To reiterate very briefly, I am currently revising Paper Valentine. It’s new and exciting and lots of fun, BUT. It definitely cuts into the amount of time I can devote to other things. For instance, blogging.*
I don’t want to neglect the blog entirely though, because I like it, and I like you guys. So, here is what I’m going to do. I’ve been thinking for awhile that I’d really like to put together a short series on Books High-School Brenna Would Have Loved (except they didn’t exist yet), and this seems like a good an opportunity.
The thing is, when I was in high school, YA was kind of—kind of—gaining a foothold, but choices were still mostly limited to either A Separate Peace or I Know What You Did Last Summer.**
So I read those. And everything by Robert Cormier. And lots and lots of books that were technically for adults. And those were all good things to read, but there’s still a wistful little part of me that wishes I’d had the YA books that exist right-now-this-minute. I just would have loved so much of what’s been published in the last decade.
The book I want to talk about today is The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman . It came out last year, and I can safely tell you that it would have been 16-year-old Brenna’s favorite-favorite book of all time.
It’s smart and complicated and romantic in the most unromantic way. It’s about people who are NOT good with feelings, who do NOT think or do or say the perfect things. People who are not outrageously beautiful or charming, who are intense and prickly and make mistakes, who really, really suck at emotional intimacy, and still have to bite the bullet and do it anyway, because that’s kind of how the world works.
It’s a story about love, but love as it appears to the aggressively-cerebral, messy and unmanageable, with all kinds of pointy edges. And as we know, that is my favorite kind.
So okay, let’s back up for just a second.
No, I don’t think the purpose of novels is to educate, but yes, I think they do that anyway, always, regardless of intention. When I was a teenager, I was constantly using what I read as a sounding board for what I thought and felt and what I suspected the world might actually be like, and it didn’t really matter what a book’s intended message was.
For instance, if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest were meant to teach anything, its central lesson would probably fall under the heading of Standing up to Authority is Dangerous but Necessary, or else Mental Institutions Were Really Bad in the 60’s, but that wasn’t how I read it at the time. To me, the systematic breaking down of the inmates and the complex interactions between Nurse Ratched and Chief Broom and RP McMurphy—that was all just stuff I could use in my everyday life. It was like a really disturbing metaphor for high school. Yes, I learned about high school from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I actually just said that.
But the thing is, I didn’t find a lot of books that taught me pertinent things about relationships. Pertinent to me, I mean. Personal. Integral.
Here is the exact place where I fell in love with The Big Crunch. It is roughly ten pages in. So, love happened relatively quickly, is what I’m saying.
There were several alternate Junes: Sarcastic June, Scornful June, Guilty June, and Fearful June. She also had Pragmatic June, who could say, I did not choose to be here. I just want to have some fun, and get through the day, and move on.
You have no true feelings, said Scornful June. You are hollow inside.
“I do too feel,” June whispered.
Like you would even know what real feelings are, said Sarcastic June.
June feared that Sarcastic June was right. Her feelings lacked depth. She knew that some people experienced feelings of such power and intensity that they could do anything—climb a mountain, commit hara-kiri, sacrifice a loved one—anything. June could not imagine herself doing anything like that.
I’ll be honest, it’s pretty rare that I find emotional representations of myself in books. This is less a function of being a special, special snowflake, and more a function of being, as Scornful June says, hollow inside.
Now, obviously I am not and have never been hollow inside, but it took me a long time to figure that out, mostly because I wasn’t particularly aware of things like emotional intimacy and … feelings. I found them uncomfortable, irrational, and so, largely irrelevant. And yes, I recognized that this was weird (mostly because it wasn’t a condition I ever encountered in books, movies, or people who weren’t me). But I didn’t know what to do about it.
I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to say that at 16, this book might have actually changed my life. One of the really fantastic things about books is that they give you a chance to see someone else having your conversation—whatever that conversation is. That person can go places and make decisions you can’t. And even though you know it’s not real when the character makes a makes an astounding personal discovery, or arrives at an answer … it kind of is.
What about you? Do you have books you wish had existed earlier? That did exist when you needed them? That told you something important—about yourself or someone else?
*Also, wearing matching socks.
**This is not to disparage either title—they are both kind of spectacular in their own ways. I love shiny-glossy horror novels with a love that is more than a love, and to this day, my sister is bound and determined to have a son so she can name him Phineas.
But my point stands.