Never underestimate the power of a good book

For this year’s Young Writers Essay Contest, we asked young writers to tell us all about their favorite book. As I was reading through the many wonderful essays about books that have made a difference in the writers’ lives, I thought back to my favorite.

I couldn’t get enough books when I was a kid. I read in the car, after bedtime by flashlight, after school, when I woke up, so as you can imagine there were many trips to the library.  Every time my mom and I left the library, with me carrying as many books as I could without the pile toppling over, I always worried I didn’t have enough.

While I would read anything, including the back of cereal box if that’s all there was available, I had my favorites. In elementary school Judy Blume was everything. She had written many books by the early 1980s, including “Freckle Juice,” “Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great,” “Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing” and “Superfudge.” I read one right after the other, many of them more than a few times, enjoying them all.

But my life changed when I read her book, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

The book is told from the point of view of Margaret, an 11-year old girl who is wrestling with questions about religion, crushes, growing up and fitting in. She has anxiety and uncertainty and deals with it by asking for guidance and answers in her nightly prayer to God — a relationship in which she often finds fault and confusion.

HOW DOES SHE KNOW, I thought as I read the book, at least a dozen times.

Like Margaret, I had so my questions. Without the Internet and social media, and not always wanting to talk to my mom about anything embarrassing, it was great that she could not only read my mind, but also be honest and direct about “girl stuff.” This was not a TV sitcom where everything was wrapped up neatly after 30 minutes; she respected her young readers by not providing easy answers, and sometimes there wasn’t an answer.

In one of her nightly prayers, Margaret says, “Oh please God. I just want to be normal.” After reading the book you knew others felt just like you. I was not alone. As an introverted, shy, over-thinking kid, it was comforting.

Blume’s book, ahead of its time for 1970, still remains controversial and is censored for its frank discussion of religion and sexuality.

It’s clear after reading the contest essays, especially those written by tweens and teens, that books that take on difficult subjects still appeal, and make an impact. Many essayists talked about identifying with complex characters who struggled, but succeeded. Several said they learned something that changed how they looked at a topic, or even how they thought about themselves.

I applaud parents, not only the ones who are encouraging their children to read, but especially the parents who allow their kids to read books that challenge how and what they think and books that might help them to learn more about themselves.

You never know what book will turn out to be their life-changing experience.

Categories: Edit Note

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