WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange author Jennifer Walkup chose to follow the old adage “Write what you know” for her second young adult novel, “This Ordinary Life,” currently on sale in bookstores and online. But in her case, this was more than an attempt to simplify the writing process; it was a chance to tell a story concerning a topic she holds dear: the impact epilepsy can have on a person’s life.
Having seen the effects of epilepsy firsthand — one of her sons and a few of her relatives are afflicted with the seizure-causing neurological disease that affects 65 million people around the world, according to the Epilepsy Foundation
— Walkup said she always wanted to write a book that accurately represents the condition. She included two epileptic characters who manage to live normal lives in order to show readers that people are more than just their disabilities.
“Having epilepsy is secondary to (the characters) just being regular teens who like to do teen stuff,” Walkup told the West Orange Chronicle in a Jan. 2 email. “Epilepsy is a part of their life, but certainly not what defines them.”
“This Ordinary Life” demonstrates this through the perspective of Jasmine Torres, a high school student who must balance her aspirations of becoming a professional radio DJ with her responsibilities caring for her epileptic younger brother, Danny. Jasmine longs for an ordinary life in which she would not have to worry about how Danny’s disease will affect their futures. Yet after meeting Wes, a fellow teenager who refuses to let his epilepsy keep him from leading the life he wants, she learns that having a disability does not mean that one’s dreams cannot come true.
Writing the book proved to be an emotional experience for Walkup, who said it was important to her to get right all the aspects of living with the disease. In fact, she said every epileptic episode in “This Ordinary Life” is based directly on situations she has experienced or has seen others experience in the real world. And though the relationship between Jasmine and Danny is fictional, Walkup said her own history of caring for her son definitely informed Jasmine’s perspective in the book, making it as authentic as possible.
While that the book is finished, it remains important to Walkup to continue advocating for people who struggle with epilepsy. As she did with her first book “Second Verse,” the author said she will donate a portion of the book’s proceeds collected in November during National Epilepsy Awareness Month, and on March 26 — international Purple Day for epilepsy awareness — to the Epilepsy Foundation. Meanwhile, she said she will also participate in fundraising events for the cause, support families afflicted with the condition and share accurate information about seizures with the public.
The latter is especially necessary, Walkup said, because combating misconceptions about epilepsy prevents the spread of bias against those who suffer from it.
“Wrong information can be really dangerous and a stigma against those with seizures,” Walkup said. “If I can offer
information that helps against that, I’m happy to.”
Of course, Walkup has interests beyond epilepsy awareness, which will be on display in her future books. The author said she is actually working on a few different projects right now; her favorite is another young adult novel about an unlikely duo that teams up to overcome their fears during one “crazy-fun” summer at the beach. She is not sure when these new stories will be published; readers may sign up for her newsletter at www.jenniferwalkup.com for updates.
In the meantime, Walkup said she hopes readers will enjoy “This Ordinary Life” while also learning a bit about epilepsy. Above all, she said she wants people to understand through the characters that people who suffer from it are really just like everyone else.
“I want them to realize that people are more than any disability they may have,” Walkup said. “Just because you have something like epilepsy, that in no way means you aren’t a regular kid with regular hopes and fears and yearnings for life. Just because you have epilepsy doesn’t mean you don’t go to school, or read comic books, or go hiking, or fall in love.”