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Author Emily Wing Smith shares her feelings on living with brain injury

Author Emily Wing Smith says she’s often called the “Thank-God-She-Got-Hit-By-A-Car” girl.

Though the phrase has followed her around for much of her life, when she calls herself that — as a religious person and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — she means it quite literally. Smith is thanking God for her life.

That night about 25 years ago when Smith was struck by a car and airlifted to the hospital, doctors found a grapefruit-size mass at the base of her skull after a CT scan.

Smith, who had suffered headaches and other physical limitations her whole life and had felt isolated and different from her peers, finally had an answer to why some things were difficult for her.

“As I aged, I knew things wouldn’t get great immediately,” Smith said of her life after the tumor was removed. “But then I got older and they got better, but they didn’t get great. I guess that is getting into the subtext of my book.”

Smith’s memoir, “All Better Now” (Dutton, $17.99, ages 12 and up), takes readers into her life before the surgery, as a young girl perpetually in therapy, who spent much of her time angry and feeling separate, to life after the surgery, as an adult woman who had finally begun to understand how to accept and live a full life despite limitations.

Now, Smith is not only living, thanks to the discovery of the tumor, but also thriving as a college graduate, wife and published author.

“Certainly, there are a lot of things that are missing from my life that you wouldn’t really expect to be missing from my life if you didn’t know that a large portion of my brain is missing,” Smith said. “At the time of the accident, all I could see was, ‘Oh, this is the cause and effect. Tumor causes headache, absence of tumor equals no more headache.’ But with neurological things, that isn’t how it works. Particularly because I had a frontal injury to deal with (due to being hit by a car), and that caused some problems."

Smith will be the first to say, however, that the memoir wasn’t her idea.

She said when she was first approached about writing a memoir, she thought the idea "seemed very self-indulgent."

“I’m not famous. I’m not particularly well-known even amongst the literary community," Smith explained. "My agent said, ‘You know, I’ve been talking to your editor, and he really likes the idea of you writing a memoir because nobody knows all these things about you. I think it would be a pretty interesting story.’”

Smith still wasn’t quite sure about the idea, she said, adding that the story was interesting to her but only because she lived it.

“I think people’s stories are fascinating to themselves but not necessarily to other people,” she said.

After her insistent editor mentioned that kids are required to read more nonfiction in school now and that something with a narrative would be more interesting to them, Smith finally agreed.

“Since it hadn’t been my idea initially to write it, I didn’t know what to write about. Because to me, it’s my life, so everything is interesting,” Smith said with a laugh. “So I started writing a few scenes … like if my life was flashing before my eyes, what would be the things I would remember?”

Between her own memories and pivotal, life-defining moments, Smith also included her old medical records from therapy and her surgery, which help readers get a clearer idea of not only what Smith’s thoughts were like but also how her situation appeared to the medical community.

While Smith believes her accident and her life are miracles and agrees with people who exclaim over how amazing her story is, she doesn’t always feel the miracle of it on a day-to-day basis. Smith is grateful for the accident and believes it was part of God’s plan for her to survive, but she still finds herself frustrated.

“I thought once the tumor was gone, my bad, shaking hand would disappear and I would finally be able to type all the stuff I failed at because 'bad hand' was so bad," she said. "I would be able to write tons of stories and do this and this, excel at school because my life had been saved, and then it was like … Why am I still struggling? Why do I still have headaches that haven’t seen reprieve?

"It’s hard to find the miracle in this. And I think that has been something that I have gradually come to accept as I have gotten older and can change my life to fit more on my terms.”

Initially, Smith set out to write "All Better Now" like her other stories — without a moral or message. But she soon found she had some different hopes for her readers.

“With this book, I do hope that readers will come away with the idea that anyone who feels weird or different, to feel like they have a friend,” she said.

Smith had been on the fence about including her experience of being sexually assaulted, but she decided to include it after hearing about her friend’s daughter, who had been molested and felt that it was because there was something wrong with her.

“I thought, ‘You know what? That’s why I need to put it in: because there are other girls who will think, ‘That’s how I am. I am the one with the target on my back. I’m the different one they are choosing because I’m bad and wrong and different,’” Smith said. “And I hope that people will be able to see that maybe everybody feels like they are different and wrong and have a target on their back, but they don’t.

“And even for people who aren’t victims of abuse, maybe they can all take away that kind of hope. You aren’t the weird or different one. And if you are? That’s not a bad thing. It will not brand you forever.”

"All Better Now" contains no violence or swearing. Smith's experience of being sexually assaulted is mentioned but not described in detail.

If you go ...

What: Emily Wing Smith book signing

When: Tuesday, March 8, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, emilywingsmith.com

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Hikari Loftus is a graduate of the University of Utah. She blogs at FoldedPagesDistillery.blogspot.com.