Friday, April 14, 2017

On Reading the Tough Stuff

I'm nearly through the end of We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson as I type this. It's late at night, I'm in bed, and I can't stop thinking about all the things that this book has wrapped up in it. Like most good books I've found lately, I stumbled upon this entirely by accident. The library had it available as an audiobook, it has excellent ratings on Goodreads, and the rest is history.

As a young reader, I wasn't really policed in what I read. My mom would give the synopsis on the back a cursory glance, but mostly she trusted me to know if something was out of my league for the moment. That freedom gave me access to so many things as a kid. Whole worlds were opened to me, and I learned what empathy and understanding were on a whole new level. These people in my books weren't me, but I could put myself in their shoes. I learned to love that.

Which brings me to the point of this post, and that's reading about the tough stuff. I've been lucky enough to lead a pretty normal and pleasant life so far. You'd think that would mean that I'd stay away from discussions of suicide, harmful relationships, eating disorders, and anything of an uncomfortable nature. In fact, those books seem to be the ones that keep drawing me back in. Not all of them mind you. Any time an author deals with anything of this sensitivity, they have to do it right. I've seen it done wrong many a time. When a book deals with anything tough in a realistic, fair, and honest way though, I find myself wanting to read it. I want to feel empathy towards those characters. I want to understand their loss, their hurt, and their confusion. It seems silly to say, but being able to do that has actually made me a person who has better skills in real life with dealing with people who cross my path going through the same things.

That's why I honestly believe reading the tough stuff is so important, on so many levels. Even if the people that we're learning to understand are fictional, we're gaining real life skills to empathize with actual people in our universes. Is it hard to read? Most times, yes. Is it uncomfortable? Sometimes, yes. I truly believe it's a necessary part of becoming a whole person though, and you won't ever get me to change my mind on that.

Books like We Are the Ants are special, and should be appreciated. This book has gracefully navigated dealing with loss, suicide, harmful relationships, self-worth, and anger issues. It's beautifully addressed the idea that we never "get over" the death of someone that we really love, and that the acceptance of that fact is what keeps us moving forward. The quotes in this book touch on dreams, living a full life, and feeling tiny in a giant world. I've cried more than a few times reading this, and I've kept reading. Because that's what is so important. To understand where this fictional boy is at, and where he's headed. To feel real empathy.

If you've listened to me ramble to this point, thank you! Now I'm asking for recommendation. Do you have a book like this that you recommend? One that you've fallen head over heels for?

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