My 12-year-old daughter loves to read. She is voracious, constantly asking for trips to the library or money to spend on Amazon or permission to download a book to her Kindle (which I rarely give, as I believe in the power of a physical book).
Lately, I've wondered more than once about what she's reading. I see the books. Someone named Percy Jackson. There are books I've seen displayed at Barnes & Noble, books like Wonder and Smile.
Maggie wanted, about a year ago, to read the entire Hunger Games series. I said, emphatically, no. I told her to return the books immediately to the library. I argued she was too young, even though I've never read them myself. I'd started the first one, actually, and found it disturbing. I didn't want my 11-year-old reading something disturbing.
A few days later, Maggie was happily reading a book I'd purchased for her, something sweet and charming (though I can't remember the title). She sat happily at our son's soccer game reading away, and I thought: she is such a lovely girl, sitting reading that charming book, at her brother's soccer game, no complaints about the sun or wasted hours, etc. etc.
Later, I saw that same book sitting on the counter, at a different angle, and the book's pages looked old to me; though I'd just purchase it a week or two before.
Strange, I thought.
Then, I turned back, picked the book up, took off the cover and (you guessed it): Catching Fire.
Oh, someone caught fire, alright.
I thought of that the other day and wondered what she's reading now, so I went off to ask her. She began naming off books, and I began asking about plots, and then I thought: I should just read some of these books. I should get into her world with her rather than trying to always remind her of one of the world's great truths: Hemingway is really where a person wants to spend her time.
I asked Maggie if she'd like to make a book club between us, just the two of us, and each month one of us would choose a book to read. We'd read and discuss.
This month, we read Maggie's choice: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.
When I found it it was a graphic novel, I was less-than-enthused. I've never read a graphic novel, nor have I ever had a desire to do so. But....who was I to judge? It was her choice. I said yes.
Over the next week, I spent a few hours (all it took) to read the book. As I read, I felt like I had a little window into her world.
Here's the book blurb from Amazon:
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.
I didn't love this book. It wasn't the graphic novel part of it that bothered me; although that didn't help matters. It was just that I thought the book was a little cliched. I could see it all coming. There was nothing (nothing) that surprised me or pulled me in or made me really care much about what was happening in this book.
I realize I'm 42 and this book wasn't written for my demographic; yet, if I read Heidi or Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables, I'm pulled in. There are characters to cheer for and cry with; the language is beautiful, even today. There are entire worlds to explore. These books endure.
Ghosts is interesting in that I learned about the Day of the Dead, which I previously knew nothing about. I found that aspect of the book intriguing. The little sister was the best character in the book, with her zest for life even if she's restricted in the way she lives it. But so much of what could have built this into a layered, textured story was left out. We know little of the parents (they're usually flopped on the sofa). We don't know why exactly moving north will help the sister's health. None of the friendships developed in the book are explored in anything more than cursory detail.
Anyway, I won't go on. It wasn't my favorite book, point made. However, it was recommended to me by Maggie, and for that reason, I wanted to know more. What was it about this book my daughter liked? Why did it speak to her?
I tried, as nonchalantly as possible, to ask these questions one afternoon while she ate a snack after school.
"So....." I began, flipping through a catalogue. "Let's talk about Ghosts."
She stopped mid-bite and smiled. "You read it?"
"I did," I replied, trying to keep my voice neutral.
She asked if I liked the book, with a half-smile on her face. My daughter knows me. She knew I wouldn't love it.
"I liked some aspects of it," I said, careful not to launch into a full-fledged review. "I really liked learning about The Day of the Dead."
She nodded and agreed: that was the best part.
"What did you like about it?" I asked.
Maggie looked at her snack, shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know."
We don't read books and then shrug and say, "I don't know."
This is exactly why I don't belong to book clubs. I hated investing so much time in reading and thinking about a book only to show up for an evening of discussion and have it turn into wine and talking about kids and husbands.
I realized Maggie didn't know how to talk about a book, how to discuss it with more than a shrug. I also realized beating her over the head about it wasn't going to help matters. So, as gently as I could, I asked questions and gave her time to think a little bit, and we discussed the book in half-halts and jilted analysis.
I learned Maggie has a hard time moving around, especially with a little brother who so often gets more of the attention. He's more energetic, outgoing and demanding. He's the squeaky wheel. :)
I learned Maggie often feels left out, especially after a move.
I learned why Maggie liked certain characters in the book (the little sister), and she thinks the book is interesting because of the ghost aspect of it. I also learned she isn't dearly attached to this book but mostly feels it's an interesting way to pass some time. It's quick, engaging and touches on some of the feelings she's currently experiencing. The more we talked about it, the more analytical she became and the more she opened up to areas of the book she felt were lacking or parts she thought were well-done.
While I may not have loved the book, that discussion with Maggie, sitting at our kitchen table in the afternoon sun, was worth the read. I had a window into her world in a way I'm not always able to access through everyday talk.
I think books are powerful because they enable us to explore some of our own feelings, beliefs and values without having to do so head-on. We get to explore these feelings from the side, so to speak, through the lives of fictional characters who struggle with similar emotions or problems. For me, when I read a book or see a painting or hear a song I really connect with, I feel less alone in the world. I feel like someone else, at one time or another, felt what I feel, and I think there is a lot of power in that.
For me, art is about expression, yes, but more so, I think it's about connection.
I loved, as I read, knowing I was reading a Maggie suggestion. I loved talking with her about the book, once we got past shoulder shrugs. I loved having that connection.
I am tempted to try to hand her a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, but I won't. I want to keep looking into her world. So, we've decided I'll choose the book this month, from her collection.
Stay tuned. Fingers crossed we find something good.
I know many people who love middle-school fiction and YA fiction.
Is anyone else reading along with children?