I knew that my novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was making its way onto high school reading lists when curious emails began popping up in my inbox. They tended to go something like this:
“Um, you know, your book, Motel on the Corner of Sweet and Sour—dude, it’s like m favorite novel of all time!! And I’m kinda wondering if you could, like, answer these twelve questions for me?” (In my mind, I always hear this question coming from a nasally, voice-cracking, pre-pubescent 14-year-old boy wearing a Hot Topic hoodie with his ear buds in, listening to “Bring Me the Horizon”).
And just like that, I was suddenly someone’s homework. Right up there with Of Mice and Men, the Pythagorean Theorem, and building dioramas out of old shoe-boxes and craftpaper.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how my novel would be received.
So then I asked myself why so many students embrace books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—because they’re amazing novels? Sure. But moreover, these are books with young protagonists. They offer voices that are readily absorbed by the intrepid imaginations of young adults.
Now that I’ve given talks at dozens of schools—from inner-city New York high schools to well-heeled, private academies in tony California suburbs—I’m convinced that students relate well to grown-up problems and ethical dilemmas.
But would my young characters be able to navigate those neural, critical, Twitter-worthy pathways? In talking to students, in person, via email, Skype, and on Facebook, the consensus seems to be: LIKE. Which is no small honor.
And now I get emails like this:
“This is the first time that I actually enjoyed a book I was forced to read.”
“This is my all-time favorite novel. :)”
Or the occasional, “I cried my eyes out. (Sob!)”
Who knew that modern teenagers would relate so well to a Chinese boy falling in love with a Japanese girl during WWII, or that a story about the Japanese Internment would affect a generation that has grown up in a post-9/11 world? The notion still amazes me—it’s something that I never planned or anticipated. But it’s a joy to behold, requests for homework help and all.