March 19, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
Sometimes young adult books address hard topics–drugs and alcohol, abuse and crime, eating disorders and cutting. Some of my students face this same hard stuff in their own lives. Sometimes when the right books drops into the hands of the right student, something powerful can happen as a book offers a lifeline. A student discovers that ”I am not alone.” A student realizes that “someone gets where I’m coming from.” A student gains empathy and understanding for others.
I received three of these books last week. It all started when an adult complained to a library about Scars by Cheryl Rainfield and asked the library to remove it from their collection. To show support for Cheryl, another author, Beth Felbaum, hosted a giveaway of two books–Rainfield’s Scars and Fehlbaum’s Hope in Patience. I won the contest, and Beth was gracious enough to send me her first book, Courage in Patience, as well. They came in the mail last week, and once I started, I couldn’t put them down. I devoured one a day until I turned the last page. I want to share them with you. All three are powerful, intense stories.
Kendra is haunted by her hidden memories of sexual abuse. Through counseling, she is remember the crimes committed against her, but she can never see her abuser’s face. As the memories become stronger, so does the danger she is in. Her abuser is following her–threatening to kill her if she remembers and tells. Even though her mom is afraid to confront the truth, Kendra finds support from a variety of people: her counselor Carolyn, family friend Sandy, art teacher Mrs. Archer, and new friend Meghan. A gifted artist, Kendra paints the truth in her pictures. When everything gets to be too much, Kendra turns to cutting her arms to relieve the pain.
I meant to save Scars (WestSide Books, 2010) to read over Spring Break, but once I peeked at the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down. I read it straight through that evening. Cheryl Rainfield weaves tension through every page. Kendra jumps at every sound and constantly looks over her shoulder. The terror increases as the hidden abuser draws closer and closer right until the dramatic revelation. Even though Rainfield gives a close look at the devestation sexual abuse can cause, I found this to be a hopeful book in the end. Kendra is strong. She will inspire and give hope to readers that they can survive their tragegies, too.
Both Courage in Patience (Kunati, 2008) and Hope in Patience (WestSide Books, 2010) by Beth Fehlbaum tell the story of Ashley Asher. After years of escalating abuse by her stepfather, Ashley finally finds the courage (through the support of her theater teacher) to tell her mother what has been going on. Instead of providing safety and support, Ashley’s mother turns away and blames Ashley for destroying their family. Ashley begins a new life with the father she never knew (her parents divorced when she was a baby, and her father never made contact except for child support payments) and his new family. Unlike Ashley’s mother, her dad and stepmom are eager to build new relationships that provide safety and support. With their love and the work of a therapist, Ashley begins the difficult task of rebuilding her life.
Like a good Chris Crutcher novel, Beth Fehlbaum packs much into these two books: sexual abuse and survival and recovery are front and center, but she also tackles racism, religious bigotry, violence, censorship (of a Chris Crutcher novel, no less), homophobia, and the power of a dedicated teacher.
I found all three of these novel compelling reading. I am grateful that my parents were able to love and support me. I hurt for those children whose parents hurt instead of help them. I hope that each of them can find the support to grow and thrive. Just maybe, these books can help them feel less isolated point the way to adults who care.
What books have inspired you to make a difference in your life?