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Title Symptoms of a Heartbreak
Author Sona Charaipotra
Pages 336 Pages
Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Publication Date July 2nd 2019 by Imprint
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
The youngest doctor in America, an Indian-American teen makes her rounds ― and falls head over heels ― in the contemporary romantic comedy Symptoms of a Heartbreak.
Fresh from med school, sixteen-year-old medical prodigy Saira arrives for her first day at her new job: treating children with cancer. She’s always had to balance family and friendships with her celebrity as the Girl Genius ― but she’s never had to prove herself to skeptical adult co-workers while adjusting to real life – and – death stakes. And working in the same hospital as her mother certainly isn’t making things any easier.
But life gets complicated when Saira finds herself falling in love with a patient: a cute teen boy who’s been diagnosed with cancer. And when she risks her brand new career to try to improve his chances, it could cost her everything.
It turns out “heartbreak” is the one thing she still doesn’t know how to treat.
In her solo debut, Sona Charaipotra brings us a compelling #OwnVoices protagonist who’s not afraid to chase what she wants. Symptoms of a Heartbreak goes from romantic comedy highs to tearjerker lows and is the ultimate cure-all for young adult readers needing an infusion of something heartfelt.
Be sure to visit all the wonderful stops on the Symptoms Of A Heartbreak blog tour!
Hi, Sona! Thank you so much for joining me on Pop! Goes The Reader today.
1. First, I’d love to learn a little more about you! Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? If not, what did you one day dream of becoming?
From as long as I could remember, I was definitely a reader! My mom says I was reading as young as three, but I don’t actually remember learning to read. I do remember spending endless hours at the library, devouring books. And sharing stories with my sister, who’s about a year-and-half younger than me. We made up stories all the time. The first time I actually remember getting praised for my writing was when I was 12, and had an amazing teacher, Ms. Pinter, who emphasized reading and storytelling. And I scribbled stories when I was in my teens. But I always said I didn’t have a book in me – all those pages, those words, so intimidating! In college, I studied journalism and American studies, pop culture, essentially, and interned at magazines – I ended up working at People magazine for seven years right out of school. But it was a screenwriting class I took in my senior year at Rutgers (with my sister!) that sealed it. I went to NYU to study screenwriting, and did the LA thing for a bit. I think Hollywood is the only industry harder – and slower – than book publishing. After stuff nearly panned out there but didn’t, I decided to adapt a screenplay my sister and I wrote together, and realized fiction is a very different form. I was going to bail on it, but my husband Navdeep, also a writer, told me I just needed to dig deeper. So I applied to the writing for children program at the New School, met Dhonielle there the first day of class, and the rest is history!
2. What books and/or authors do you feel have inspired or influenced your life in a positive way? What books can currently be found on your bedside table?
The first book that made me realize that maybe I could be a writer was Bombay Talkie by Ameena Meer. It was the first book that I read that had an Indian-American girl, all salwar kameez and sneakers, growing up in Boston in a mish-moshed household not unlike mine. Her experiences were so different, but I saw shades of myself for the first tme. And then she came to speak at Rutgers, and I got my book signed, and she was a real life living, breathing brown woman who was an author. I was floored. And inspired. Then, when I worked at People, I got to interview Jhumpa Lahiri when Interpreter of Maladies came out. I knew then that there was room for stories about people like me, like us. It was only a matter of time.
And I’ve always read YA – long before it was called that officially. All the commercial fiction, from middle grade like The Baby-Sitters Club series to the Vampire Diaries and beyond. But Laurie Halse Anderson is my hero. Her books Speak and Wintergirls defined for me what storytelling could truly be – astounding, rich, experimental, cathartic, devastating in its honesty. But I also loved Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere – a heartbreaking but redemptive love story, and Jenny Han’s impossible love triangles.
Right now, the book I recommend to everyone all the time is The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon. It’s magic. Two teens of color, falling in love over a single day, and it’s also an homage to New York City.
3. You previously co-wrote the wonderful duology, Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces, with author Dhonielle Clayton, but Symptoms of a Heartbreak marks your debut as a solo author. How was your experience writing this novel similar or different to your previous projects? Did you learn anything new or interesting about your writing process along the way?
My process is very much my process, whether I’m working with Dhonielle or solo. I need an outline to function. I need to pin down the beginning, middle and end, the stakes, the characters. All the bones have to be there. I get too distracted otherwise. And then I procrastinate. I think about things for a long while before I start writing. I induce panic in myself and others. (Hi D!) I need nudges. I need deadlines. And when there’s absolutely no wiggle room, I dig in. I can write pretty quickly, but I definitely need outside deadlines. D nudged me on this the same way she did before, and I thank god for that. I thought it was was just my terrible personality – and I’m sure to some extent it is – but I was just diagnosed with ADHD. I am now seeing a therapist, using cognitive therapies and tools, and on medication, which is definitely helping. It’s been there all along, but now I have some tools to manage it, and it’s like a miracle.
4. Symptoms of a Heartbreak follows the story of Saira Sehgal, an extremely driven, hard-working and dedicated prodigy who, at only sixteen, has already earned her doctor of medicine degree and is embarking on a competitive internship in the pediatric oncology ward at her local hospital. It’s clear an immense amount of research was done on your part to make sure Saira’s medical expertise and time at the hospital rang true. Can you share one fact or piece of information you uncovered during the research process that you found interesting or surprising?
Oh man, so many things. My parents are both doctors – pediatricians – so I grew up with a very lay understanding of how certain things function. But every part of the medical stuff here was researched and vetted and so much was reworked in the process, thanks to doctor readers who gave me incredible, in depth feedback. I learned so much about how much schooling doctors undertake, how much they differ still in approaches and bedside manner, how much racism there still in in the arena. I also learned that oncology residents don’t do surgery, which oops. I had a really amazing, tense scene that I had to completely retool because of this fact. But it just would not have been accurate. Oh well.
5. Over the course of the novel, Saira faces a lot of skepticism in regard to her medical qualifications and abilities from her co-workers, her patients, and even members of her family. What are some strategies you find are effective in combating doubt, whether it’s self-inflicted or otherwise?
I think it now makes so much sense, given the ADHD, but I was a chronic underachiever – my mom frequently reminded me that I was not quite living up to my potential. Which is not to say that I was not successful. But many South Asian families are full of extreme overachievers and parental expectations can be overwhelming. My parents always wanted me to become a doctor and take over their practice, and I just did not want to do that. It was a source of drama, on occasion, but not nearly as contentious as it may be for someone from other families. I think with immigrant families – South Asian or otherwise – it’s just that parents have come here overcoming many challenges, trying to create a better life for themselves and their children. To see your kid then chase something that might never offer not just success but basic stability is hard. And writing, publishing, and other creative pursuits, as we know, are not built on meritocracies, there’s no set path that guarantees success, even if you give it your all. So I think the bottom line for me is to remind myself of the why. Why am I doing this? It’s because I rarely saw my reflection on the page – and until so recently, that was still true for my own kids, some 30 years later. That’s unacceptable. It’s up to us to share our stories, to create those representations we craved as kids. Stability would be nice, but it’s not the endgame.
6. Saira spends a lot of her free time watching and talking about Bollywood films with her friends and family. Her love of these films is infectious and I definitely want to start watching some immediately! If you could recommend three Bollywood films you think everyone should watch, or three of your personal favourites, which would you choose and why?
Three of my personal faves, which I think offer a good, broad starting point:
Bobbi: One of the first I watched repeatedly as a child, a classic rich boy-poor girl romance, and starring a young Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: I think this is still the longest running Bollywood film in theaters. And with good reason. Early Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, but the first glimpses at the realities actual first generation kids.
Dil Dhadakne Do: A sprawling Punjabi family adventure on a cruise ship. There’s so much here that reminds me of my family. Not to mention: the parents’ names are Neelam and Kamal – and those are my parents’ names!
7. One of my favourite aspects of Symptoms of a Heartbreak was Saira’s close relationship with her family, which was warm, loving and vibrant. Their interactions with one another felt very realistic and were also very touching. What inspired this particular aspect of the story?
Saira’s family is definitely a reflection of my family. We’re loud, proud, bhangra-oriented, and we take over wherever we go. I feel like I’ve never quite seen us on the page. My mom said that the family was her favorite part of Symptoms, how familiar they felt. And I stole a lot of names from my actual family, sorry not sorry.
8. Let’s talk about pizza! Pizza Hut plays a big role in the book, and some of your descriptions of the pies eaten by Saira and her loved ones had my mouth watering! What toppings would be on your perfect pizza?
Pizza Hut gets much disrespect. But for a huge family with a mix of vegetarians and definite carnivores, it’s the place to be. We could bring thirty people and still be seated. (And this has happened. Often.) Plus: who doesn’t love pan pizza? My favorite is the classic veggie I used to share with my dad: peppers, onions, mushrooms and jalepenos, splashed heartily with crushed red pepper. I miss him so much and I miss sharing pizza with him, too.
9. If there was one theme or message you would like readers to take away from Symptoms of a Heartbreak, what would it be and why?
Oh god, that’s a tough one. I think there are two big things: even the smartest among us have so much to learn from others. And love might not be able to save you in the end, but it is the best kind of medicine, in any case.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be specific in your worldbuilding, and in who your characters are. The details are what make a great story, and as odd as it may sound, there are universalities in those specifics. It’s what makes characters human. Who your characters are, where they come from, what they love, what they hate, all the little things. They amount to so much more than the sum of their parts.
11. Is there anything you wish I had asked you but didn’t?
Nope, this is has been great – and so thorough, thank you Jen! You are awesome, and thank you for everything you do to support books and writers!