Let’s journey into the depths of my soul.
There’s a book challenge going around various social media sites right now that requires you to list the 10 books that have affected you the most. Here at Hypable, we’re kicking off our own version of the challenge. While we may be doing only five books, we’re also going to tell you why they affected us — and maybe we can convince you to read them, too.
Like a well-made horcrux, we pour a little piece of ourselves into every book we read. I think that’s why my fellow staff members and I have found this challenge to be so difficult: choosing the books that define you is choosing how you want to be defined.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
I first finished To Kill a Mockingbird on a family trip to Mexico, in a car packed full of chattering kids, with Aladdin playing in the background. I was fourteen, and as Atticus lulled his daughter to sleep, I sat there, struck in awe by the experience that I had just had. This is why writers exist, I thought, To inspire. To reflect the truths of the world.
To Kill a Mockingbird is the perfect American novel, and my favorite book of all time. The quiet and reclusive Harper Lee wrote a story about the beauty and miseries of life as seen through the eyes of a seven year-old, and at fourteen, I had just enough self-awareness to remember what childhood felt like, and yet had begun to understand the weight of adulthood. Finishing To Kill a Mockingbird made me feel powerless and powerful. Sown in with so much sadness, are seeds of hope.
‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros
My mother says when I get older my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.
A beautiful series of vignettes centering on the coming of age of a Mexican-American girl living in Chicago, The House on Mango Street was the first time I read a book that I felt told my story. When I was growing up, diversity in children’s literature wasn’t yet the hashtag revolution it’s turned into, and as a Latina, I often felt like I didn’t fit into the “default” human being setting of characters in books.
But Esperanza was different. Her family was like my family, her friends were like my friends. But more importantly, Esperanza was bright — even brilliant. She expressed my life experiences in a powerful, observant, and thought-provoking way that gave my feelings validation. And despite the desperation she felt for the world around her, Esperanza recognized her own power within. Simultaneously always too naive and too mature to fit in, she allowed herself the room to feel different, and to be uncomfortable. She loved her community, and embraced her own differences, determining for herself that being different would make her special.
‘Donde viven los monstruos’ by Maurice Sendak
The Spanish translation of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak’s hauntingly-illustrated book was a staple of my childhood. My little brother’s favorite story, my mom read us Donde viven los monstruos often, and with masterful skill (props, Mama!).
The book left me with mixed feelings as a kid because the Spanish version literally translates “Wild Thing” into “monster,” and while a Wild Thing can be charming, (you make my heart sing!), a monster is pretty much always something horrific. Reading the first few pages, I would always feel my stomach drop as the mother screamed at her child that he was a monster. Was it really so monstrous to be wild? Everyone needed to stop being so h/angry and chill out.
Growing up and recognizing the original English title was kind of a shocking experience for me. Pampered, English-language kids got to be Wild Things when they misbehaved and enjoy a Wild Rumpus? I thought it was kind of funny, and in it’s own way, kind of liberating. The themes in the book became lighter—the Wild Thing was an adventurer: a free spirit who commands the room. He was a wanderer, and sometimes he got lost in his own rumpus, but in the end, he could come home again.
I enjoy both the English and Spanish translations now, but still think of my original Donde viven los monstruos as home. Because at the end of the day, I would still rather have my dinner a little “caliente.”
‘Enna Burning’ by Shannon Hale
The sequel to Shannon Hale’s critically-acclaimed and more well-known The Goose Girl, as a young teen, Enna Burning stuck with me in a way that other YA novels couldn’t. It was dark, and it was thoughtful, and the characters came alive like reflections of my favorite human beings.
Living in the fairytale genre, calm, patient Finn was a new kind of hero. He wasn’t a dashing prince or a swashbuckling pirate, but he was kind, and brave, and secure enough to want the friends in his life to shine.
And Enna was a different, angrier kind of heroine. She was quick, and witty, and thirsty with a burning drive. She was unhappy and she wasn’t really sure why. She wanted more, but she couldn’t say what that more was. Her power consumed her until she felt powerless. And because of this, despite the magic happening around her, Enna always felt so real.
‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ by J.K. Rowling
Chamber of Secrets isn’t the best Harry Potter book (Prisoner of Azkaban, duh), and it’s not even my favorite (Order of the Pheonix!!). It’s choppy and sometimes silly, and everyone in it makes some all around pretty dumb life choices.
But it’s also dark in really subtle ways. It explores themes of death, identity, and the dehumanization racism causes. Eleven year-old Ginny’s diary-boyfriend basically emotionally manipulates her into assisting in the murder of other children. Harry begins to learn that his truest, most trusted friends often have a suppressed darkness that isn’t always easy to see.
But most importantly for me: Chamber of Secrets was my first. After living in a literary world pretty much limited to The Babysitter’s Club and Mary Kate and Ashley mysteries, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets changed everything.
I was eight when my dad spotted J.K. Rowling on 60 Minutes, and knowing that I aspired to write, he called me over to watch the British author that was taking over the world with her quirky children’s books. The next weekend we discovered Chamber of Secrets at my local Barnes and Noble, and by the time fifth grade rolled around, I was smuggling Goblet of Fire under the table in class.
So, of course these books define me. Because of them, I grew up valuing loyalty and trust in friendships. I grew up yearning for adventure. Hermione gave me the confidence to be smart as a kid, and as a teenager, Luna gave me the confidence to be different. And all along the way, Harry Potter made me aspire to be brave, to be kind, to be good.
Hypable Staff Challenge:
Find out what books define the other members of the Hypable staff who have taken this challenge!