We started the Childhood Favorites Reread Unit and while I was running around my classroom talking with all the book clubs, I found myself saying that to the kids that it seemed like the author trusted his or her readers with some weighty material in many of the books. I heard myself say this multiple times before I realized that 4 of the 8 books included death at the end: Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia, Freak the Mighty, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It could be argued and interpreted that the same happens in The Giver. My next questions were why are young adult authors tackling such heavy topics and why are these the books that kids love, return to and claim as favorites later?
A part of me thinks that the reader becomes so attached to the well developed characters, that when we lose them it is a deep cut to the heart. The pattern I notice is that the characters we lose (Charlotte, Leslie, and Kevin) teach the reader so much about how to live life well, that it seems impossible that those left could ever move on. And yet, we see the ones who are left (Wilbur, Jesse, Max) deliberately choose to live life differently because they had experienced such incredible friendship. It is not that these characters have great fortune in the end, but it is as though they have been trusted with a great, deep secret that people who haven't experienced loss often do not understand: there are things worth much more than any tangible object, amount of money could ever give us. Love.
I think it is Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe who demonstrates this the most--or, perhaps it is Aslan as my ultimate literary hero. Edmund is less rounded than the other characters I've mentioned and his flaws are not endearing. Unlike my immediate love for Jesse Aarons, I basically can't stand the selfishness he displays for the majority of the story and have a hard time conjuring up any sympathy for his middle child antics. But. Aslan sees in Edmund what he can be (he later becomes, we find at the end of the story, Edmund the Just). Aslan shows the ultimate form of love and sacrifices himself for Edmund--not something that I could ever do because Edmund seems so rotten. But it is in that display of love that Edmund is rocked to the very core of his being, as I was as the reader. (And, lucky for us, the deepest magic of Narnia brings Aslan back to life, more glorious than before. Thank goodness!)
All that to say, these authors trust my students--and me-- with real life and true life and good life. They aren't afraid to put our hearts through the wringer a bit in the hopes that the story they have to tell will stay with for quite some time. And they have. All I can say to the book clubs happening over these stories in my classroom is that they hurt my heart in the best of ways.