Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Laurel Snyder: On Divorce, and Her Novel BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX

Although this post is related to the world of kidlit, I'm putting it here because this is where I usually post Stories About Me, and other things that aren't related directly to my work as a writer or my reviews of books. I suppose these days there's a lot of overlap, so I'm going to cross-post a link to Finding Wonderland in any case. But here's the deal: Laurel Snyder's latest book, Bigger than a Bread Box,
is about divorce/separation. It’s also about a magical vintage bread box that grants wishes, and about a kid adjusting to life in a new school, and about poetry and snack cakes. But most of all, it’s about parents who are having trouble with each other and their daughter trying to make sense of that.
So Laurel is asking us, out here in the virtual world, to share our own stories, our thoughts or impressions or memories, of divorce. She's issued what I think is a very worthwhile challenge:
When I told some people I was going to try this, the response (with the exception of a few voices) was NO! People said it would be too negative. But I have to believe there are people like me, who want to share these memories, these thoughts. That our grownup selves haven’t entirely overwhelmed our childhood memories… Prove me right?
I think what I want to share about my parents' divorce when I was eight is the solace that reading provided for me, because we are, after all, on the topic of books, too. Although the divorce was, overall, a good thing, it was often disruptive and difficult for me to cope with the custody situation, the visitation arrangements, being HERE when I wanted to be THERE, or going THERE when I wanted to be HERE. My relationship with the monolithic entity I previously knew as My Parents, as Mom 'n' Dad, had turned into two separate relationships, with two separate and very different people.

So I think that my desire to be, not HERE, but THERE, was subsumed into reading voraciously for escape, since I was the one party without any control over the situation. Oh, sure, there were drama and tantrums galore on my part, but beyond that, I would often escape into the nearest book. More than that, I'd escape into the same books over and over, books that seem to me now to be achingly symbolic of my desire to physically escape. James and the Giant Peach was one title that got a lot of action. I'd daydream about being James, about hitching a ride inside a gigantic peach and then sailing the seas and soaring the skies with my giant, scary-on-the-outside but lovely-on-the-inside insect friends. A few years later, I'd read and reread Madeleine L'Engle, especially A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and travel through time with Charles on his unicorn on a journey to save the world. Charles had power, and he had the most intense of family bonds to support him on his quest.

I wanted to say something profound here, maybe something about how these books didn't just help me to escape, they helped me to return. But it would be disingenuous, it would be too pretty, too convenient. So I'll just say this: when I was finally old enough to go away to college and start my own life, it felt a little like I was finally James escaping on my own giant peach. And starting on my own adventure was everything I hoped it would be when I was just that pensive eight-year-old with my nose buried in a book. In a way, those books saved me. Words are still saving me. And, though I haven't yet had a chance to read Bigger than a Bread Box, I know that it, too, has that power.

Kudos to Laurel Snyder for tackling the topic, and for inviting us to share our stories.

4 comments:

tanita davis said...

Okay, that just made me cry.

I don't think it's disingenuous to say that the books helped you to return -- that's what they still do for me.

Every day.

Laurel said...

Me too.

Thanks so much for posting this.

aquafortis said...

Thank YOU, Laurel, for opening up the opportunity for people to share their stories.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks so much for posting this, and providing a little window into your experience of your parents' divorce. The image of you being like James escaping on the peach resonates with me.