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Official Summary: Sixteen-year-old Tyler’s big dream of becoming a top immunologist could come
crashing down if he doesn’t manage all of the little things right now. But when
this obsessive-compulsive science geek confronts a school election, a demeaning
job, needy tutees, a first girlfriend, and the possible extinction of honeybees,
there are suddenly too many things to manage. Tyler’s catastrophically humorous
run for high school student council convinces the principal that he’s a
troublemaker, while it wins him the admiration and desire of Rachel, a smart and
iconoclastic reporter for the school paper. A new night job at a nursing home
puts Tyler on a collision course with his new foster parents, a childless
middle-aged couple with an agenda and a tragic past of their own. And the pain
of his mother’s death becomes too big to ignore. Set on the mean streets of
suburban Las Vegas, The Genius of Little Things is about how you can’t always
get what you want. But sometimes, well, you know…
main goal is getting into the college of his dreams. He has his eye to
the future, and he is intent on starting his career as soon as
possible, rather than engaging in “teen things” like prom, or even
friendships. He WILL start doing those teen things, though. I say
late teens that’s the intended age range, because I think younger readers, say
below 14, might not appreciate his approach to life. College at 14
seems like a far-off event and it may be hard to relate to. There is
an implied sex event or two, but nothing explicit (there’s an
interrupted make-out session and an oblique reference to a possible
sexual encounter). There is some drug use, pot, but nothing hard drugs.
The janitor where Tyler works introduces him to trucker speed. I will
say Tyler does become a bit
hooked on that – plus over-the-counter decongestants and
prescription drugs, it has pretty bad consequences for him, as you can
2. I’m a big fan of creative book titles, so I’m curious how you came up with yours (The Genius of Little Things) and if it wasn’t the first choice, what others came before it?
The title came very late. My working title was Box o’ Crap, which
Tyler calls the box of belongings he carries around from foster home
to foster home. It was a metaphor, also, for the emotions he stuffs
into a box. My first agent suggested that title, but when I completed
the book I decided that “Genius” would be better, because it fits who
he is. Tyler is obsessive compulsive about little things, but he’s
missed the important things in life – human connection, and his own
happiness. It is also something his biological mother called him,
3. Reading the summary, my first thought was, what is a immunologist, so I figured I’d go ahead and ask the current expert! Care to explain?
Immunology is a branch of medical science that covers all aspects of
the immune system. Specifically Tyler is interested in this because
his mother had severe, life-threatening allergies. He has allergies,
too. He’s interested in science, so it’s a natural fit for him, and
the connection to his mother makes it personal. He believes he can
discover why our bodies treat harmless organisms, like dust, as
invaders in allergic people. He actually believes he can cure
allergies one day. He has a pretty inflated opinion of his intellect,
while at the same time he’s painfully self-conscious about his social
I have never lived in Las Vegas. It may be a nice place to live, but
it seems that it doesn’t have a center. It is not homey. It is very
transient, and friends who live there say that’s true, so I don’t feel
like I’m denigrating it. I wanted to give Tyler an obstacle in terms
of location. He is alienated from others, for the most part, and the
city doesn’t do him any favors, even when he tries to reach out.
Another obstacle is, he doesn’t drive, and the public transportation
there is the worst, except in tourist areas. My feeling, echoed by
people who know the city well, is that there are a lot of people who
end up there, for a job, usually, but don’t feel rooted or connected.
That was the case with Tyler’s biological mother. She was a lounge
singer in a casino, and that’s why she moved there. Tyler’s latest
foster parents ended up there through circumstances they couldn’t
control, and they don’t like it very much either. Their house is
underwater (in value), something that is a reality in LV now. Some
neighborhoods feel emptied out. The economy there has taken a big hit
over the past five years.
5. Finally, if you could choose a soundtrack for the book (songs that fit the characters or situations they get into), what songs would you want to include?
Glad you asked. I hadn’t realized how many songs were referenced in
the story, until now. There’s a party scene where the German new wave
song “99 Luftballoons” is a big hit. Later in the scene there is an
interrupted make-out scene set to a Leonard Cohen song, “Closing
Time.” There is a reference to “Seventeen” by Janis Ian; it’s kind of
a sad song about how she had no friends as a teen. “Daydream Believer”
is sung by a woman in a casino lounge; it reminds Tyler of his mother.
There is a dramatic emotional climax brought on by Tyler listening to
“Thank You” by Alanais Morissette. And the final scene features
“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves.