When I was heading toward adolescence, and having a difficult time with home, school and myself, my dear Auntie Barbara gave me ‘The Friend in Your Mirror‘. There were many times I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or how to act. It was like walking through broken glass; I’m sure many of you will empathise with my memories and feelings.
There is a line in ‘What Katy Did‘ which explains that Katy was ‘sometimes surprised to realise how tall she was.’ I recall my relief that Katy felt the same adolescent awkwardness that I did.
Later, when I was single, and alone on a holiday, I read Melissa Banks, ‘A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing‘. I didn’t share a lot of the life that Jane, the protagonist, lived, but I did share her anxiety over ‘how to be, how to see, how to cope‘; Jane spoke to me and for me. I knew her.
I have just read Kwame Alexander’s Booked, shortlisted for the 2017 Carnegie Medal and CLiPPA prizes. It has been praised internationally. I knew little about Kwame Alexander, other than his 2015 Newbery Medal for The Crossover . However, on the day I finished ‘Booked‘ I spoke with a fellow guest at a joyous wedding about books that ‘spoke’ to readers, offering flickers of recognition as in ‘I know how you feel. It will be OK.’ We agreed there is always a need for readers to feel validated through their reading experience, but particularly when they are going through uncertain times, most often as they approach and weather adolescence, when everything seems to be out of control.
Even when we are dearly loved we need words of nurture and affirmation. There are many, many people in our society who don’t have ‘dear loving’ and miss the security of nurture and affirmation. What happens to them? Do they have Jane or Katy moments? Do they receive nurture and affirmation through their reading, at least?
Our society appears to overvalue accreditation by ‘anonymous’ factors. Whether it be a tabloid suggesting that Princess Charlotte is ‘cuter than her brother’, having celebrity chairs spin at the sound of our singing on ‘The Voice UK’, achieving expected grades or levels, being seen with the ‘right’ friends, at the ‘right’ place, with the ‘right’ look…. we are afflicted by our need for approbation. What if it only comes by external factors? It may not be Will.I.Am, but it may be within social media. And social media approbation is not real, does not appreciate the you who is real, will not make you feel warm inside, nurtured, dearly loved, or ‘high five’ you with a sense of understanding complicity.
Bookwagon seeks out books that ‘speak’ to our readers. The smallest division of stock, thus far, is our Young Adult section, for we feel that there is greater vulnerability in, and a higher opportunity for exploitation of, this reading age section. We want to make sure that our books matter.
‘Booked‘ offers an opportunity for reading ‘rightness’. We share Nick’s tongue-tied shyness, his fear that his suspected intelligence and love of learning may be exposed, his heartbreak at his parents’ unwinding relationship, the way he relives experiences so that he can act and speak as he wishes he had in the first place.
For younger readers, there is a series I recommend cautiously, for fear of questionning. Rosa Lagencrantz’s My Happy Life shares Dani’s deepest thoughts and worries, about her father, her late mother, her friendships, and especially, her deep aching grief at the absence of her best friend, Eva. Although this series has a younger reading age, it has an applicability and maturity of conception and emotions that are in advance of many other titles. It is responsible, considered writing.
My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindstrom, offers readers opportunity to share feelings of loss, love and ageing, gently, as a young girl walks an old dog. The subtle text and faded pictures ache from the pages. This is a truly magical book that I love to bits.
I love Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger. Bridge, the main character, has survived a near fatal accident, but it has left more than scars. As she struggles with a feeling that she ‘survived for a reason’ she tries to make sense of friendships, groups, belonging, images, and change. So do her closest friends, all of whom react differently to social and social media pressures, and have to face the consequences of their actions.
Rebecca Stead, like fellow US authors, Gary D. Schmidt, Richard Peck and John David Anderson, writes impeccably about that eggshell uncertainty of pre/ adolescent change. Another recent addition to our shelves,When You Reach Me set in 1979, has Miranda facing up to change when her closest friend and neighbour abandons her, suddenly. She feels a loss of control, and control, even in her reactions, is something Miranda depends upon to cope. I felt dizzyingly worried in attendance as I read her story.
We share Miracle and Zac’s of the British care system in Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant. The subject matter is ripe for exploitative mawkishness, but the complex sibling relationship and cautious settings, are offered in a careful, realistic, revealing manner. This is an intelligent and resonant debut.
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses remains one of my favourite books of 2017. The author’s tender portrayal of vulnerable young people, each close to unravelling after being let down by adults around them, is valid, personal and raw. These gentle protagonists, each close to the edge of ‘not coping’, demand to be picked up, loved and cared for. This is a stunning book that I urge anyone with young/ adult teen readers in their world to read.
The UKLA made a brave decision in naming Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, the winning title in the 12- 16 year category this year. Henry and his father are trying to reclaim a sense of routine and future in a new city, following a family tragedy. They have new identities, home, jobs, community, but the same nightmares, intensified by a fear of being discovered and undone. Like the parent with whom I tried to share it last week, I was initially dissuaded by the title’s subject matter. However, Susin Nielsen’s empathy and care for her main character, and the lack of exploitation of a chilling situation, makes this worthy of every accolade. It is a stunning book.
While Mr Bookwagon read The Bubble Boy, I was quick to read Stewart Foster’s latest, All the Things that Could Go Wrong although at times I had to stop to draw breath. A relationship forced by well meaning parents between a bully and his victim, telling their stories in turn, is tough to take. Both boys are victims, of circumstances, expectations, crippling fears, the criminal justice system, and social pressure. This is uncompromising and real; Stewart Foster says it was drawn from his experience of working with secondary schools, and his research and understanding are evident.
We have others that we would love to share and recommend with you. Words matter. We store them in our hearts and minds. Ned’s mother’s spells wriggle into his very being as he seeks to protect them from the wicked bandit king in Kelly Barnhill’s The Witch’s Boy. Ned’s experience shows the reader how words have the potential to ingratiate themselves into our very souls so t we might be encouraged, nurtured and inspired. It matters that we read the right ones. Bookwagon aims to provide these to our readers. Bronnie