SAVED BY THE BOOK by Claire M. Caterer
I was so lucky the summer after my third-grade year.
My very best friend in the whole world, whose name was Sandi, moved away across the country. Not only was she my dearest friend, she was the only friend within walking distance of my house. I spent those long, hot months alone and steeped in such grief that I developed severe headaches. My parents took me to doctors for CAT scans and medications that made me vomit. I kept telling them why I was getting the headaches, but no one believed me because I was nine years old. If I’d known the phrase clinical depression, I might have used that to describe my situation. I knew it would get better when school started again (and it did). Until then, I walked in my own private hell.
Lucky because on the afternoon before she left my little Kansas town for good, Sandi and I sat inside her house, miserable, trying to think of some way to pass the time. She suggested we read books. The one she pulled down from the shelf for me was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
I didn’t get very far in the book before I had to say good-bye to her forever. But the story stayed with me—the image of a little girl having tea with her new friend, a faun who would soon betray her in the most horrible way. I was so torn up by Sandi’s departure that I forgot the name of the book and the author. I had no idea how to find the book again.
It was three years—an eternity to a nine-year-old—before I happened on the book again in a bookstore and begged my mother to get it for me. She bought the whole Chronicles of Narnia series in a boxed set.
Thus my nerd self was born.
After devouring that first book, I lived in Narnia. I still spoke to boring, nonmagical, American people, but when I went outdoors and climbed trees and shot my own (rubber-tipped) arrows at imaginary White Witches, I was in another world. I dreamed about lions and magicians and sailing ships shaped like dragons. My twelve-year-old self picked up where the nine-year-old had left off. And whenever the uncomfortable, complicated world of adolescence got too thorny, I could always escape to Narnia.
I find when I look back over the bright, hot shards of memory in my life, a book always stands by me. My dreadful, clique-ridden sixth grade year: The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank taught me the value of keeping a journal and of believing that things would get better); the writing project from my sophomore year: That Was Then, This Is Now (S.E. Hinton taught me that girls can write about boys); my first attempt at writing a novel at age ten: The Hidden Cave (Ruth Chew taught me that writing for kids and about kids was noble and wonderful).
C.S. Lewis’s books taught me to be brave in the face of adventure, stoic in a storm at sea, faithful when everyone else refused to believe. Travel between worlds, from the beginning of creation to its inevitable end, became the rule, not the exception. Forever after I would create worlds of my own because one writer had shown me the impossible. So today, still, I’m grateful. Grateful to have been saved by one book, and by extension, so many more.
Claire M. Caterer is a full-time writer of books for all ages. Her first novel, THE KEY & THE FLAME (Margaret K. McElderry Books), is a fantasy adventure that owes much to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. The sequel, THE WAND & THE SEA, is due to be published in summer 2014. Claire lives and writes in the Kansas City area, where she shares her home with one husband, one daughter, two dogs, and a host of imaginary friends. Learn more about her books at http://www.cmcaterer.com, on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/ClaireCaterer), or on Twitter (@ClaireCaterer).