Nicole Beaudoin is a master’s candidate in the Professional Writing Program at UMass Dartmouth. Currently, she works with the University’s web team and teaches Business Communications as a TA. She has a passion for literature, writing and especially dogs.
Personal growth and understanding usually comes with vast and tumultuous learning experiences. Through life we slowly acquire new skill sets, knowledge about our surroundings, others and ourselves. We see the world and what it has to offer and what it can do to someone, both good and bad. Simply put: we learn how the world works.
But what happens when we are sheltered from the “real world” by no fault of our own?
One book in particular that coaxed me into reality was The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. This young adult novel chronicles the lives of three foster children living with the Masons, a seasoned foster family. The foster children–Carlie, Harvey and Thomas J.–did not have a stable figure in their lives until they arrive at the Masons. They lived through abuse (emotional and physical), abandonment and the family court system. Bouncing from one place to another, controlled by fate, they are pinballs. Through the course of the novel, they gain each other’s trust and finally become a family.
Reading this novel as a budding teen, experiencing uncertainty, low self-esteem and imbalanced hormone levels, I tried to identify with the characters. They were unlike anyone I had ever met and like everyone I had met all at the same time. The characters were seemingly normal adolescents going through trials that I could never imagine and trying to find their place in world. Our lives, although vastly different, connected on an emotional level.
I recognized myself in these characters. As humans, we share the common bond of human experience. I learned that not everyone lives a serendipitous life but you can endure bad experiences and make the best of your situation. You have choices in life even though you cannot always control your surroundings. You can heal. You can learn. You can live. You can love.
I share this quaint story because I truly believe literature allows for identification and personal growth. Literature opens doors to worlds unknown and to unrecognized realities. This construction of reality on the page allows the reader to identify themselves in other people and understand a human condition unlike their own. Readers experience the power of words and the conveying of simple messages such as love and camaraderie through shared experiences. Literature captures and exposes life’s fleeting instances and solidifies them. It shows us the faults of misled actions and the beauty of guided ones. We see sides of stories often untold and silenced.
I never encountered abuse, hatred or terror in my own life. Reading helped me see a world I did not know and would not have known for quite some time. It opened my eyes, heart and mind. Most importantly, I garnered tools for life. I discovered a remedial understanding of humanity and have worked on this understanding since. I can say I continue to see things differently after reading. Like many others, I am changed for the better.