I worked my way alphabetically through the children’s section of my hometown library, checking out stacks of picture books, then early readers before careful selections from spiral racks of tween books. (I eventually adventured into the fiction section to find discover Margaret Atwood and DH Lawrence.)
Yes, I started with Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock and Amelia Bedelia, before graduating to pictureless Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, which gave way to Sweet Valley High. Long before Harry Potter and the Twilight series launched tween crazy for all things that go bump in the night, I devoured L. J. Smith’s witchy high school trilogy The Secret Circle; the dog-eared copies are still a treasured part of my book collection.
I’ve never had much interest in dissecting literature for important themes or reflections on the culture of the day. It would damage my relationship with the characters. Though I’d gladly tear apart a TV series to get at hidden meaning — Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s metaphorical examination of adolescence, anyone? — to do so with well drawn characters in books seems too cynical. I hate to look at the people between the pages as careful constructs.
After all, I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and her cohorts. Imagined conversations with fictitious personalities helped me work through pubescent angst. And characters living out scenarios and environs otherwise outside my scope of experience pushed my mind beyond upper middle class New Jersey suburbia.
A soon-to-be-published study in Psychological Science found readers are drawn into the fictional communities of the books they read. Psychologists focused on the paranormal sub-genre using publishing sensations Harry Potter and Twilight. Even in the case of otherwordly, unrealistic plotlines, subjects self-identified with aspects of the characters lives.
It may help explain a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study reporting that adolescents with heavy reading habits are “one-tenth as likely to be depressed” as teens reading the least. Even when you feel alone in the world, you know you have friend in your favorite characters and a tribe in other fans.
Who were your fictional friends growing up?