I have always firmly believed in the power of the right book at the right time to save a life.
I’m not being hyperbolic here. I’m being straight up, life or death serious. Maybe it’s because I’ve had books come along that saved my life. I’ve had books that changed the course I was on and made the impossible possible; they opened doors and gave me hope and showed me solutions.
And I’ve seen it happen with other people as well. I’ve handed the right book to the right person at the right moment enough times to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt that stories save lives.
This afternoon I finished a book that left me ugly crying in my hotel room at a literacy conference. I fell asleep reading it last night, and this morning my brain woke me up at 4:30am whisper-shouting “WAKE UP! GET THE BOOK! READ THE BOOK! QUICK, BEFORE YOUR ROOMMATES WAKE UP! READ!” So I snuck out of bed, grabbed my flashlight, built a wee pillow fort to keep my light from spreading, and started reading. At 6 when my roommates woke up and turned on the lights, they caught me sobbing into a pillow.
“Nothing, this book is just SO GOOD!”
They laughed and told me to get up and come hot tubbing. I did. But all day, all I could think about was getting back to The Book.
As soon as conference sessions were over for the day and my colleagues had gone home, I opened the book back up and finished the last few chapters.
As soon as I put it down, I knew EXACTLY who needed to read it. I had a list already formed in my head.
One students needs to read it to know that he is loved and lovable – that nothing about who he is can change that.
Another student needs to read it to reach this exchange, “You’re fighting this war in the worst possible way.”
“I don’t know how to fight it, Dad.”
“You should ask for help.”
“I don’t know how to do that, either.”
Or maybe I needed to read it to get to that line and think of this student, who doesn’t know how to ask for help because he’s never had anyone who knew how to say yes to that request…
So what is this book that broke me open and has me making lists of students who need a copy?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It’s possible you’ve already heard about it, or read it for yourself. It came out in 2012 and I have no idea what I have been doing with the last 5 years of my life that prevented me from reading it sooner. Nor do I know how I’ve lived without this book for so long. And I am not even its primary audience. I am not the person this book was written for.
This beautiful book is a book about friendship. And about love. And about finding yourself, and finding your people – or your person. It’s about finding the person who can be your mirror when your image of yourself has turned into a carnival fun house horror show. It’s about being true, and loyal. It’s about finding the courage to ask the real questions, and wait for the real answers…
It’s also about two Mexican-American boys living in Texas, finding themselves, finding each other, and finding the secrets of the universe.
If you can only read one book this year, this should be on the top of your list. If you know any LGBTQ youth who need to read something beautiful, and hopeful, and real, and deep, and raw – something that will crack open the possibilities of the world… Get them this book. If you know a kid who is kind, and good, but doesn’t get what it means to be LGBTQ, who could be an ally, if only they understood what LGBTQ youth can face, and what they want, and how much more similar they are than different, a kid who just needs a good story to help them remember empathy, give them this book.
Stock this book. Read it yourself. And then start your list. I can guarantee, there are youth in your life who are waiting for this book to fall into their hands, and they’re losing faith. They need this book now. They need it yesterday. They’ll need it tomorrow.
If you don’t think you need a copy, buy an extra for my classroom. My list of students who need this book keeps growing.