A Few “YA” Books that Influenced Me Growing Up

When you’re young, you read a LOT more than you do when you’re an adult – that’s probably because it’s so heavily encouraged in school, at home, by TV shows and media geared towards young people – also, you have a ton of time on your hands without a job or legitimate homework, and when there’s nothing to do, picking up a book seems like the thing to do (well…it was for me as a kid – maybe I was a total nerd).

Anyway, without that fostered love of reading, I might not be sitting here writing a blog entry about books. That’s who I am, and I owe it to the books that were stepping stones to this point. There are a LOT, but here are the ones that I cherish the most:

Awake and Dreaming, by Kit Pearson. Before I had ever heard the term “magical realism”, it existed in my life in the form of this book; about a painfully shy and impoverished girl with an abusive mother who discovers the big, loving family of her dreams only to find out that they slowly slip through her fingers and turn into a “real” and un-idealized family before her very eyes, the night I finished this book was one of my first ‘I want to be an author!’ moments. Kit Pearson lives and embodies her characters’ personalities, fantasies and sordid lives. At the end of this novel, Theo, the protagonist, realizes that she herself wants to be an author. I followed suit.

Where the Road Ends, by Jean Thesman. Before the sixth grade, I’d never heard of Jean Thesman and actually, I spent a lot of my childhood reading series like Animal Ark and the Pony Pals, which don’t nourish at all, really. But when my AMAZING grade six teacher, Donna Kneil, read this aloud to our class over the span of a month or so, I was in awe. In awe of the astonishing depression and burdens placed upon the protagonist, Mary Jack, and her adoptive family; in awe that a babysitter could be so heartless as to abondon three foster children and a mentally ill woman; in awe of Mary Jack’s resourcefulness, tact and effort to keep her family dynamic smooth and unassuming in order to keep them all together in the same place. The idea of a young girl keeping a secret to appease and smooth everything, and doing it successfully, is something I could relate to growing up, and after reading this book, I sought out all of Thesman’s other novels. Each that I’ve read is as saitiating and real as this one.

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds-Naylor. Alright, I was the kind of kid who loved animal stories. Especially if they involved either horses or dogs. And especially if they were about kids who wanted pets and couldn’t have them, but then got them in the end anyways. I always wanted a pet as a child – any pet – and because I could never have one, I lived vicariously through these types of touching, insistent and heartwarming tales. My grade 3 teacher read us Shiloh aloud, and I was in love. At the end of the book, she cried. I’ll never forget that.

Kit Pearson – The Guests of War Trilogy. When you imagine yourself growing up, that looming fear and excitement of war turning to sudden feelings of displacement and confused nationalism might not be a part of your own childhood. And what I appreciate about this trilogy is, it’s not a part of mine either. But reading it, I could completely and fullly imagine the terror, chaos and inner-turmoil of being a “guest of war”, of abandoning one’s family and heading out into a country only known through stereotypes, of being laughed at for your accent and discriminated against by your ignorant classmates and ignorant, stunted caretakers. I’ve probably read these books more times than I can count, and rthey never get old. They’re vivid, scary and unfathomable, just like they were when I was a kid.

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