for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
I’m not a fangirl. I don’t know celebrity names. I don’t ask the hairdresser to make me look Kardashian. Also I don’t diet, buy $30 lip gloss, or wear Lululemon to the organic grocery store.
I read; I write. That’s what I do; that’s what I think about. Reading and writing.
In today’s YouTube-tutorial, boutique-fitness-studio, must-have eyebrow-mascara culture, being a reader/writer can make a girl feel almost…like she’s not that much of a girl, you know? Funny, then, that I’m being embraced by a sorority.
Rush began 30 years ago, in elementary school. With Blubber. Poor girl, going to school knowing the others were laughing at her! God, could I relate. In our beach games, my sister was Bo Derek. I was Sea Cow.
And then Deenie—are you kidding me? She had to wear a brace to school and have everyone stare, same way everyone stared at me, with my step-brother in his clacking leg brace? Judy Blume was my first real sister, tapping my soul with her magic pen, letting me know that I wasn’t the only one.
Sweet Valley High, that literary candy that spilled from the pen of Francine Pascal. Peeling back the macaroon-colored cover of a SVH book, I was a new girl. A thin, blond, convertible-driving California girl. Mini-skirts and pom-poms! SVH was my first, my best drug. Francine Pascal was sister #2.
Then I found salvation: Alice Walker. Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison. Women writing characters with the honesty, humor, and heart that was missing from my life. Their worlds were my nirvana. In my reader’s mind, at least, I had a place where everything made sense. And I had people: my three newest sisters, and their heavenly cast of characters.
When I got older it was Dangerous Minds. First the movie, showing me my future: a take-no-prisoners high school teacher finding kin in her alternative-class students. Which led me to the books. And the author, the teacher, the revolutionary: LouAnne Johnson.
Then I was on to Crank: part fiction, part poetry, part muscle-car, all real. Like its author, Ellen Hopkins: badass, trailblazer, and modern day Anat, goddess of love and war.
And it dawned on me: it wasn’t the blubber. It wasn’t the skin color. It wasn’t the pom-poms, or the street cred, or the eyebrow mascara. It was—it is—the words.
It’s the words and the beating heart behind them.
To Ellen Hopkins. To LouAnne Johnson. To Jenni Fagan and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marieke Nijcamp.
To all of my sisters in heart and word, as we work to save kids’ souls, one book at a time.
Cyndy Etler is the author of The Dead Inside (Sourcebooks Fire, April 2017), a YA memoir about the sixteen months she spent, as a teen, in a “tough love” facility described by the ACLU as “a concentration camp for throwaway teens.”