I really believe that YA books save people. There are so many books I’ve read in my 30s and 40s that have hit me in the gut and made me realize, tearfully in many cases, that I was never alone when I was a teenager or young adult. I thought I was the only one who felt stupid, weird, misunderstood and unseen. I didn’t have a tragic adolescence. I had friends, boyfriends and didn’t suffer abuse. However, I felt terrible about myself and my circumstances much of the time. Even more painful, I felt alone as if nobody could understand or even wanted to. Nobody really listened to me because we were all trying so hard to be heard that we didn’t have time to listen to each other. Now that I am older and have teenage children, I’ve found YA books that say what I felt so clearly that it’s like a punch in the gut followed by a flood of appreciation from my teenage self. I find myself overwhelmed by the relief of hearing someone else say what I felt. I can feel the teenager in me relax and suffer less as I realize I was never alone.
I honestly feel that the therapeutic value of this experience is enormous. I never went to therapy as a teen. I wanted to and my mother threatened me with it, but we never went. In the eighties, there was still a big stigma about therapy and for my family it probably wouldn’t have ever happened. My dad was a high ranking Air Force Officer and I don’t know if he’d have had the time or the desire to attend therapy or allow us to go. Reading these books has given me book friends who understand and share my pain. It’s one of the reasons I keep reading them.
Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best out there writing YA books. She is fantastic. Reading her book ‘Speak’ in graduate school cut me open. I felt like someone reached inside and found my feelings and put them into this deeply moving book. It’s such an important book and gives voice to anyone who was sexually assaulted or ignored when they needed help. When she came to Politics and Prose last year to talk about her newest book ‘The Impossible Knife of Memory’, I made sure I was there. She’s a fantastic speaker and she “gets” teenagers in an honest and compassionate way. She is never condescending. I asked her to sign my copy of the new book with an inscription to my classes. She wrote, “To Ms. Lively’s Class: Because books help when life sucks.” It’s the perfect message and it’s undeniably true.
Here’s an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson from Buzzfeed that shows her understanding of teens, YA books and the pain of adolescence better than I could.
Another Buzzfeed story (Is that what you call the content on Buzzfeed, stories?) this time featuring the undeniable power and brilliance of JK Rowling. She interacts with her fans sparingly on twitter and other places and when she does, the power of her words, acts and of Harry Potter tend to overwhelm those with whom she interacts personally. I am in no way prepared to talk about what Harry Potter and JK Rowling have meant to me and my family and couldn’t do it justice if I tried right now, so I will leave JK Rowling and her lovely relationship with a young man speak for me and likely many others.
Keep reading Young Adult books. They can heal your teenage self by showing you that you are not now and never were alone. If you’re a teenager now reading this, just know that all of your parents and teachers were once just like you and struggling to figure out what to do with themselves. Most of us still are from time to time.