Tucker, a past student of mine (who’s now serving in the Peace Corps in the Gobi desert), somehow got a copy of my most recent book. He just wrote me about it and said some incredibly insightful and beautiful things in response (he’s an excellent writer, too, BTW). So, I figured I’d share his letter here because what he wrote is better than almost any review I’ve read at getting to the heart of what books are about —not just my book, but any book, and why we read. Also, it’s damn fine writing, and I wanted to have this posted somewhere so I can read it again whenever doubt is winning the day.
So here it is, one of the best letters I’ve ever gotten:
I read your book over the weekend. I wanted to thank you for writing it. It’s a book that handles a barrel of issues that affect young people, especially those that feel they have a secret self under what they (we) present–the piece of us clawing, yelling out in a desperation, the part of us we are afraid people won’t accept. Rider connects it at the end, “In that moment, I finally understood him. How much he hurt. How deeply he cared. How noble and flawed we bother were.” Wasn’t it Mark Twain that said something to the affect, “we are a volcano underneath, a galactic storm, and words can only barely tread the surface to describing it, barely sketch the borders-what burns inside.” You sketch this beautifully, daring to explore that underneath, the stuff going on inside, our language and actions are just the vapor, the heat. And I appreciate this book deeply because I felt much like Cat, yearning to be accepted. Sometimes we have to dare to do what matters like Dan does at the end by ignoring Finn’s text message, by getting gas, getting donuts with his sister, asking her important questions, ‘are those your friends?’
I wish I read this book when I was younger and in high school. It would have given me some courage and made me feel less alone, but I know there are young people out there that will (have) read this book and feel stronger, feel like they are accepted, or understand what they are going through, feeling there is a voice out there willing to talk about these things. We must live forward, as your epitaph states, and leave our future to possibilities…and in some ways we must accept what we are, accept things that happen, be allowed to like the things we want to like (Cat with her art, Alice and Wonderland for example) understand it by looking back, but also understand we can move forward and live. No matter the terrible things, we can still live forward. We may see “gold leaves against a blue sky.. The smell of apples and smoke in the air. A girl with a scar above her lip looking back and smiling. A taste of sweetness on my tongue.” Finding the courage to be who you are, to feel like your life matters is what’s all about. Thank you for bringing these issues up in your wonderfully crafted story. The people around us, the events that happen, sometimes make it harder for people to understand the underneath. You rock, keep up the great writing.