The Three Books About Outcasts That Got Me Through High School
My high school story isn't an exceptional one. I'm just one of the millions of kids out there who had an awful time during their teenage years. But like all of those other kids, it felt exceptionally bad at the time, and I felt like I was the only one in existence to go through that level of discomfort and heartache. I turned to the bookstore and library for comfort, and these three books about outcasts helped get me through high school.
[Trigger Warnings: Mental illness, bullying, depression, suicide.]
From the ages of 12 to 16, my days were filled with loneliness, bullying, and mental health issues that kept me constantly on edge. This is most likely why I was so attracted to books about lonely and psychologically "stuck" characters. I related so deeply to feeling isolated. I wanted their happy endings to be mine, even if not all of the books actually had happy endings.
I wanted their happy endings to be mine.
Having to deal with OCD, anxiety, and bullying,and depression was tough. I didn't tell anyone out of fear that people would mock me and call me a liar. So I did the only thing I could do to deal with it: I read the pain away.
One of the books in particular that I connected with was Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson. In short, Dustbin Baby follows April, a teenage girl, who looks back on her life as an abandoned child. After being dumped in a Dustbin mere minutes after birth, April was passed from foster home to foster home, always feeling out of place, and never feeling truly herself.
Now I'm not adopted, so this story was never truly mine, but there are several elements of the story that always resonated with me, particularly its focus on mental health and the desire to create the perfect family. Though present day April states that she is happy with her high school friends and her caring foster mother, there was always something missing, as if something had been taken from her unfairly. In her case it was her estranged biological mother, in my case it was friendship, and a mental state that I considered at the time to be a "normality."
Depression also plays a big part in the novel, in terms of April's very first adoptive mother, simply known as “Mummy.” There's a particularly dark section of the book that details the suicide of April's adoptive mother, where a very young April risks her life to crawl out the window to get into the locked bathroom, where she then finds her mother in the bathtub, surrounded by red water. April had to come to terms with not only the death of her parent, but also the fact that only mother she had ever known suffered from extreme depression, which in a way I feel seeped into April's own life. Now I was never suicidal, but I was always terrified that one day my depression would try to make me feel like death was the only answer. I suppose April helped me realize that regardless of where you once started, you may end up in a much happier, healthier place, even if you never found what you were originally looking for.
I suppose April helped me realize that regardless of where you once started, you may end up in a much happier, healthier place, even if you never found what you were originally looking for.
Luckily, by the time I reached the age of 14, friendship finally found me. Not only did I find a handful of great friends in my third year of high school, but I met a wonderful penpal who became my very best friend, despite the distance. We shared everything, and books were no exception. One of our favorites was a novel named Shrinking Violetby Jean Ure. We felt it mirrored our friendship perfectly, because it focuses on two girls — Violet and Katie — who become best friends via letter writing. All goes spectacularly well until Katie suggests they meet, sending Violet's nerves flying. The book centers on the power and strength that lies within every shy teen girl, and the endless possibilities of the creativity they have to share. So for me, it was a massive confidence boost.
The book centers on the power and strength that lies within every shy teen girl, and the endless possibilities of the creativity they have to share. So for me, it was a massive confidence boost.
In the book, the two characters create their own magazine that they sent back and forth in their letters. We loved the idea so much that we outright stole it, naming our version “Mail-Mag” just like Katie and Violet did.
Mail-Mag, my penpal, and Violet and Katie helped me get through the hell hole that was my high school; writing to her and adding to our magazine became my reward for getting through the day, and it was all thanks to Jean Ure's book.
Generally as I got older, my taste in books got darker, not that Dustbin Baby isn't dark but it's nowhere near as dark as Rachel Klein's The Moth Diaries , which is another book that focuses on mental illness and friendship. Not happy-go-lucky friendship. Toxic friendship built around jealousy and possession.
Toxic friendship is something I've dealt with since around the age of 15, and it's one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking aspects of any kind of relationship. To find out that you've befriended someone who puts you down at any given opportunity, who hates the sight of you spending time with anyone other than them, who guilt trips you constantly, and second guesses every move you make is exhausting. And unlike April, or Violet, the protagonist of The Moth Diaries, is the toxic friend of this story. Yes, this time it was the narrator herself. Though not deliberately, her paranoia ends up hurting a lot of people.
To find out that you've befriended someone who puts you down at any given opportunity, who hates the sight of you spending time with anyone other than them, who guilt trips you constantly, and second guesses every move you make is exhausting.
The Moth Diaries centers on an unnamed boarding school student who becomes convinced that new pupil, Ernessa, is a vampire out to steal her best friend, Lucy, and kill everyone in the process. We actually have no substantial proof in the novel that the narrator is correct in her assumption. Actually, it's implied that her grief over her father's recent suicide is fueling her paranoia and affecting her mental state. Even the preface of the novel states that she is being treated for borderline personality disorder as an adult, as a direct result of what happened in the rest of the novel.
I don't have a psychotic disorder, so I can't relate to the narrator's possible hallucinations or delusions, but that level of paranoia really hit home with me. I'm not sure if its another symptom of OCD or if its my anxiety, or if it's just a symptom of how many friends have broken my heart in the past, but I'm constantly on the look out for knives in my back, and they often still find me.
These books shaped me into who I am today, for better and for worse, because not only where they a comfort to me when life was hell, but they helped me to accept my loneliness, deal with my mental disorders, and even help me build friendships. April, Violet, and even the unnamed narrator, have always been a part of me, and I think they always will be.
Image: Unsplash/Mind Journal; Giphy (2)