Until this day, the book that has made the most impact in my life still is Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
I read it in 6th grade for a class assignment. Looking back, I was extremely sheltered and blissfully ignorant—for an 11 year old. Up until that point, all the books I read had happy endings and no one—no one—ever died. In fact, it never occurred to me that an author could kill a character. Death simply didn't exist in my little world. Don't get me wrong, I knew of death. But, I had yet to be directly impacted by the death of a loved one. And, according to everything I knew at that point, death never happened in fiction. Ever.
Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book that took away some of my childhood naiveté and replaced that sparkle in my eye with one of adult-like wisdom.
I followed Billy Colman through his hardship of acquiring his two puppies, Old Dan and Little Ann. Breathlessly, I read how Billy trained them to coon hunt, eventually entering them into competitions. I cheered at their successes and chuckled at their silly antics, investing a little bit of my heart along the way.
When I stopped reading the required pages for the day, I eagerly awaited for the next adventure. To find out what trials Old Dan and Little Ann would inevitiable conquer. To experience the love and devotion shared between them and Billy. For, never before that book had I ever experienced that type of emotion with fictional characters. It was all new to me, but I, too, came to love Old Dan and Little Ann as deeply as Billy did.
It was the ending of Where the Red Fern Grows that sparked the seed of change within me. It was the first step in my long journey away from childhood and toward adulthood.
It started with the mountain lion attack. I didn't understand why the author made that happen, but I was certain everything would turn out OK. I was wrong. My heart stilled when Old Dan died. I was in shock and disbelief. Then came my first feelings of anguish. I felt the pain and suffering as sharply as Billy and Little Ann did. My heart broke again when Little Ann followed her brother.
That was the first time in my life that I had ever cried over fictional characters. That I felt heartache and mourned the loss of loved ones. That was also my first experience with death. Fictional or not, it was very real to me.
Looking back, that experience was cruel yet beautiful. Because, before that moment in my life, I had never truly understood how deeply moving and life changing a truly good book was.
Top Ten List of Life Changing books:
1) Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
2) The Giver by Lois Lowry
3) The Fledgling by Jane Langton
4) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5) The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
6) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
7) Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone by J. K. Rowling
8) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
10) Revenge of the Witch (The Last Apprentice) by Joseph Delaney
Leah Parker is a teen librarian and aspiring author. Check out her blog, Travails of a Budding Author.
This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.