I’m pursuing my Master’s degree in Social Welfare. Part of the program requires me to work in the field to gain experience. This summer, I’m spending time in a group home for children in the states’ care—mostly kids that are in the juvenile justice system or between foster care homes. I’m working as a staff member at the facility when I’m not at the library.
These kids have not had the advantages that I have had. They come from broken homes and crime-ridden neighborhoods. They can have short tempers, have difficulty expressing their emotions, and often have issues dealing with authority figures. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t bright kids.
Every evening, they are required to be in their rooms for bed rather early. Last night, they asked me to tell them a story while I sat in the hallway outside their bedrooms finishing up the evenings logs and paperwork.
It might have been a joke. Much to my surprise, I’m a popular staff member with the teenage boys because I appreciate their humor and don’t mind so much when they tease me. But I called their bluff, and said, “I’ll do you one better. I’ll read you a story.”
I’ve been carrying around an ARC for The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories for the last month. I’m reviewing it for the library blog and we’re hosting the authors for an event this fall. The boys wanted a creepy story, something with monsters or zombies, and I was thrilled to be able to deliver exactly what they wanted.
Boys that have committed crimes like arson and felony theft, who have been arrested for possession of narcotics and who have fired weapons, boys who would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, boys that most would underestimate or write off as ignorant—these boys sat and listened, quietly, for half an hour, while I read to them.
This is the magic of stories.
Particularly this collection from Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff, which is full of quirky characters, magic that seems real, and lots of words they aren’t allowed to say while they are staying at the shelter—words that teenagers really do say, all the time. I’ve been interested in the interplay between the three friends and their handwritten comments to each other, the glimpse they are allowing the reader into the writing process. But when re-reading the stories aloud to an audience who could care less about the birth of the stories or the notes in the margins proved that the little worlds each piece creates stands on its own.
I’ll post my real review when I finish and closer to the book’s release, but I felt moved to share this moment. Sometimes it’s easy to forget why I’ve signed up to work with such a challenging population, just like it’s easy to wonder why I devote so much of my spare time to writing. Now I remember why I do it.
There is something magical about stories. And adolescence.