There are a few books that I really remember reading and enjoying as a young teen. Mrs. Mike. On Fortune's Wheel. But the one book that stands out most in my mind is Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.
I have been mulling over why it is that this book appealed to me so much when I was young. I was so unsure of myself as a preteen/young teen. I was too tall, self-conscious, acne-ridden, you name it. I was so unhappy so much of the time. I lost myself in books and I luckily always counted my mother as a friend. The main character of this book, Louise, I think reminds me just so much of myself. Granted, I wasn't a twin, but I always felt like the world was against me and that I had nothing special to offer. Her feelings, even reading them now, are so familiar and comforting in the sense that I recognized that I was not alone. Her crabbiness was a bit damping when I read it this time - but it's probably that same crabbiness that made her such a relatable character to me when I was young. Strange that this book made me feel like I was not alone in my sorrow and loneliness.
Reading it through this time, probably for the first time in 12 or 13 years, I have a whole new appreciation for the work of art that it is. Paterson does a fine job of making the shore a tangible and real place. I enjoyed learning about crabbing and oystering, she mentions terrapins (go TERPS!!) and Louise even ends up at the University of Maryland, my alma mater. I feel even more connected to this book now as I did then. The final chapter is heartbreakingly beautiful to me - I would even sometimes just pull out the book and read just that chapter a couple of times. It gave me such hope to see Louise happy, having finally found the courage to take a chance, and find herself and a place where she belongs. Reading it again was comfort food.
I will say, however, that the book feels a bit mature to me for the Newberry Award. I always felt like that award was for older children, but this definitely feels like a book for teens. I can't see it being read out loud at all in an elementary school classroom, or even studied in elementary school. The themes of love (she falls in love with an OLD man) and the harshness of her grandmother's criticism are fairly adult (her grandmother is a bit senile and accuses Louise's mother of being a whore). I think I may have just misunderstood the age of the audience that the award is geared towards - or, possibly, the age of the audience is just not really a deciding factor in deciding who wins the award. At any rate, a great read for me, then and now.