I lost my book this weekend (don’t worry I found it under a coat in the car). While it was lost, my partner left the country (he’ll be back), my sister had a baby (not so much upsetting as overwhelming) and I didn’t get the job (though I didn’t expect to, disappointment is disappointment). Heady times for this reader. Hardly a time to be book-less. Time, you might think, to turn to the failsafe: the young adult fiction bookshelf (and yes, it has its own bookshelf).
Among the Beverly Clearly (there is a lot of Beverly), Gordon Korman and E.B. White I found my Kit Pearson collection. Pearson, if you’re not familiar (you should be – go get her) is a Canadian author made famous (or Canadian famous) for The Guests of War trilogy – a series that follows British Home Children (British children sent to live in Canada for the duration of WWII) – and for her Newbery winner A Handful of Time. While I remembered loving – and reading and re-reading – the Guest of War, I couldn’t remember – at all – reading A Handful of Time. I sort of thought maybe it was the same as Tuck Everlasting? You know how sometimes YA gets confused in your mind as just one big happy bit of comfort read?
Anyway, much to my delight I don’t think I’d *ever* read (or at least I have no memory of reading) A Handful of Time. And so the story unfolded like so much delightful discovery mixed with comfort and reassurance (something inherent to the genre? I’m beginning to wonder). Our protagonist is lonely, misunderstood and awkward (*cough* not at all like anyone I know or feel like). She encounters a setting – family cottage – and characters – family members – who exacerbate her feelings of lonely-awkward. And then! As if by design she discovers something (only a little magical) that allows her to understand herself better, to grow into her sense of being, to communicate who she is and what she wants: to become her better self. It is the kind of reminder and lesson every 29-year-something (I’ll refuse 30-something as long as I can) should get: that the scale of our problems and challenges may feel monumental (“I don’t know how to steer a canoe!” or “I can’t afford to retire! ever!”) but the resilience we need to meet and grow through these challenges can be accessible to us if we think to ask, or look within.
Of course this is a problematic trajectory for the many, many kids who don’t have that kind of support network. Who don’t have ways or means to look within to find that strength and fortitude. Who meet challenges only to be met by a challenge they can’t meet. And I don’t mean to diminish these by saying, just read some YA and it will all be okay.
I just mean to say that sometimes in reading these stories – and this was certainly the case for me this weekend – by reading this story it was okay. I was comforted by the familiarity and associations of the reading practice: quiet, bathtub, introspection. I was comforted by the narrative itself: challenges overcome! I was comforted by the genre that allowed this reader to recall that the feeling of being misunderstood isn’t confined to our teenage years, that we continue to need the reminder that this, too, is shaping who we are. And that often it just sucks. And is hard. And lonely.
Less lonely, I guess, when you have a brilliant author like Pearson who gives you a story and a character to fall in with, to live with and to triumph with – if only in its pages.
(aside: when did ‘resilience’ become the catch-word for kids?)