Submitted by: Tabitha G. Kelly
Author of Standing By
There was an unwritten rule that teenage boys do not congregate at the library. At least, not in their free time. Attending a teen event like manhunt or trivia night was a different story; that was allowed.
But to go to the library on your own? And on a Saturday afternoon in the summer, no less?
No. No thirteen-year-old boy did that.
Unless you’re Alex Thomson.
Alex didn’t care what the “rules” were. He loved to read. One could say that books were his life. He loved to be brought to the places that books could take him; a new country, outer space, Narnia, Hogwarts… the possibilities were endless. There were no limits as to what he read either. Science-fiction or fantasy? Alex read it. If the book featured superheroes or the average Joe, he read it. If a book was as close to a Stephen King novel that you could get that was appropriate for his age group? Alex read it.
Actually, he read Stephen King novels too, but don’t tell his mother that.
Alex walked up the staircase leading to the library’s double-door entry. The old marble building made it feel as though he were going into the Library of Congress; not his town library. There were over a hundred years of history hidden in the walls of the Clearmont Public Library - and rumor has it, a few ghosts as well.
It was a building that Alex loved. And just walking into it was almost enough to pull him out of the funky mood he was in this particular Saturday.
Now inside, the lenses of Alex’s glasses transitioned back to clear as the librarians at the front desk greeted him cheerfully, which he returned with a polite response. They were used to his presence in the building on the weekend. In fact, if he wasn’t at the library on a Saturday, they would wonder if he was feeling okay. The only exceptions were the Saturdays during the soccer season.
His frown returned as he continued on past the adult fiction stacks, heading for the stairway that led up to the teen’s loft.
Perched above the main level of the library, one could look through the glass windows and watch patrons browse through the stacks. To Alex, the teen’s room was like a clubhouse. Off to one side of the librarian’s desk there was a lounge area for teens to chat amongst themselves, read, or play video games on the television that was set up on the wall. Tables were scattered about for the teens to do homework or play board games.
Then, of course, there were rows of bookshelves filled with books of all genres and types to please all readers. The collection had grown vastly just in the past few years after a heavy grant was bestowed to the library in hopes of getting more teens to read. The grant had come just in time for Alex to begin his transition from the children’s room to the teen’s. The official transition, that is. He’d always read above his age group.
Alex dropped his bag onto the nearest table and fished out his books to bring over to the teen librarian, Miss Caitlin. She was the youngest librarian in the building, having just finished graduate school in the spring, though she’d been working at the library since she graduated high school. Alex had only been four years old then.
He wasn’t surprised to see her give him a quizzical look as he approached the desk. Alex usually greeted her with a smile that lit up the room. Caitlin was his favorite librarian all-around. Even the librarians at the middle school - as amazing as they’d been in his three years there - just didn’t quite live up to Caitlin. After all, she had known him since he was a toddler. She knew what books he liked, and what ones he wouldn’t like. The two had similar interests and could spend hours talking about their favorite books.
However, today he couldn’t do anything to hide the sour look that was no doubt etched all over his face. It wasn’t as though his books were late. It was blasphemy for any of the librarians to even think that he’d return a book late.
“What’s wrong, Alex?” Caitlin asked.
Alex leaned against the counter and slid the three Maze Runner books toward her. “My mom said that for the next few weeks I can’t read any science-fiction or fantasy books.”
Caitlin tilted her head as she checked in the books. “Why’d she say that?”
“She says I read too much of that stuff,” Alex said, “and that I need to read some ‘good books’ before I can read any more fantasy. It’s dumb.”
He picked up a bookmark and stared at it as though it would solve his problem. Alex loved his mom, but right now he was upset with her. So what if he preferred to read about space adventures and fantasy worlds? At least he wasn’t addicted to video games, like most boys his age. And it wasn’t as though he didn’t read contemporary fiction or even the occasional sports biography.
“I think she just wants you to take a chance on other books,” Caitlin said with a smile. “Read something of a new genre. You might end up liking it.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Alex said. He placed the bookmark back with the others and sighed. “But what do you think she meant by ‘good books?’ Aren’t all books good?”
“She probably wants you to read some classics or books that have won awards,” Caitlin said. “You’ll be in high school next month and you’ll most likely have to read them in class at some point.”
Alex made a face. “Those sounds boring though.”
“That depends on the reader. You might end up loving some of them.”
She came out from behind her desk and began walking over to the beginning of the fiction collection. Alex followed, noticing the two inch difference between them was only due to the heeled boots Caitlin wore.
“I don’t know…”
“Well, you like sports, don’t you?”
“I love sports.”
Caitlin offered a smile and stopped at the end of the first shelf of young-adult books. Alex tried to follow her gaze, but not quite figuring out what she was up to. She pulled a book off the shelf and held it for Alex to take. The cover featured a shadowed figure spinning a basketball on his finger and it was called The Crossover.
“This one actually just won the Newbery Medal this year,” Caitlin said as Alex skimmed the inside cover, “so that will fit your mom’s standards. But, there’s one thing about this book…”
“They’re written in free verse.”
Alex flipped the pages of the book he now held and shrugged. It wasn’t ideal, but the gist of the story sounded good. He pursed his lips and looked at Caitlin. “What else do you recommend? In case I don’t like these ones.”
This hadn’t been the kind of book he expected Caitlin to pick for him. Again, the story itself sounded good, but he wasn’t completely sold on it being told in poetry form. Caitlin tapped her chin.
A moment passed and she smiled at Alex. He perked up and closed the book.
“What? Did you think of a good book?” he asked.
“A few, actually. And I think you’ll like them,” Caitlin said. “Just give me a minute.”
Alex nodded and went back to the table where his backpack lay and placed the book down. He watched as Caitlin searched through the stacks, muttering to herself as she scanned the titles. Alex couldn’t help but smile, realizing that he did the same thing as he browsed for books. It was something he hadn’t been aware of until his best friend, Julie, pointed it out to him a few months back.
They say you will either influence or be influenced by the company you hang around, and it looked like Alex picked up a trait from Caitlin.
She reappeared from the end of the fiction stacks and came over with a small pile of books, placing them on the table. It was a literal buffet of books. The titles all looked familiar; Alex had definitely heard of or seen them before.
“These are some classics that you might end up having to read in school over the next few years,” Caitlin said. “But they’re along the lines of what you like to read outside the fantasy genre.”
Alex picked up one of the books, scanning the back briefly. His eyebrows shot upward and he looked up at Caitlin. “An alternate reality where they burn books? That’s just insane!”
Caitlin laughed. “So do you think you might like any of these?”
Alex nodded, taking another book from the pile. His eyes lit with intrigue as he began reading the back summary of 1984. Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad that his mom wanted him to read some good literature. Caitlin never would have brought these books to him if that hadn’t been the case. He should’ve known that his favorite librarian would be able to save the day.
“I think I’ll love them.”