My life lessons weren’t taught solely by my mother, schoolteachers, or personal experiences. Getting lost in the vicissitudes of a fictional character’s life allowed me to witness conflict between oneself, nature, or others, granting me knowledge of how to solve similar problems in real life.
I’ve narrowed down my three favourite novels from Grades 1 to 12, identifying the impact each has had.
Who is Bugs Potter? – Gordan Korman
Written by children’s author Gordon Korman, Who Is Bugs Potter? follows the story of a mustachioed, gifted drummer named Bugs Potter, who shares a room with high school student and flautist Adam Webb, who is settling along with his school’s orchestra at Toronto’s Hotel Empress.
Night after night, Bugs sneaks out of his hotel room and loiters around a suite inhabited by BiBi Lanay, a fictitious movie star staying in Toronto with her entourage, in hopes of meeting her. He also promotes his drumming ability by traveling to exquisite clubs and becoming a media sensation in Toronto.
Bugs’s wish of meeting BiBi Lanay comes true when he plays at Adam’s high school orchestra festival, and sees that Miss Lanay has grown quite fond of him as a newly-famous musician.
Even though they might not be prevalent, I’ve identified two themes in Who Is Bugs Potter?.
At first, Adam was reluctant to call Bugs his roommate, but he eventually warmed up to him and they became friends. The theme/lesson is anyone can befriend a person they view as the polar opposite of themselves, or not as their “equal.” If you take time to get to know someone who seems differently-minded, you’ll discover that you can form a strong relationship and expand your horizons in terms of knowledge and perspectives.
The second theme is persistence and knowing the right times and places to pursue your desires and unleash your talents. If you’re bold and know what you want, it’s a matter of meeting the right people and doing the right thing.
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak realistically depicts what would happen to a teenage girl if she were sexually assaulted, faced mental health issues, and was understood by no one, not even her own family.
Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman from Syracuse, New York, attends an “end of summer” party with her elementary school friends. She meets Andy Evans, a soon-to-be senior of Merryweather High, the school Melinda will be attending that autumn, who lures her into his car and rapes her. After calling the police and consequently ending the party, Melinda’s friends ostracize her during the new school year, unaware of her traumatic experience.
Melinda becomes depressed and unable to speak. Her parents believe her silence is a cry for attention, and ignore any non-verbal messages she attempts to send. She spends the ninth grade mentally replaying the assault, and trying to determine the next step in her life.
Symbolism is a prominent literary element in Speak. Mr. Freeman, Melinda’s art teacher, represents freedom of expression, speech and thought using almost anything as a medium. Mr. Neck, Melinda’s social studies teacher, represents dogmatism: the dissemination of facts and principles without concern for the opinions of others.
Throughout the story, Melinda struggles between finding her voice and staying mute as to not “disrespect” authority or cause a ruckus.
With Mr. Freeman’s mentoring, Melinda “speaks” using pictures, physical objects and abstract paintings, which she shows him before finally telling him her story.
No matter how dire a situation seems, speaking up is the best way to go. Speak teaches this through a first-person perspective of Melinda Sordino’s sardonic humour and observations of her surroundings. There are people (e.g. Mr. Neck) who misuse power and shut others down abusively, but you have to find the right way to express yourself and exercise your rights.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is my favourite high school novel. It explores circularity of life, and culpability not for one’s actions, but for one’s lack of intervening.
Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, two boys named Amir and Hassan enjoy kite fighting. Amir’s father, Baba, loves both children, but continuously brands Amir as “weak” and “lacking courage.” An older sociopathic boy, Assef, sadistically causes violence any way he can, and torments Hassan for being a Hazara, who he considers an inferior race to the Pashtuns. As he’s about to attack Amir with his brass knuckles, Hassan defends his friend by threatening to sling a rock into Assef’s eye.
Hassan wins a kite-fighting contest and is confronted by Assef and his gang, who demand that Hassan hand over his kite in exchange for freedom. Upon his refusal, Assef attacks Hassan and sexually assaults him. Amir, standing a fair distance away, witnessed this and ran away, rather than stopping the event.
Amir flees to Fremont, California, marries a woman named Soraya, and ultimately adopts Sohrab, who is revealed to be the child of Hassan – who was killed by the Taliban.
The concept of guilt for not doing something is unprecedented. It shows that telling yourself “you should have done something” is just as bad, or sometimes worse, than saying “I shouldn’t have done that.” Growing up, it taught me that you should gauge when and when not to act. Sometimes, it’s best to not do anything at all, but when a loved one’s life is at risk, doing nothing can be costly.
The Kite Runner also teaches us that life is circular; in other words, what goes around comes around. Committing a crime hurts the criminal as much as it hurts the victim.
Literature entertains, mystifies and teaches. Even a fictionalized story can provoke thought and reflection, making you question things in your own life.