When I was a child, people told me so often that I read fantasy for escape that I started to believe them. I did like to be transported to other worlds. And people did seem to think my life was something I should want to escape from.
I don’t talk much about my childhood. This is because, in my mind, it was a good one, but when I start to give people the details—my mother’s s schizophrenia, my father’s death, living with a number of different families—they tend to want to sit me down and make me a cup of tea.
Maybe I read fantasy because the problems in contemporary novels of that time seemed so minor. The character dealing with her father’s death surrounded by a mother, sister, brother and two sets of grandparents just seemed like a big whiner to me. I wanted to tell her to buck up and do her homework. But the character who walked through a door and found herself in a completely alien land with strange customs and beliefs and assumptions—her I could identify with. I’d walked through that door every time I lived with a different family. And the girl in the dystopian novel who’d lost her whole world in a fiery apocalypse? Well, I got her, too.
I wonder if I’d have the same experience if I was growing up today. There have been a few articles of late criticizing the grittiness of contemporary YA fiction. But it’s worthwhile to note that when a novel backs away from the truth, savvy children (by which I mean all of them) will back away from the novel. Sometimes they’ll back away from the whole genre, as I did.
Now that I’m an adult, I don’t think I was escaping at all when I read fantasy as a child. I think I was looking for answers about how to stay alive, the same way someone lost in the woods would pour over a survival manual. The amazing thing is that I got those answers. Books saved my life, I’m sure of that.
I asked my friend Karen Krossing why she read fantasy as a child and she said: to explore things beyond the world I knew. When I was a child, I needed to learn to imagine that there was a world beyond the one I knew. And fantasy taught me to do that.