Sunday Reflections: Our Journey to Graduation with A. S. King
It was a Mother’s Day weekend in 2012 when I read my first A. S. King book and it changed my life. After reading Ask the Passengers, I took a walk and saw a small yellow flower and wrote a letter to A. S. King in my head, which I eventually posted on this blog.
To this day, when I see small yellow flowers peeking out of the ground, I think of Amy.
At the time, Riley was only 10 years old and had not read a King book yet, but that would soon change. Now, she has read them all, many of them multiple times. And as I reflect this Mother’s Day and in the month in which Riley finally graduates high school, I can’t help but thing that in many ways, Amy helped me raise this beloved child of mine.
So it seems fitting that we end Riley’s high school career with a new A. S. King young adult novel, SWITCH. Switch comes out on Tuesday and yes, we’ve both read it. And yes, we both loved it.
The heart of Switch is a simple idea repeated over and over again by our main character, Truda: the world would be a much better place if people just gave a shit about other people. And here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and it’s clear that this issue is at the heart of what the world is really wrestling with. How much different would this past year have been if people just gave a shit about each other? I think Truda might be on to something.
Switch is a surrealist novel that takes place right after time has stopped, for reasons unknown. And like all King’s novels, Switch asks us to dive into the muck and the mire of the adolescent struggle with identity and mental health and it’s not always an easy read. And I don’t mean easy as in word counts and Lexile levels, I mean it’s not easy because it deals with hard truths about dark facts that we need to shine a light on. This was, for us both, one of the hardest reads in part because it was not just real and raw and honest, but because it was so timely. Here was sat reading a book about time literally stopping and a teen protagonist trying to unbox hard emotional truths during a year in which it seemed that time had literally stopped and we were all trying to unbox hard emotional truths. It was like an Amy from the future had come back in time and given us this timely book and we were in awe of her wisdom and insight.
The thing about reading an A. S. King book, well at least one of them, is that they sit with you long afterwards. Riley and I have conversations at random moments about A. S. King novels. In fact, the book we have talked about the most is the one that she says she likes the least, The Dust of 100 Dogs, and we talk often about the mother/daughter dynamic and parental guilt and manipulation and becoming your own person. The book she has re-read the most is I Crawl Through It, the one that I like the least (sorry Amy). I think Still Life with Tornado and Dig are her other top favorites. But to be honest, that sometimes changes.
So here I sit on another Mother’s Day thinking about the books of A. S. King and how they have changed my life, changed me. I can not tell you how blessed I feel that my teenage daughter also loves these books and we got to share this reading journey together. I feel that in some ways, A. S. King is a thread that has woven us closer together as mother and daughter, her words the thread and her book spines the backbone. As I think about Riley graduating, I can’t help but be grateful for every blessed moment with her. And to share something that you both so deeply and profoundly love: unspeakable joy.
The first time I met A. S. King in person was at a librarian conference in Texas. I cried. I have met A. S. King in person at several conferences since then and I cry every time. Riley makes fun of me when I go to a conference, saying if I see A. S. King there don’t cry. And each time I do, I call and tell her that I cried and she says, “of course you did mom.” I think she thinks they are star struck tears but they are tears of gratitude. Tears of hope and joy and strength for all that she has given me, as a librarian, as a mother, as a human trying to live on this speck of a rock in an infinite universe. Tears of gratitude for the relationship she helped me build with a daughter that I love.
The high school years were not always easy. As a mother with a depression and an anxiety disorder, genetics were cruel and I shared that bad brain with this kid that I love. And then the pandemic happened and it all became so much harder. There were nights this past year where I sat outside my daughter’s bedroom door as she slept, praying for her, because I knew that the demons of doubt and desperation were dancing in her head and I wanted to be there if she needed me. I wanted to hear if she got up in the middle of the night so that I could help make sure she made it until morning. I have tried to give my child tools to deal with the panic attacks and the tears and sometimes, those tools included the respite of a book. Sometimes they have included the affirmation of a story in which a young woman thinks and feels the same things and you know that you are both going to be okay. I know that for Riley, sometimes those books were penned by A. S. King.
So later this month I will watch my child cross home plate (their graduation is going to be at a baseball field because Covid) as someone puts a diploma in her hand and there is a part of me that will be thanking A. S. King for this moment. I feel in some ways like it is the three of us crossing that home plate together, at least in spirit. And then I have to let her leave the safety of my home and become an actual grown up in a cold, cruel world where a lot of us have truly forgotten how to give a shit about other people, and I am quaking in my boots up all night terrified.
So here I am on Mother’s Day, thinking about A. S. King and what it means to be a messy, flawed, broken human being and asking this great big world to please, just start giving a shit about other people again. And read more books. I recommend you start with some A. S. King ones.
A surreal and timely novel about the effects of isolation and what it means to be connected to the world from the Printz Award-winning author of Dig.
Time has stopped. It’s been June 23, 2020 for nearly a year as far as anyone can tell. Frantic adults demand teenagers focus on finding practical solutions to the worldwide crisis. Not everyone is on board though. Javelin-throwing prodigy Truda Becker is pretty sure her “Solution Time” class won’t solve the world’s problems, but she does have a few ideas what might. Truda lives in a house with a switch that no one ever touches, a switch her father protects every day by nailing it into hundreds of progressively larger boxes. But Truda’s got a crow bar, and one way or another, she’s going to see what happens when she flips the switch.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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