’s Zone, as a reading specialist in their middle school. From there, a colleague and I launched the middle school theatre program. Teaching is the toughest, most rewarding work on the planet–and I’m sure I wasn’t very good at it! Now I work for an organization that works to ensure every child has access to great teachers. I’m no longer in a classroom, but I’m still very passionate about education, especially making sure that all kids have equal educational opportunities.
Given your love of trains and how much you enjoy traveling solo (yep, I read the article!) is it at all fair to call you a hobo? Or would the correct term be tramp? In the train-related way, of course. I consider myself more a nerd of the train variety, really. I know all the Amtrak routes. I really want to try the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. This year I’ll be riding some trains in India, which I’m very excited about. But I don’t actually travel that much, other than trips from Boston to New York for work.
In a way, your love of train travel goes hand-in-hand with your social anthropology degree. Do you see a book coming out of these trips/experiences and social interactions? I’ve thought about it. I really think train travel is incredibly fertile ground for storytelling. You meet fascinating people. We’ll see…
How does your grandmother feel about your mother’s polka dot wine glasses on the same table as her good china and silverware? Yep, I read that one too. My grandmother appreciated the mix-and-match. She liked a well-set table, that’s for sure, but she wasn’t fussy about matching everything. She passed away more than two years ago, but I still think of her every time I set the table for Thanksgiving (and at many other moments, too!).
Other than train rides/trips, what do you do for fun? I’m not terribly exciting. I read a lot, and I’m particularly a sucker for mysteries (both books and TV/movies), British dramas, spy thrillers…anything like that. I bought a condo last year, so I enjoy amateur interior decorating, too. My boyfriend loves to hike, so he also manages to get me into the woods with some regularity. And my family is all nearby, so there are a lot of BBQs and hanging out with my niece and nephews.
Huntington’s is a nasty illness. How and why did you settle on this particular illness for your first book? I’m fascinated by genetics, and by the tough decisions so many of us have to make about what we do or don’t want to know about our genes and what they mean for our futures. Huntington’s is an extreme example, because the genetics of it are so cruel–if your parent has it, you have a fifty-fifty chance of carrying the mutation, and if you carry the mutation, you will get the disease. There’s no treatment or cure right now. So that makes Rose’s decision that much more fraught. After I learned about HD, I really couldn’t get it out of my head. I read about it for years before I started writing RULES. HD is also a disease that deserves more attention, frankly. There’s a lot of research going into it right now, but most people still don’t know about it. The HD community is incredibly passionate. I believe they’ll find a cure. I certainly hope they do.
What kind of book follows such a heavy-themed book like Rules for 50/50 Chances? Another heavy-themed book! It’s also a love story, though.
Where do you most enjoy writing? Cafe Zing, the coffee shop at my local independent bookstore. They’re good people and they make good coffee. Plus, writing in a room full of books is inspiring.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Definitely bad TV. For several years, I must admit, it was The Hills. These days it’s more often anything on HGTV, which I don’t feel AS guilty about. 🙂
Finally, the quick and easy list of favorites. What is your favorite:
Beverage: Iced tea
Book(s): The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman); Anne of Green Gables (L. Maud Montgomery); Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Adichie); A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving); Me Before You (Jojo Moyes)
Author(s): Ian MacEwan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joan Didion, Kate Atkinson, Tana French, Jojo Moyes, Atul Gawande, Chimamanda Adichie, John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Curtis Sittenfeld…and so many others.
Animal: Seals (followed closely by whales)
TV show: Right now, The Affair (one of my college roommates, Brooke Lyons, guest stars in three episodes this season!)
Artist: One of my oldest and dearest friends, Maria Walker, is an amazing painter. Check out her stuff here.
App: These days, Lifecake, where I keep up with my college roommate’s beautiful twin girls.
Song: Too hard to pick one! I’m in a major Motown phase right now, though. Listening to a lot of oldies.
Word: inchoate. I love the way it looks and sounds. I don’t really know how to use it, though.