“We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time,” wrote rising star Marina Keegan in a 2012 essay for her college newspaper. A week later she was tragically killed in a car crash.
Yet following her death, the essay went viral and prompted the publication of a collection of work that has seen her hailed as an “icon for a generation” and was today named one of the books of the year.
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, which was published in the US in April, won the Goodreads Choice Awards non-fiction book for 2014.
Members of the reading social network cast more than three million votes across 20 categories ranging from fiction to horror, young adult writing to poetry.
Keegan’s writing was one of the standout winners. Suzanne Boboneau, managing director of Simon & Schuster’s adult publishing division, said: “We use the expression, a ‘gem of a book’ all too often. In the case of The Opposite of Loneliness, though, it’s true.”
She called it a “book of true worth, all the more precious for being Marina Keegan’s only volume of work. She nails human emotion with incredible wisdom beyond her years.”
She graduated magna cum laude from Yale – awarded to the top 10 per cent of the class – two years ago, with her star clearly on the rise. As well as a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival, Keegan was heading to a much coveted role at the prestigious New Yorker magazine.
Yet, tragedy struck five days after graduation when she was killed in a car accident aged just 22, when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel of his car.
Her family, friends and classmates created a memorial service for Keegan, and her last essay, written for the Yale Daily News, went viral with more than 1.4 million hits.
It was that title essay about leaving Yale and what the future held, according to publisher Simon & Schuster, that “turned her into an icon for a generation”.
“We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves,” she wrote in the piece. “But I feel like that’s okay.” She concluded: “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”
Keegan had written extensively with work that “captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation,” her publisher said.
The collection includes the poem Bygones in which she wrote: “Do you want to leave so soon? No, I want enough time to be in love with everything/ And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”
Another work by an author whose life was cut tragically short was honoured in the Goodreads Choice Awards memoir and autobiography section. This Star Won’t Go Out brought together the journals, letters, fiction and sketches of Esther Grace Earl who died of cancer in 2010 aged 16.
Earl was the inspiration for the blockbuster book and subsequent film adaptation The Fault in our Stars after she became friends with author John Green.
The runaway winner for fiction was Landline by Rainbow Rowell, about a woman whose marriage is in trouble and who finds a way to communicate with the past to fix it. Rowell last year won and was runner up in the Goodreads young adult fiction category.
Other highly rated titles in the category included Jojo Moyes’s One Plus One and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.
JK Rowling’s thriller writing alter ego Robert Galbraith was edged out in the mystery and thriller section by Mr Mercedes by Stephen King.
Anne Rice brought back her vampire antihero for Prince Lestat, the 11th instalment of her bestselling Vampire Chronicles series, which won the award for horror.
British historian Helen Rappaport proved the most popular in the history and biography category with The Romanov Sisters.
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