Oh wow. Sometimes you get a fan letter that just blows you away. I rarely share fan letters because it feels so self-indulgent (look! look! this person loves my book and SO SHOULD YOU!). I hope you'll forgive the indulgence this time because I think there's some profound truth about what books and stories do for us that this letter elucidates. This is from Liz in Georgia, a high school senior. There are forest born and general Books of Bayern spoilers, so be warned.
I recently reread some parts of Forest Born (my personal favorite of The Books of Bayern) and some things in it really hit me. They just fit kind of perfectly in answering so many of my worries and regrets and turning my hopes into faith. I feel like I can really identify with Rin. Even though I don't have six older brothers, I am the youngest of three brothers and a sister and know what it's like it try to find your own place after being underneath your sibling's shadows. I, like Rin (and everyone pretty much), have done things I've regretted. Rin's story helped me find my core (so to speak), do what I can, forgive myself, and move on. I think Rin's is the perfect story of acceptance. Of realizing that yes, I've made my mistakes, but they help to make me who I am today, they don't define me. The only way for them to define me is to wallow and waste my life regretting and being afraid to make another mistake. I think Rin tried that, didn't work too well for her either :) Mistakes are a part of life, an awful and wonderful part of life. And I will forever be grateful to the Man and Brother who made it possible for me to be forgiven of them and be able to move on after them. The darkest of moments precedes the greatest light and growth.
Rin's story has helped me to learn more about myself and realize it's okay to change. We're all different. We all have a place where we belong, a place where we fit. Though I haven't completely found mine yet, I will. We all have our own journey; we each follow a different path. It's okay to struggle. It's okay to not follow the person in front of you. Because you're you. You're not them. This is my life, my journey. I loved the tree imagery you created in Rin, of her spreading her roots, finding her strength and drawing on it. Of her accepting who she is and tapping into that wonderful ability and silent, serene power. But she also had to accept her people-speaking. That hidden burden she cashed away. I loved how she found a way to take something with the ability to be so corrupt and evil and make it into something good simply because she didn't want to be evil; she wasn't Selia. She had balance. Deep down she was a good person who wanted good things. She knew what she had to do and had the strength and ability to do it, even in her (seemingly) small and personal way. I love how Rin isn't a lead character, even though she is the main character. Her place is to offer support, like to the king that married Selia. She had been through hard times. Her journey is not to change the world in some drastic way like Isi being Queen, her place is simply to be there for those around her, to be the strength to those who would change the world and so, in her own way, she changes the world, just through others. Her "ministry" is to speak truth, to see it and help others see it in themselves. She saved Isi this way.
Thank you so much for writing and getting this book published! I can honestly say it's one that has helped me through my life and changed me. It's helped me realize it's okay to be me. That my family loves me and is just as amazing, crazy, and fun as Rin's. Forest Born has helped me realize my life is my life and it won't follow the same course as another person's. But it will be perfect for me. Rin's story helped me move past a lot of pain and regret and start to move on from it. To accept it and move forward. To look forward with faith. It's helped me to relax and find out part of who I am and realize I'm beautiful and strong inside. That my intentions are good and that I will make mistakes, but I can learn from them, I can be forgiven of them and just simply move on. I don't have to be afraid to live or hold myself back from being all I can become.
So lovely. Just breath-taking. What a lovely human being.
Now of course I could have told Liz those things and saved myself the trouble of writing a novel for two years. I could have told any teenager or any person, "Hey, we all make mistakes. Life is tough. It's about forgiving yourself, recognizing your own talents, accepting your weaknesses, and moving forward. Have courage! You can do it, and you'll find good friends to support you."
But those of you with teenage children or who teach or work with teenage children, just how effective is such a lecture?
That's where books and stories are so powerful. It's not a lecture. It's an experience. We enter a story, we live and think alongside the character, we come away with eyes wider and brains fuller. And when a book isn't a lecture but a story true to its characters, the reader can discover there so much more than what any lecture could try to convey.
Books allow us to meet the story halfway, and such a meeting is so much more influential than an experience like a movie, where the story comes to us. (I love movies, by the way. It's just a different experience.) By having to meet the story halfway, our receptors are open. We attach to the story, we share its life force. We are changed, and so is the story. A symbiotic relationship!
From her words, I surmise that Liz is a Christian. There is no religion in forest born. I love that she brought her own experience and understanding to the story and it reinforced her own beliefs. A reader of a different belief system might do the same. A great novel is a great place to do some thinking and come to a greater understanding of just who we are, what we believe, and how we want to live.
So cool. I love books. And I love my readers. Thanks, Liz.