I vividly remember, back when I was a child, that whenever my father was reading a book, it was a Stephen King novel. I never felt the need to read the novels myself, as my father’s summaries were creepy enough. As I later watched the first IT series and ended up traumatised, I wasn’t wrong about that. What I do recall is that my father told me the story was about a little boy who set out to save his mother who was dying from cancer, by finding a talisman. He then asked me if I would do the same for him. I said yes, of course I would.
Partly because even as a kid I would do whatever it took to protect my parents, who were basically my world. But also because even at such a young age, I felt a need for adventure. An adventure I could not find in the real world. Which is why I turned to stories, as soon as I could read. And it is why, til this day, I still turn to stories to escape. Which is why, even though young people read less than before, books are of such vital importance.
Books transport you to other worlds
I have always been hungry for stories. When I was little, I would also write and draw my own stories. Granted, they were very bad (one was about a dachshund going to the park, the end.) but still, they sparked a hunger in my that could never be stilled. I loved to listen to adults telling me stories. To teachers telling me about things that happened in the past. To my brother who told scary stories which made me unable to sleep.
When I could read for myself, I picked up books by Paul van Loon, a very famous Dutch writer. His work was quite scary, especially at such a young age. Later, when I became older, I read the Harry Potter novels. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, these novels provided a way of escape for me. I was bullied, yet I felt like I was not alone. My favourite characters experienced similar things. They stood up for themselves. Most importantly, they beat evil, while all odds were against them. It is a lesson I learned, which I still take with me today.
I always hoped Hogwarts was real. I think many of us did. Yet after the final book in the series was published, I continued my search for new worlds to be transported to. These worlds continue to inspire me, even today. Which is why I keep on reading and devouring every word I find on paper. You see, for a lot of us, Hogwarts was our home. Others wanted to move to Forks and have a vampire as a boyfriend. Others imagined being part of a faction system and belonging to Dauntless. No matter which fictional world you call your home, there is nothing wrong with it, regardless of what others think about the books you love. It is the beauty of stories. And that is exactly why we should continue to stimulate young people to read.
For a very long time, young adult fiction belonged in the hands of white women. We can argue about this all we like, but it is the truth. Those women have written fantastic stories that have greatly influenced the market. But times are changing and that is a good thing. When I used to read a book when I was younger, it was the default that I could identify with the main female character. After all, these characters were mostly white with barely any person of colour in sight. I love to see that POC writers are becoming more prominent now and are experiencing success. Especially in an industry which previously told them that their stories did not matter. The fact that novels such as The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone (which I am reading at the moment and is fantastic so far) are so successful, is a clear indicator that young people are ready for diversity in their stories. I can only applaud it.
At the same time, I am also happy to see that Own Voices novels are more prominent these days. It is good to see that publishers no longer shun queer main characters in novels. And rightly so. Look at Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I think it is fantastic that in 2018, we are getting rid of the idea that everybody is the same and that everybody should identify with the straight white stereotype. In order to be truly transported to these magical worlds, it is of vital importance to also tell the stories of those who do not make up the majority of the population. Which is also why it is important that problematic content in novels is addressed. This blog provides an interesting essay on the controversy surrounding new YA releases and why it matters.
Real world mimics fiction
The most important thing about stories is not just that they transport us to another world. A truly powerful story manages to affect our daily lives as well. Look at the teens fighting back against a corrupt government. These kids were raised on stories telling them they could stand a chance. Look at stories such as Simon. It provided many kids struggling with their sexuality the strength to come out to their family, or at least have their family understand them better. Which is why we should continue writing stories about strong teenagers of all shapes, genders and ethnicities. It is why established authors and aspiring authors should always strive to write better stories and to listen to the voices of their readers.
It is why it is true that, as Stephen King once said, books are uniquely portable magic, and we should cherish them.
Which book has influenced you most? Let us know in the comments.