He Never Liked Cake

by Janna Leyde

Pittsburgh, PA Books
100% funded

A coming-of-age memoir about one girl's journey after her father suffered a traumatic brain injury the summer she turned 14.

Memoir, Nonfiction
Page Length:
250 - 500 Pages
Book Status:
Completed Manuscript
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He Never Liked Cake is the story of growing up with a brain injury. Not mine, but my father's. I was 14 when it happened on a rain-slicked highway. He was a passenger in a car that slid into a pile of other cars, and he hit his head (too hard). Brain injury is insidious. It's tricky and tiresome. It has made a new father out of him. It has changed my mother, changed me.

Today traumatic brain injury (TBI) awareness is rising, as soldiers come home with invisible wounds and injured sports heroes speak up. For those of us asked to love and support a TBI survivor, the struggles are deeply personal and often unresolved, and the victim's recovery is repeatedly thwarted by insurmountable obstacles, along with the battles fought against insurance companies for proper patient care and effective treatments.

My days continue to be shaped by this singular event. It will be this way forever. Some days it warps. Others it barely breathes on. He Never Liked Cake is for any child that has any inkling of what living with a brain injury is like, for those children — young and adult — to know they are not alone. He Never Liked Cake is for families who fight for the new normal, and for survivors who fail to see how life is different.

He Never Liked Cake is for everyone, because it is story about how to embrace life when it doesn't work out the way we had it planned.

Read an Excerpt

Interview with Janna Leyde

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Why did you write the book?

I was 14 years old, sitting in a hospital, waiting for my father's fate to determine my family's fate, when a nurse handed me a slim book.

"Maybe you could read this," she said.

So I spent the afternoon reading When a Parent has a Brain Injury: Sons and Daughters Speak Out. When it was time to go, I asked a different nurse if I could have it.

"Oh, honey," She said, her voice cracking. "You'll need it, sweetheart."

In the next few months, I turned to it for insight into a life that seemed to be unhinging. It was the only guide I had.

By eleventh grade, it had gathered dust in a bottom desk drawer; by college, it was lost. In 2006 my mother sent a package labeled 'Brain Injury paperwork' to my apartment in New York City. Among the folders and documents I found When a Parent has a Brain Injury: Sons and Daughters Speak Out. It was still the only resource for children--both young and adult--of people with brain injuries.

It was about time I get serious about writing a book. I could write, well. And I had a story to tell.

Did you grow up dreaming of being a writer?

No, not at all.

I loved to tell stories, and I talked a lot. I read a lot, and loved books. I had the occasional half-filled journal, but I wanted to be vet or a psychologist or a photographer for National Geographic.

In college it occurred to me that I might want to work in magazines. In journalism school, I discovered a talent for writing and, being at NYU and in New York, I was surrounded by people who wrote books.

I suppose it took a long time to realize that I had the talent to give this a real try, and that I liked doing it.

Just recently one of my oldest and best friends told me that I had always been a writer to her. We would sit up in her bedroom and I'd craft narratives of our future lives on notebook paper. I just thought that was what every teenager was doing--writing it all down.

Favorite authors?

Hemingway for his crisp, compelling sentences. F. Scott Fitzgerald for his imagery and for Gatsby. Michael Chabon for his intricate narrative. Carlos Eire for Waiting for Snow in Havana. Jimmy Buffett because he can storytell. Hunter S. Thompson because he takes you there.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I do a lot of yoga. I practice and I teach. It's my balance. I need a balance between the inward, at times isolating, writing activity (I am a freelance writer, too) and everything else in my life.

The other stuff: having dinners, drinks and all kinds of adventures with my friends; spending time with my family; seeing new bands; encouraging people to show compassion towards the planet; trying to get to a the beach; trying to get behind a boat to ski.