I once read about a group of graduating students who, on the very last day of their high school careers, stormed the school office, commandeered the PA system, and proceeded to give away the ending of every book on their English reading lists. Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Stone Angel – on and on the list went. Death, violence, failure, and not a happy ending in sight.
When I read, I like to feel good about the experience. I like to appreciate the skilled use of language, the creation of characters, the intricacies of plot. If there has to be a bit of darkness in there to deepen the impact, I’m okay with that. But mostly I stay away from books that aim to disturb. I’m a wimp about this and I freely admit it, and it means I’ve missed out on reading some pretty amazing books, but it’s my choice.
The young reader sitting in the classroom does not have a choice. When the teacher says that the next novel study is going to be The Giver, or The Breadwinner, or Night, the young reader has no choice but to engage. There’s a good side to this, of course. The reader’s world is stretched and challenged by such excellent books. Questions are raised, answers are explored.
But the bad side is that those precarious readers, the ones who are already unlikely to pick up a book for the fun of it, resist even more. Reading becomes a task on the homework agenda, supervised and evaluated by the system. Reading is no longer a pleasure.
So when I write, I tend to create stories that I would want to read myself. There isn’t always a completely happy ending in my stories, and I often write about a world that has its share of darkness, but I hope readers find themselves wanting to turn the page and read on, and on. Most importantly, I hope that even those precarious readers will pick up my books - in the classroom or anywhere - and read just for the pleasure of reading.