Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Life Spared, Amidst Reports of Death

Crescent Dragonwagon, author of two remarkable young adult novels, describes her near-miss driving incident that coincided with the reports of the Newtown school shooting:

I don't know how many people have read To Take a Dare or The Year It Rained; these novels appeared in years when a majority of Americans were either too old or too young to be in their target audience. Both are extraordinary stories, about young people who might not seem to deserve even garden-variety happy endings, but rise to different challenges and get incredible happy endings. Both are Books You Can Buy From Me.

I can't say that either of these stories really was an inspiration for anything I did when I was about the age of the protagonists, and was taking similarly outrageous chances and getting similarly outrageous results.

To Take a Dare is a story about a barely-grown-up, never-married woman who unofficially adopts a little boy (called Dare). I read it while, not before, I was the barely-grown-up, never-married foster-mother-or-adoptive-sister of a teenager. (If, just for fun, we wanted to give strangers the impression that she was the mother and I was the daughter, we could do that.)

The Year It Rained is a story about a teenager who has the kind of schizophrenia that responds well, at least for a while, to nutritional therapy. The closest I've ever come to mental illness has been the kind of depression that's a symptom of a physical disease, but there is a degree of resonance--at least I still feel surprised, and disgusted, by the number of Amazon reviewers who don't get what this novel was really trying to give the world (hope for schizophrenics) and insist on reading it as a story about a lonely teenager and her mother. If you read it as a story about an emotional relationship between healthy people, you'll probably be underwhelmed. If you read it as a story about learning to sort out the difference between mood swings that are symptoms of a disease and feelings about things and events outside of self, you'll be awestruck.

I was awestruck by both stories. They're not stories that would ever be endorsed by any organization of teachers, therapists, or actuaries. They're stories about what can happen. Best-case scenarios. As such, neither one is more unlikely than any happily-ever-after romance or winner-take-all adventure story; only fresher, more realistic, and they also happen to be about the world in which people my age really lived. It was a go-for-it, anything-can-happen world. And some of us did go for it, and for some of us the improbably wonderful things did happen. Some schizophrenics really did get at least a few years of normal life. Some people who became foster parents before we'd even stopped growing really did become good foster-parents-or-adoptive-siblings. Of course they weren't the majority. At the time my sister called us "Bumblebees": according to all theories of aerodynamics bumblebees can't fly, but they do.

It is possible that the writer who's paid tribute to the existence of human "Bumblebees" has brought as much good into the world as the Newtown murders have taken out. I'm not saying that that's why she survived her car incident unharmed. I'm just noting that it's possible.