“No, No, No,” I heard The Teen scream from the living room, so I went running to see what was happening. She was sitting in the chair that we all call “the reading chair” yelling at her book. I have done this. This I understand.
Suddenly, she started crying. Not the silent tears streaming down your face crying but the wild, air gulping sobs of someone who has just watched their puppy get kicked. This one brought The Mr. running from the other room to see what was happening. It was distressing to see her so upset.
The book? Book 2 in the Selection series by Kiera Cass, The Elite. Her favorite character, she explained, was being brutally beaten and it was awful to read. “It’s just a book,” her father said in an effort to comfort her. “But this really happens to people,” she reminded him, “people get beaten and abused.”
She continued reading and crying and it was clearly making her dad uncomfortable. “Why don’t you stop reading for a while,” he said, “so you’ll stop crying, we have to go to karate in a few minutes and you don’t want to look like you have been crying.”
“I don’t care about that!,” she yelled. And she kept reading. And she kept crying.
It lasted for a good solid twenty minutes, this crying and reading, reading and crying.
As she got into the car with me to go to karate she proclaimed, “I’m so glad I’m going to karate, I need to punch something. I feel so emotional.” She was really focused in karate that night, not gonna lie.
The next day I drove by her bus stop taking her little sister to school. As the other teens stood around talking she was sitting on the corner reading the book. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little bit proud.
That evening she told me about how some of the characters were calling another character a whore, so we talked about slut shaming. It turns out that even though I talk a lot about slut shaming in my work with teens, I had never talked to my daughter about it. So we did, we had a talk where I reminded her that I hoped she would make the decision to wait much later in life to have sex, partly because of our religious beliefs but also because I want her to choose education and find herself on solid ground before she potentially finds herself in sexual relationships. But I also told her that even though we made those choices for ourselves, that we respected other people’s rights to make other choices for themselves and that we shouldn’t shame or judge them for them. Not for the way they choose to dress. Not for how and when they may choose to be sexually active. Shame and judgment, I reminded her, can be harmful. And I reminded her that in our Bible, our God clearly tells us that we are not to judge others because we ourselves are in no way perfect.
It was a good conversation, one of many good conversations I have had with my daughter. Another example of a conversation that I hadn’t really thought to have with her but was prompted to do so by a book. Books are good spring boards for conversations. They help us ask questions we never thought to ask.
The next day she walked through the door after school and went to her room to finish reading. She was so close to being done and she was ravenous to know what happened. And since I was doing some Cybils reading of my own, I laid down in bed next to her reading my own book. There we were, the two of us reading our own books when she suddenly sat up and leaned on her elbow, turning to me. “This man,” she said, “is willing to destroy his own country because he is so hungry for power. This caste system is horrible. Those people in the lower caste have horrible lives.” Again, this led to a great discussion about power and politics. This time, I mostly listened as she was processing what she was reading and sharing her thoughts with me. I was struck by how smart she was, how compassionate, how thoughtful.
In a little over a week and a half she read the first three books in the series. She raged. She cried. She thought. She talked. We bonded. We grew. And I feel like she is just a little bit better to live in this world.
And that is the power of books.