Recently, a teen from my Young Adult Advisory Council, McKenzey asked me to be her adult partner for a summer project. Her upcoming advanced English class had assigned all students the book Black Boy by Richard Wright to read over the summer and discuss (over the course of three meetings) with an adult, not a parent or relative. Then, at the end of summer, all teen and adult participants would get together for a large group discussion of the book and to talk about their individual conversations.
I had read Black Boy when I was in high school, and, as I have found with most required reading, having it assigned sucked all the joy out of the book. So I was really looking forward to rereading it, and enjoying it! But the greatest reward has been in my discussions with McKenzey.
When I was a teen I rarely felt the urge or the freedom to candidly talk about assigned reading. I spent much of my time trying to think “deep thoughts” about characters or metaphors and when we were out of class, our assigned books were the last things on my friends’ conversation lists. So having the opportunity to talk with McKenzey about what we liked and didn’t like about the book, with no right or wrong answers, was refreshing. We talked about what it was like to grow up in the deep South in the 1920’s and 30’s. We talked about racial prejudice, and where we saw its influence today.
Most interestingly, we discussed how “self-aware” Wright was, even as a young child. McKenzey wondered if a child of six or seven could really understand what was happening around him. And that sparked discussion about reflective memoirs versus fictional stories as a way to express teen life. How does the readers experience differ when reading a book told by a much older narrator instead of something from the perspective of someone currently a teen? Is it easier to relate to one type of story than another?
Our conversations were great, even when we got off topic (of course we had to talk about Harry Potter). I appreciate her English teacher for assigning this project, and I am thankful and honored that McKenzey picked me to be her partner. With so many books being published each year, it can seem impossible to go back and reread a classic. But when you find the right person to read it with, it will become a whole new experience. I highly recommend it!
-Kate is currently re-reading the His Dark Materials series.