I’ve sometimes used books as an escape, as a way to explore something new, as a way to be someone else for a while. I’ve used them as entertainment, as inspiration, as a challenge to my writing.
But something has always not quite encapsulated it for me when people talk about the power of words and why we read and why we must keep reading. We say we use books to escape our lives, for entertainment, for learning empathy, for all those things I just mentioned. And that’s true. But as I’ve been sorting through why I write the stories I do, and what draws me to the books that I really, really love, something occurred to me.
Everyone is grieving something. Life leaves us with scars, and wounds that don’t heal properly, and it’s almost impossible to learn how to grieve when you’re in the middle of it. As a child, I didn’t even realize the things I was grieving. But the books I read pulled at it– the support I was missing, the friends I needed to have, the simple fact that life hurts. As an adult, I can see now that I was choosing books that helped me sort through and process all these things. And what I read now often does similar things. It pulls out a fragment of something, and helps me process it, and brings me back to a place where I can see more than the damage. Prejudice, loneliness, poverty, alienation, loss– we carry these things around with us, and they get heavy, and we often don’t know what to do with them. One piece at a time, books can help us grieve and process and show us how to put things back together.
This is why I read and write dark YA. “Dark” doesn’t mean “depressing.” It just means it’s a story that tackles serious issues, and most of them tilt the characters toward healing. Books bring us catharsis, and we all need that. In feeling for a character, and through watching their own struggle, in many ways we’re sorting through pain of our own. And it’s a hopeful, wonderful, positive thing.