Side by Side
We all have those memories that we cherish --- our first kiss, our trip to China, or that time we got a standing ovation at our piano recital or scored the final goal of a tied soccer game. But we all have some peskier memories, too --- some that are heartwrenching, scary, embarrassing or just plain awful. What would you do if you had the opportunity to erase those memories? Would you do it?
Authors Maggie Lehrman and Adam Silvera each explore that question in their new young adult books THE COST OF ALL THINGS and MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, respectively. When Ari’s boyfriend dies in THE COST OF ALL THINGS, she buys a spell to erase the memory of him. And when Aaron --- a boy whose father committed suicide and who has a loving girlfriend --- falls in love with Thomas, a kid from his neighborhood, he decides to undergo Leteo Institute’s memory erasing procedure to forget that he’s gay.
We decided to ask Maggie and Adam some questions about their books --- and their own memories --- below. Check out their answers below, and the books themselves!
Teenreads.com: What inspired you to write your book?
Maggie Lehrman:The first image I had of this book was a girl who'd lost someone, but had no memory of who it was she lost and what their relationship had been. So as soon as I found her, all sorts of other questions presented themselves. Why would she choose to erase a memory? What sort of consequences would that choice have? Everything else that happens in the book sprung from that original, deceptively simple idea.
Adam Silvera: I couldn't get it out of my head how people often mistake homosexuality as a choice, especially those that "stay gay" after being bullied and beat up, so I wanted to explore a world where a teen boy is presented with an opportunity to "straighten himself out," and if he would take it and what would lead to that decision. Playing with memories seemed like a great vehicle to explore this.
TRC:Did you do any research for your book? What was the most interesting thing you learned?
ML:I did a lot of research about competitive, pre-professional ballet dancers, watching any ballet docs I could get my hands on and reading personal stories of dancers. But in terms of erasing memories, the news seemed to follow me rather than having to seek it out. After I started the book, I read in Wired about researchers working on pills to erase memories that caused PTSD. (Here's the link.) I had never really considered that this could be a real technology -- I was writing a fantasy, with magic and spells. But it was fascinating to see it play out in a parallel real-world scenario.
AS: I did all kinds of light research, particularly into this memory erasure procedure that's been in development in Sweden for years now. It's intended for those suffering from PTSD, which is also explored in MORE HAPPY THAN NOT. And I love that realistic approach versus the fantasy of directly erasing someone from memory who's broken your heart a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (I love that movie but I wanted the book to retain its grittiness.)
TRC: You have a chance to hang out with the protagonist of your book for a day. What would you do?
ML:If I hung out with Ari, I'd love to go get ice cream and then go see a ballet together. I think she'd be able to give me all the scoop about the dancers and choreographers, which would make it even more fun --- and it's already one of my favorite things to do.
AS: I'm taking Aaron on a much needed spa day because homeboy has got it rough --- his father has committed suicide, his relationship with his girlfriend is suffering and he's falling for a guy who may not be ready or able to return his feelings. If that doesn't get you a massage and the latest Xbox then we are failing today's youth.
TRC: What is your first memory?
ML:I don't have a specific first memory, but I recall being very, very small in the first house I lived in --- looking up at the couch, and spending a lot of time with the carpet. I remember the neighborhood and the pool. It's funny, I think part of the reason we don't remember being a baby is because we don't have the vocabulary to tell ourselves stories about what happened. As soon as I could tell a story, I started remembering a lot more.
AS: My first super clear memory is on the very first day of kindergarten where I sat next to my friend Eddie and saw his name tag read "Edward" and I was like "Whaaaaaaaa." That's boring, though, so let's pretend my first memory was Voldemort killing my mom and trying to take me out, too.
TRC: What’s one memory from high school that you would erase, if given the chance?
ML:Oh boy. There's plenty of embarrassing moments and regrets --- boy problems or friend fights --- and lots of choices I wish I'd made differently, but I don't think I would erase any of it. They were learning experiences. Part of me thinks that if I forgot some embarrassing mistake, I would just end up doing the same thing again in a different context. You can't escape who you really are! I don't think I could come out of the experience of writing this book and believe that erasing a memory would be worth it.
AS: Not to bring down the house, but I would forget some of the abuse that went down in my house when I was younger. And for something fluffier, I'd forget the rejection I received from various girls. Haha.
TRC: Quick – you just gained the ability to have an amazing memory for one specific thing (recipes, languages, directions, etc). What do you pick?
ML:I would love a great memory for faces and names. It's something I practice a lot with actors on TV --- a "where have I seen that person before" game. But it doesn't always work as well in real life, where it actually matters.
AS: Languages, hands down. Dothraki anyone?