In case of emergency, break glass, grab book

June 5, 2011

Guys, i’m crying.  i’m actually sitting here typing this with tears running down my face.  My heart is hurting more than i can explain.

Why?     Because of this.

i missed out on this at the beginning so i believe it was the AMAZING Maureen Johnson  (@maureenjohnson) started the hashtag #YASaves   Go now.  If you don’t have twitter, sign up now and search it and read the incredible stories people have shared.

i know i’ve written around this before, here, and here, and here, and here, and here.   i guess that should say something in itself.  BUT i’m going to do it again.  i’ll warn you that it is unedited and i apologize for the rambly parts.

i’ve been reading YA for as long as i can remember, it wasn’t always called YA but that’s what it would be classified as now.  That’s not to say i didn’t/don’t read other genres.  i read adult fiction and non-fiction and picture books and memoirs and pretty much anything i can get my hands on.  i can’t even count the number of times i’ve read every word on a cereal box because it was there and i saw words and i needed to devour them in the same way i needed the actual cereal.  i still feel like that.

i don’t do emotions well.  i’m getting much better at it and i’m happy for that but i was taught that emotions were a bad thing so i got really good at keeping them inside and really bad at understanding how they worked and which emotion was which and what i was actually feeling.  There were words but they didn’t match what we normally think of when we talk about emotions.

Sometimes i feel like i have too many of those words flying around in my head- they’re just banging against every surface and i can’t seem to grab the ones i want and they all move so fast i can’t always tell what they are.  And one of the ways that gets me out of that panicky, confusing, upsetting place is to read.

When i was in college my favorite professor talked about a poet (and i can’t for the life of me remember which one right now) saying how they wanted to give a voice to people who had none.  That’s what reading at those times does for me.  When i can’t find my way out of the craziness of my own head or the darkness or the whatever i can find someone who gives me a voice- because in those moments i feel like i’ve lost mine.  Those books, and for me they are mainly YA, help bring my feet back to the ground and let me take a step back.  And those books let me escape when i need to.

i started cutting when i was 10.  i didn’t stop until i was 28.  i still struggle with it, most days there are times i think about it but it’s a lot easier now to not do it than it was before.  Why?  Because i know there are people out there who get it because of books like Scarsby Cheryl Rainfeld and Impulse by Ellen Hopkins and Cut by Patricia McCormick.  And i don’t just mean get it as in other people who cut or have cut (though i can’t even explain what having people like Cheryl Rainfeld on twitter and thus approachable means to me.  Love love love her successes and admire her courage more than i can ever say.)  i mean there are people who have read those books and have an awareness that i wasn’t trying to kill myself, that i wasn’t trying to get attention, that i wasn’t any of those other things that people sometimes think about people who self harm.  They know enough to give me a chance, they know enough to see beyond the scars.  And sometimes just knowing those people are out there is what i need most.

i’ve wanted to be a writer since i was a tiny dinosaur but i didn’t always stick to the “write what you know” philosophy because the things i knew were scary.  The things i knew made me feel alone, they made me feel like a freak.  Guess when that stopped?  When i found authors who crafted stories made up of tiny bits and pieces of those things.  When i was able to use those books as a mirror and a map and a friend.

As a kid i had night terrors.  If you don’t know what they are, here is a brief explanation.  As i got older they went away but i still had nightmares.  They only got worse after i was raped.  i was scared to sleep.  i didn’t want to shut my eyes because i didn’t know what i would see when i did.  So instead i would read.  Sometimes all night long.  Sometimes only until my body collapsed into sleep.  Those stories helped me keep my feet on the ground instead of letting my brain play tricks on me.

i already told you i deal with depression and PTSD.  At it’s worst i just stop talking.  It’s almost like i can’t.  The worst part is that i want to.  i want so badly to be able to open my mouth and spill out whatever is going on but it’s like i’ve gone to a place so dark that i can’t read any of the words in my head so i can’t get any of them out.  At those points i don’t always have the energy to read but that’s the one thing i try to make myself do because it helps me, slowly, find my way back.  And when i’m at that point i want anything at all that will help.

Is there darkness in YA?  Of course.  Adolescence can be a dark time.  It’s the time when most of us feel more alone than any other time even though we’re surrounded by people.  It’s the time when most of us are so, unawarely, caught up in ourselves that we feel like there isn’t a single person in the world who could understand or help.  Why do you think people get song lyrics tattooed?  Why do they use song lyrics as their statuses?  Because things like song lyrics- and for me books- are easier to approach and unify and grab ahold of than going to a teacher or a counselor or even a friend in real life.  Even now it’s easier for me to hand someone a book and tell them they should read it or listen to a song because in actuality there is something in there i want them to hear, something about them or me that i don’t know how to come out and talk about.  But handing them a book is like handing them the first stone in the path in hopes that they will read it and place another stone down to step to the next point.

i used to work at camp- i worked with girls of all ages but mostly with teenagers.  i was also on Res Life.  The thing about these two jobs is that, unlike a teacher, you live with these people 24 hours a day.  Now at camp my girls were obviously out of their normal surroundings but sometimes because of that i was able to see or talk to them about why they came to camp, why they wanted or needed to be there.  And i heard everything imaginable.  Funny things, things that made me angry, things that broke my heart, things that i didn’t have words for.  And one of the things i was able to offer my girls was my love of books.  Every night at quiet meeting we would read.  Sometimes a picture book but with my CIT groups we read from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Those moments in the quiet with the stars above us were some of my favorites.  Letting the words drip into our ears, knowing that each of us heard them a little differently but a little the same was one of the ways i felt connected as a group.  (That said, when i was a CIT some of my favorite moments with my counselor were the ones when we were just quietly discussing books and writing, they are probably also the ones where i actually said the most too, thanks, and sorry Quibs.)

i don’t want to get all political on you but i will say that one of the reasons i’m as crazy liberal as i am is because of reading YA.  i know that’s not at all the point but the thing is i don’t only read books that tell parts of my own story.  Like i said, i read pretty much anything or at least i’ll give it a try.  Because of that i’ve read books with characters supremely different than me as far as culture, race, sex, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, i could go on and on and on.  And the thing i’ve found is that even though those characters don’t tell part of my story, in a way they do.  Because we’re all teenagers sometime.  We’re all awkward and hormonal.  There is ALWAYS some piece of commonality.  And it’s because of finding those in my YA books that i can go into the real world and look for those commonalities when others would just walk away.  Or to try to get to know someone before i decide how i feel about them when others would take one tiny aspect of who that person is and give up.

i could go on for days.  But i won’t.  i know this was disjointed and whatnot but i feel like i can do that and you guys still love me.  And i love you for that.



  1. Hey Kiddo, this was exactly the article that I mentioned in a fb reply to you. I thought about you as I was reading it and how the YA books helped you, despite/or because of their darkness and the content. (That’s not phrased well, but I’m sure you know what I mean. It’s too hot to think straight!)

    Back when I was a young ‘en, when the dinosaurs were new, there were “controversial” books. I wasn’t allowed to read “Forever” by our town librarian. (I just checked it out from the jr. high library. Sneaky me.) The subjects might not have been the same, but kids today aren’t the same either.

    I haven’t read the Mockingjay books, and don’t really plan to. The subject doesn’t interest me, but I would think that people would rather have their children reading SOMETHING. They had issues with Harry Potter when it came out too. And vampires, I have to admit that I like them, except for the Melissa de la Cruz ones–they just irritate me.

    The “adults” should read the books too and have a conversation about them. Maybe both parties would learn a little.

    Glad talking about books and writing was enjoyable to someone. I love both.

    Miss you! Quibs

    • i do know what you mean and it made me happy to know that you thought of me. Sometimes with reading i feel like i grew up in a bubble because i never encountered any challenges in what i wanted to read and didn’t realize other people did for quite some time(also it wasn’t until i was in college that i realized that summer reading lists weren’t just in the movies.) Kids aren’t the same now as they were then, it’s apparent everywhere, not just in books. Heck, it’s apparent in the games and songs and activities we did at camp.

      It’s true people are always going to have issues with books for whatever reason but i agree, the adults need to read the books before they take issue with them- there needs to be a forum for discussion about those issues and not a jump to banning or assuming they signify the end of the world or the demise of our kids. i think those discussions are just as important as the contents of the books themselves a lot of the time.

      Oh, and the Hunger Games trilogy. . . i wasn’t going to read it but it got to be popular enough while i was at the bookstore that people were asking for similar books and i didn’t like that i couldn’t help then one of the employees who actually really knew about kids and YA books told me how much she liked them so i decided to try. After the first one i was sort of on the line but still really wanted to know what happened next. So i read the next one and it really kept my attention and they are well written. i’ve read all of them now and while it’s definitely not Harry Potter for me, i have turned into a fangirl.

      • What a powerful and brave entry. Thanks for being so open. I actually was at the library today with my 11-year-old and started looking at the YA section. She wasn’t into it yet, but she will. I appreciate the opposing view that these books can be a very helpful thing. Honestly, as a parent, I don’t think I’d have the courage to talk to her about some of these issues.

      • i think that’s a good point, sometimes it’s hard to bring up some of the subjects but easier (though not easy) to talk about if your kids, or campers, or residents, or whoever comes to you with specific thoughts or questions. And of course there are so many books that don’t deal with the darker subjects at all and a lot of them are just as amazing but just like we need a balance in our lives with the types of people we surround ourselves with we need a balance in the book world. There will be people out there who never pick up one of those “dark” books but for every one of those people there is one who NEEDS that book. And if a parent decides that they don’t feel comfortable with their child reading something, i’m okay with that (as long as they don’t presume that their kids aren’t going to find that information elsewhere) but that is no reason for Gurdon to claim YA books are the decline of our society, or say things like cutting is becoming trendy, as she did in a later response because of these books. That’s just absurd. (Like i said i could go on for days)

  2. […] In Case of Emergency, Break Glass, Grab Book […]

  3. Books like the ones mentioned aren’t really the type that I enjoy, but there are lots of people who love them and who share experiences like your own. Yeah, there’s a lot of darkness in some YA books. There’s a lot of darkness in real life, and we can’t keep pretending that teenagers don’t live in the real world and face real issues. Books give people a way of contextualizing their own experiences.

    • Exactly. And the books i mentioned are only a few i like and i know there are tons out there that i’m not a fan of that have helped someone in some way. Literature in general has power and the idea of someone trying to diminish that power or say that the power is a bad thing is both heartbreaking and infuriating to me.

  4. You keep popping up in my world. I had to find an Olivia book for a little girl today. I know you and Olivia.

    • Yes! A friend just sent me a shrine to literary pigs that she made and, of course, Olivia is part of it. . .it’s beautiful, i’ll have to post pictures.

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