Fiction and Imaginary Friends

When I was in high school I had a nice handful of wonderfully beautiful friends. We always had fun together, and we always laughed at the same jokes. But they always asked me to go see movies or go to a school function or go to a slumber party with them, and all I ever wanted to do was read.

I would be in the middle of a sword fight between two pirates when my phone would ring. I would either have to go hang out with the person on the other line or tell them I was reading. I usually chose the latter.

The first book I remember reading on my own was P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! It was my baby sister’s favorite book, and I read it to her every night before we went to sleep. I started reading C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain and J.K. Rowling in fourth grade, but I never really loved reading until a few years later when I was a teenager and found Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn. And I can’t say enough about the writing in this book and the characters and the plot and the adventure. I can’t explain how much I love Matt Cruse and the Aurora and the cloud cats. I can’t explain how sucked in I felt. It was the first book I never put down; it was the first book that wasn’t nearly long enough.

I can’t remember when reading tests began, but I know we all dreaded them. Sometimes I would even contemplate scoring low on purpose so I wouldn’t have to read as many books throughout the year; however, I always felt like I was lying by doing that. My reading points felt unobtainable, and I started checking out the biggest books I could find in the library to quickly reach my goals. Reading became a job more than it was fun, and I hated that feeling. I hated having to pick books by their reading level sticker. I wasn’t allowed to read what I wanted.

And this is a huge problem, because reading has the potential to change lives. I know that sounds dramatic and silly, but reading has so much to offer children and young adults and adults. And reading for young adults is so, so important, because when you’re a young adult you feel like the world is against you. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular or not, a musician or in the school band, a writer or a dancer. The best thing you can do for someone who is hurting is show them they aren’t the only one. There are other people who love them, other people who have been through what they have been through and survived.

I love reading fiction, because fiction allows you to have an endless amount of imaginary friends. You can never really feel alone when you find a perfect book. I’ve been so many places through reading. I’ve met so many characters who feel real. I love pirates and love stories and mysteries and plays. I love what reading can teach me, and I love how I feel when I buy a book. I love the escape. The only part I hate about reading is not reading.

A year ago I wrote Kenneth Oppel to thank him for giving me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. I needed him to know that my life was affected by his words; he needed to know I loved reading because of him. I never imagined I would get a reply:

“Dear Alexandria,
Thank you so much for your letter. I’ve received many letters over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one as passionate and heartfelt as yours. I’m very flattered that Airborn was such a powerful experience in your reading life. I remember what it was like to read a book that swept me up totally, and it makes me very happy to think I’ve been able to give that experience to someone else. Airborn is a particular favourite of my own books, and thinking of Matt and Kate kept me happily occupied for many, many months, as I wrote the trilogy. So I’m very glad some of that happiness transmitted itself through the pages to my readers.
Keep reading!
All best wishes,
Kenneth Oppel”

I think I’ve always been chasing and searching for another book that made me feel like Airborn did; however, I don’t know if you can ever get over your first favorite book. I think I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to, and it will be the greatest adventure.

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