This is a guest post from Ashlie Swicker. Ashlie loves iced coffee, Leslie Knope, and YA subplots that include love triangles. Superpowers include doing voices while reading picture books, choosing the perfect Instagram filter, and oversharing. She blogs about books and women at Be Your Own Lady. Follow her on Twitter @mygirlsimple.
The people I follow on Tumblr (these first six words alone set up my predicament pretty well) post lots of those book-aesthetic boards with dramatic pictures matched to quotes from popular YA books. I have started collecting buttons with catchy lines like “Read Fast, Die Young.” I cut out an author photo of Rainbow Rowell and pinned it to my bulletin board. I am a thirty-year-old mother of two, and I am trying my damn hardest to be a book girl.
I’ve been the bookish girl for most of my life- I was chubby, wore glasses, bad at gym. It was preordained. In elementary school I flew through Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Paula Danziger, and this weird series about a town that routinely suffered natural disasters which caused a friend-group of attractive teenagers to find lost children, shut off gas lines, and save the animals at the shelter from flood water. I’d bring an extra paperback to the cafeteria in case I finished one of my books at lunch.
I stopped reading during a middle school stint of trying to be cool (cool kids do not read- they watch Dawson’s Creek and scream at their mothers) and it took Harry Potter to get me back to the written word. I was in high school the first time I read one of the books, and it had been years since I had felt the magic of melting into a story that way. I fell hard, and was deep in the Harry Potter fandom before I even knew what a fandom was. The obsession took up all my time, and I reread the novels and searched out good fanfiction for years.
In college and as a brand new adult, I read zany stories about women looking for love (I hate the term chick lit, it sounds like gum) and the occasional novel I’d buy based on the cover. A big part of my life was checking random stacks of books out of the library and reading the first few chapters while chain smoking on the back porch of the house I’d just bought. I was depressed, scared of the responsibilities of being married and having a career, feeling lost. I started reading self help. I started having babies.
This is where things could have gone dangerously off course. “She had her children and never had time to read anything but Mo Willems ever again!” Happily, this is not a cautionary tale. Having my kids and really settling into the sometimes terrifying roles of mother and wife helped me realize that I needed to have a really strong sense of self in order to survive in a modern family. I needed to make time for reading and read what I liked, even if it wasn’t what my English major friends were picking up. I got over my “supposed tos” and entered the young adult section.
My head exploded when I found THE WORLD that is YA fiction. I found the people of all ages who are eagerly, intelligently reviewing books. I found the authors who are diligently creating stories that all readers can relate to, working to make it so every single teenager in America can read a novel about a person like them. I found authors with Twitter accounts that make me pee myself.
I was looking for a strong sense of self, and YA characters are on the hunt for the same thing. There are well-wrought characters struggling with real flaws, solving huge problems, or just pondering the boring and tortuous question of what should I do with my life? There are kick ass demon fighters who give me complete escapism when I need it most. There are stories that make me think of the girl I used to be, and I wish I could go back in time and press those books into my own astonished hands. You are not alone. You never were alone.
Dramatic? Maybe. But I’m a book girl now. I don’t know how to be cool about this stuff. I stalk my favorite authors and use too many emojis to express my joy when they have a new book out. I buy book-themed socks and my wallet looks like a library card. I fall down rabbit holes on Goodreads, adding to my Want to Read list like a kid in a candy store. I am happy. I am home.
Sure, the books I’m loving right now are marketed to people half my age, and sure, sometimes I get a little sad that the actual fifteen-year-old me didn’t know about BookCon or get to squee about pre-ordering titles when it was a little more age appropriate, but actually, screw age appropriate. I have found my genre, and it has made my life richer and more exciting and I am so pleased to be here, a nerdy book girl, even I’m a little late.