LIGHT YEARS: A NOVEL FOR YOUNG ADULTS from simon pulse/Simon & Schuster

 

As a mysterious virus infects the world’s population, a girl embarks on a quest to find a cure in this thrilling debut about the revolutionary power of creativity and grief.

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Luisa is ready for her life to start. Five minutes ago. And she could be on her way, as her extraordinary coding skills have landed her a finalist spot for a fellowship sponsored by Thomas Bell, the world’s most brilliant and mercurial tech entrepreneur. Being chosen means funding, mentorship, and most importantly, freedom from her overbearing mother. Maybe Lu will even figure out how to control the rare condition that plagues her: whenever her emotions run high, her physical senses kick into overload, with waves of color, sound, taste, and touch flooding her body.

But her life is thrust into chaos as a deadly virus sweeps across the globe, killing thousands and sending her father into quarantine. When Lu receives a cryptic message from someone who might hold the key to stopping the epidemic, she knows she must do something to save her family—and the world.

Suspenseful, lyrical, and thought-provoking, Light Years features a remarkable heroine on an intensely physical and emotional quest for hope and existential meaning.

Buy the book, see what others are saying, or read below for my inspiration in writing it. 

Image by H. Spencer Young

Image by H. Spencer Young

To the girl who codes, who creates, who cares and fights and loves fiercely with her whole heart, to the girl who holds the entire universe in the palm of her hand, and to the rest of us who see her: I wrote this book for you.

I created Luisa from a deeply personal place, and while there are a multitude of external influences and invented conceits that have been woven into the fabric of the book allowing it to transcend my singular narrative, 'Light Years' is in many ways my story—a mysterious virus that terrifies the world, a girl confronting the death of her father, first love, the search for a mother-figure, formative female friendships, and a quest for spiritual and existential meaning. These are all aspects of my own experience written through the lens of my self-awareness and memory. 

Images by Tafv Sampson, Kit Keenan, and others

Images by Tafv Sampson, Kit Keenan, and others

On July 4th, 1992, six weeks shy of my fourteenth birthday, my father died of AIDS. I had spent the five years prior hiding his illness from my friends and worrying that the phone would ring in the middle of the night with the call that he was gone. I had no spiritual life to speak of, but I would lie in bed praying for a miracle I intuitively knew was not coming. 

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In the twenty-four years since, I have grappled with my own relationship to death and to God. I have come to know that death is, to a large extent, what gives life its richness and power and I have been able to uncover and embrace all the many gifts the loss of my father has given me. 

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Still, I don’t sit easily with a conception of God in my life. The influences of my childhood led me to view religion as a form of anti-intellectualism and God as an illusion, an unreliable repository for the desperate yearnings of the weak (see above: my prayers went unanswered). I am not alone. Culturally, we compartmentalize our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual selves, most often favoring the first at the exclusion of the other two.

This creates an imbalance on both the individual and collective levels. Our feelings, and by extension, our bodies are not honored. Artistic education and expression are seen as dispensable luxuries. We prize results over experience, test scores over learning, profits over people. We allow the ego to reign supreme, shunning a connection to anything outside ourselves. What was intended to be a practice around empathy, charity, and existential questioning (religion) has become, largely, a vehicle for the exercise of power and political agenda.   

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As an adult, through years of studying yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, work in a twelve-step program, therapy, becoming a mother, and experiencing another heartbreaking loss, that of my business partner and mentor, I’ve learned to interweave these parts of myself more and more. I’ve released logic in favor of intuition. I’ve cultivated creativity over theoretical knowledge. And I have allowed the mystery of the universe, the essence of the divine to make a home in my heart. It is through nurturing this balance that I was reborn as an artist writing Luisa’s journey as a reflection of my own. 

I wrote 'Light Years' for teenagers who are on the precipice of independence, and all the freedoms and perils that come with adulthood. Life can feel limitless and bountiful and then suddenly become staggeringly lonely and confusing as we confront different forms of loss for the first time. Through Luisa, we connect to a character who is faced with epic circumstances and tremendous grief, but whose uniqueness, sensitivity, intuition, and receptivity to the feelings she’s having, both good and bad, allow her to navigate her life with grace, strength, and purpose. I also wrote 'Light Years' to provide readers with a notion of the divine that does not rely on a church or temple or mosque, that is not “out there.” Instead, Luisa finds connection and self-agency through a force that is mirrored within her—the voice deep inside each of us that knows who we are, what we need, and what to do. Luisa has the potential, as each of us does, to become a conduit for this divine inner knowing and through that, become as powerful as anyone on the planet.

'Light Years' is the book I wish I could have read when my dad was dying and Luisa is the girl I have always wanted to be—soulful, smart, brave, and unwaveringly, authentically herself.