The best morals kids get from any book is just the capacity to empathize with other people, to care about the characters and their feelings. So you don’t have to write a preachy book to do that. You just have to make it a fun book with characters they care about, and they will become better people as a result. –Louis Sachar
Does reading make you a better person? Honestly, I don’t know. But what Sachar writes about readers empathizing with characters strikes me as very deeply true. As a kid, I read for many reasons. Early on, I read for fun and for the sheer delight of words side by side on a page. As I grew older, I read so I could learn about kids who lived far away from me, in space or time.
These reasons continued to be important as I hit my teen years, but another reason became even more important: I read to “try on” what it was like to be brave or broken-hearted. Famous or forgotten. Victorious over impossible odds. What would it be like to be part of a large family? Or to be orphaned? How would I survive with Nazgûl or the Cauldron-Born exhaling their reeking breath upon me?
So, to what Sachar said, I would add that reading increases our capacity for courage.
Even as an adult, when I read about those who suffer and then rise with valor, it makes me consider that maybe I can act with bravery. If Harry Potter could knowingly walk to meet Lord Voldemort and his own death, then maybe I can walk towards some of my darker fears.
And, like Harry, I don’t have to do it alone. Harry took his friends and family with him. Do you know who I take? I bring Harry alongside me. And Dobby. And Frodo and Sam. And Katniss. And Peeta and Prim. And hundreds of other brave, true friends who are no less real to me because they’re imaginary.
A writer could do this in any genre. I don’t doubt it for a moment. But Young Adult literature seems to be especially rich in providing for readers: characters who (a) grow and change through (b) adventures often unenviable and which (c) end in a place of hope.
And that is what keeps me reading YA.
As a writer of YA, here is what I wish for you, my readers: I hope you will find courage from the pages of a book and make that courage your own; I want you to discover compassion for those not like you; and most of all, for those of you in pain, I want you to find friends who will stand beside you in moments of darkness and whisper to you, “It’ll be okay. I’m here with you. I understand.”