Did you read the recent news story where a teen who was swept away into whitewater towards a waterfall used what he’d learned from a YA fantasy book–The Merchant of Death (a Pendragon book by D. J. McHale)– to save himself? No? Go check it out, then come back. Or better yet, stick with me for a bit, then go back and check it out.
It felt good to read that news story, and affirming. But it wasn’t surprising to me. I think books have been saving people for a long time, and in many different ways. Books can help us for hard things in life without having yet experienced them, help give us tools to cope when hard things do happen. They can also help us realize just how bad a decision we could make might be, like taking drugs or turning to prostitution–Ellen Hopkins’ books vividly show that, and I’ll bet many teens on reading her books are warned away from those choices on a deep level. And books can show us other options, other ways of coping with problems, other solutions.
I think children’s and teen books especially save people. Children and teens may not have anyone else to turn to but an author’s words in a book, especially for trauma such as abuse, but even without trauma. And children and teens are learning, growing, finding out about the world, hungry to know more. Books help guide and arm them. And most children’s and teen books have strong protagonists who are heroes, who make mistakes but who fight for good. And many children’s and YA books have hopeful or uplifting endings, inspiring the reader.
Books sure saved me as a child and teen being abused. Books were my escape from my life; they helped me dream and hope. But they also helped me believe that people could be good, kind, and caring, even when I saw no evidence of that in my life. I’ve heard similar things from many people–that books helped them survive, helped them get through rough times. Finding out you’re not alone, say, with a parent dying or killing themselves, or a sibling doing drugs.
Some of my own readers have written me, telling me that Scars helped them stop cutting, get help, or even keep from killing themselves. That’s incredible to me–something I’d hoped for! Books are powerful. They can help us know we’re not alone on a very deep level, sometimes for the first time in our lives. They can help us believe in other people, trust them, believe in ourselves.
And they can help us navigate in this world, make better choices, and know what to do in a crisis where we might not have known what to do otherwise. (I once helped a diabetic girl who would have gone into a coma if I hadn’t known how to respond–and I only understood because of all the books I’d read.) We absorb books, we take in the knowledge, the learned experiences, the wisdom, and we use it to build onto our selves.
Books are powerful tools. And they help save lives every day.