This month, we’re talking about the books that inspired us to write for young adults.
However, if I’m being honest, I have to first pay homage to the books that actually helped to write me...in other words, the books that helped me develop into the person I am today.
Like most children, books opened up new worlds for me. I walked willingly through each door, eagerly anticipating the “friends” and adventures I would enjoy.
But when I was in third grade, I read Don’t Take Teddy, a story about Mikkel, a young boy with a mentally-challenged older brother named Teddy. When Teddy accidentally hurts another child while playing and the neighbors insist he should be institutionalized, Mikkel decides to run away with Teddy to protect him.
The story and the characters both broke and filled my eight-year old heart. What’s more, it showed me how books can change one’s perspective. How they can empower. Inspire empathy. And initiate the healing process.
I wanted to climb into that book, take those characters under my wing and save them. Protect them.
Up until then, I read to embark on my own adventures, to live my own dreams. After Teddy, I realized I could read to connect on a deeper, more emotional level with others.
And I realized I wanted to.
From then on, character-drive books were my go-to. I consumed The Catcher in the Rye, wept over To Kill A Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon, devoured everything Judy Blume, and internalized the All Creatures Great and Small series (I even started my collegiate journey as a pre-vet major – talk about influence!)
In my teens, life took a dark turn. My mother suffered from depression and alcoholism, and when I was 15, she attempted suicide. At that point, books were more important than ever. They were my strength and my escape. My salvation.
Admittedly, there weren’t as many YA selections when I was young as there are now; however, books like Ordinary People (which was also made into a fantastic movie) helped me realize that (sadly) our situation wasn’t an anomaly. Other families experienced dysfunction too.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive help through professional therapy as well as support from family and friends.
But I’ve never forgotten that 15-year old who desperately needed that one book to reassure her she wasn’t alone, and that one day, she’d be okay.
Today, I write for her. For those like her. Because writing that one book for that one person is my mission, my dream and my passion.
It's how I hug the world.