Hollis Seamon spent years visiting a children’s hospital, caring for her young son. Her debut YA novel,Somebody Up There Hates You,is a tribute to the people she met there, who remained teenagers no matter how ill they were.
Empathy. Reading allows us to do something that nothing else does: crawl inside someone else’s skin, brain, and heart, seeing everything through that person’s eyes, hearing through his ears, tasting with his tongue, listening to his thoughts. In Somebody Up There Hates You, the character that readers inhabit is Richie. And that may not be a real comfortable place to be. After all, Richie is facing up to his own mortality—right now, right here. Up front and very, very personal. Sure, for Richie, it’s happening way sooner than it does for most, but eventually we will all look Death in the eye. I hope that readers empathize with Richie and understand him—really get him, in the light of our common humanity—and our common fate as mortal beings. As Richie says, “Everybody dies, dudes and dudettes. That’s the name of the game.”
Laughter. No, really, go ahead: laugh. Don’t feel embarrassed that you’re giggling in the middle of book about dying. It’s okay, honest. I want you to laugh; Richie wants you to laugh. No matter what, some things are just plain funny. So laugh. It’s good for you. I know, I know: it’s not a cure for sadness or for sickness. But, as the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. Sometimes, it’s the only medicine, the only thing we’ve got. And, whenever and however it comes, laughter always tastes sweet, a spoonful of sugar. Enjoy.
Perspective. You know, we all got troubles: grief and pain and a thousand kinds of fear. I hope that when we read about others’ troubles, our own shrink just a tiny bit, in comparison. Or, at least, that we may be able to see our own woes as part of the larger picture--the Whole-World-Woe, you might call it. (Or maybe we can just call it Being Human.) Writer Joan Silber, in her essay “Weight in Fiction,” says: “Perspective is one of the things we turn to fiction for. We emerge from a good novel seeing more clearly what counts and what doesn’t. It is why we think good books help to make life bearable.”
Hope. Maybe—just maybe—it’s not too late for any of us to be a hero; to make one grand gesture; to sacrifice something we really, really care about in order to help someone else; to have an unexpected and surprising adventure; to handle our trials with strength and grace (and, yes, laughter). Maybe—just maybe—we will all do as Richie does. We will face the Dragon and we will beat him, one way or another.
Wonder. This, I believe, is the appropriate and oldest reaction to reading a good story or listening to a well-told tale: wonder and a tiny bit of awe. After all, it’s a form of magic, right? Writers put little black squiggles of ink on paper—or on a screen—and readers transform those squiggles into real people, real events, real emotions. Poof, from my head and my heart to yours: pure magic. Perhaps this is a gift that writers give readers—but even more, it’s a gift that readers give writers: the pleasure of knowing that the people I carried for so long only in my head now exist in the imaginations of others. Thank you for this wondrous gift.