I was in the tenth grade when my AP English teacher gasped and asked me why I was reading what I was reading. I looked up, then looked at the book cover of Running With Scissors that I held in my hands. I laughed, and asked, “Why?” She told me it was excellent, yes, but a bit advanced for my age, no? Well. Yes, the gay sex scenes were a bit raw, and the sick and gut-wrenching psychology behind the characters that were—horrifyingly—real, were kinda hard to digest. But isn’t everything?
After that moment, my teacher got to know me and she never questioned my book choices again. The weird thing is, there are still so many books out there that I read and I shudder and cringe. Rape scenes are the worst, written with such harsh honesty that make me nauseous with fear. But I keep reading. Because we learn. Don’t we?
There are also so many books out there that I can’t manage to get through. My eleventh grade teacher still hopes, to the day, that I find some kind of space in my heart for Shakespeare (loved Macbeth, Hamlet annoyed me, and couldn’t get through anything else). But I don’t have that sort of patience.
It’s strange to see, as you’re growing up, the things you used to read. Yet there are things that remain, deep inside of me, and I reread and wonder who wouldn’t want them on their shelf. Who wouldn’t want those words in their mind, clawed into their soul, classics like Peter Pan and To Kil a Mockingbird and yes, the remarkable Harry Potter. And then I turn and pick up the latest books I’ve read, like Other Voices, Other Rooms and Rant. With more blood and underlying skepticism, creeping with violence and eeriness that only Capote and Palahniuk can deal with so majestically.
But sandwiched between classics and modern classics, I find something else. The author’s Sarah Dessen, and no doubt there are thousands of girls out there who know her from their youth. Through the years, as I’ve become drier and colder and yes, maybe a bit bitchier, Dessen remains. I reread This Lullaby a few months ago, one night when I couldn’t sleep and I needed something soothing. Even from the name, people wouldn’t believe I’d read it. It sounds so girly, and cheesy and… stupid. But so clear in her words and through the pages of her novel you’ll find truth. I don’t give a fuck, whether you’re 12 or 17 or a 21-year-old college student who loves the perfect shade of Scorsese red. You’ll still find truth in her stories. They’re simple and silly, but they’re still there, inside of me. Her characters are so stupidly real that it makes me laugh outloud. It’s chick lit, it’s easy and quick, and you take it to the beach and you’ll be done in a couple of hours. But that doesn’t make Dessen any less real.