In reading a recent post by Cindy Pon, in honor of PoC (Persons of Color) Literature Days, something she said hit me despite the fact that I am definitely not what you would consider a person of color. She said,
As much as I loved books and stories [as a child], I don't recall ever reading one that had an Asian person in it. No one like me.No one like me, that's the phrase that stuck with me, that jarred something loose inside of me. Because although I can't relate to the racial aspect of it, that feeling of no one like me is one that I know and remember all too well. It comes back to me - this feeling - every now and again. It's a recurring thought I have, a feeling like there's something missing from Children's and YA lit. Something I've been looking for as long as I can remember, something that I still haven't found.
And I don't know how to say it without sounding morbid, but I want books about sick children. I know. It's terrible. But growing up I was one of those kids; the ones you knew in school who had some something wrong with them but you didn't know quite what and you didn't really want to ask, they seemed okay enough. I had one of those diseases that I never knew how to explain. Heart problem I said, and people didn't understand and I didn't now how to bridge that gap. I didn't know how to explain what was wrong, even to my closest friends. It was just something. Some part of me that wasn't obvious and mostly you could ignore it except I never could. Even now, a mostly-healthy young adult, I'm acutely aware of things I shouldn't be and I don't go very long without thinking of it. It's a part of me so deeply ingrained that separating Jordyn from Sick-Jordyn is impossible. I have no idea who I would be if I didn't have that heart defect, if I hadn't gone through what I have because of it. I would be a different person. It's crazy to think that a health problem, something that I never knew how to explain, that bankrupt my parents, that almost killed me, could be such a part of my identity, but it is. And though I never wanted it to be, it always has been.
As a kid, just like now, I read books trying to find something to relate to within their pages. Looking for characters or situations that were like my life. And I found a lot. I found characters who were smart, were quiet, loved their family, fought with their mothers, etc etc etc. I found ones who lived in small towns, who liked a boy who liked someone else, who prayed every day, who had a younger sister. All of those characters were there. What I didn't find was the girl who got too worn out running around at recess, who sometimes went four hours away for a doctor's visit, who sometimes wasn't sure - in the most simple of terms - what the future held for her. Life or death?
When I did, on rare occasions, find those books, those characters - guess what? More often than not the sickness they had was cancer. And it killed them. Newbery Syndrome aplenty for some of the few characters I related to most. It never seemed to happen that the kid actually got to live. What this means is that none of those books talked about what happens after all the doctors and the surgeries and what ifs? Though they often managed to be incredibly touching, they always ended the same way. The sick kid never got to be the lucky kid.
But guess what?
Sometimes you live. And years go by and you have different worries and things change and you're so glad to think about normal things, the way you never could as a kid. Except.
Except that it changes you. You don't get to be like everybody else, and I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say that. When most of the kids in my sixth-grade class were getting braces, I was having heart surgery. I was in a back brace. I am never going to get to redo those years, live them over again as a normal kid, and that makes me a little bit different than everyone else because so many of the things everyone else did were things I couldn't even think about.
I found a lot of my life, of myself, reflected back to me in books I read growing up. But there were other parts, bigger and more important pieces of the puzzle, that not even fiction knew what to say about. I kept looking for that books about someone like me, and I never found it. Now, as a young adult, I continue to look and wish for that book, despite how different my life is and how sometimes the constant doctor visits and surgeries feel a lifetime away, and other times they feel too close for comfort. I don't know why I keep looking. Maybe because Jordyn and Sick-Jordyn are the same person, maybe because I'd like to have someone else - even a fictional someone else - understand what it's like. For me now, too aware of everything my heart does and incredibly, incredibly lucky and overwhelmed at everything I've done and am doing and, with luck, will still get to do. At this life that I never quite imagined as a child. And also for me back then, so sick and so scared and so alone.
So I ask you: what experiences or pieces of yourself do you look for in literature? Or do you continue to look for despite never/rarely finding?