What Happened When I Read the Same Book as a Teenager, Then Again As an Adult

One book. Two completely different experiences.

After nearly 10 years, my favorite book is still Looking for Alaska by John Green.

I didn’t read it when it first came out, but after I accidentally discovered the Green brothers indirectly though NaNoWriMo, I jumped at the chance to read a book by an author I’d never heard of.

I loved LFA. It was a powerful story that captivated me from the very first page. But I felt no real-world connection to it. It was a good story – but even then, I tended to read a book, say how much I loved it, and then move on to the next one without many further thoughts.

I think it was my favorite book then because it felt different to me. I didn’t understand why then, but it did. I wasn’t a very adventurous reader at 15: I had a few favorite authors, and Meg Cabot’s long list of titles kept me busy the majority of my reading time.

When the 10th anniversary edition of the book came out a few years ago, I was excited enough to buy it, even though I already had a paperback copy. I’d been watching Vlogbrothers videos from start to finish for the first time, and felt very strongly about supporting John in, honestly, a kind of selfish (but still totally worth it) way.

There are only a select number of books I have ever read more than once. I’m one of those people who always says I’m going to reread something before the movie comes out, then never do.

With a new, shiny hardcover in my hands, I made the decision to read LFA a second time.

It was nothing like the first time I read it. Not even close.

The first time, I shed no tears. I related to the characters enough, but not on a deep, empathetic level. I liked the story, but it wasn’t life-changing.

But since I’d read LFA for the first time, I had grown up significantly, both in age and in spirit. I had also lost someone very close to me not long before. I had experienced grief in a number of unexpected ways in my young adulthood by that point. But I did not expect that to matter so much.

I spent what I can only estimate to be about 30 straight pages in tears. I understood it now. That scene in the gym where the MC tells the principal the assembly can’t start yet absolutely destroyed me. Because I had felt that feeling. I got it. It spoke to me.

Many people over many lifetimes have been touched by books. I know I’m not the only one. But first of all, it bothers me when people assume young adult books are only for teenagers. I’ve gotten more out of YA books as an adult than I ever did when I was still in high school.

Second of all – how amazing is it, that we can read the same book twice, years apart, and have a completely different experience the second time?

This is important for a writer to understand. You already know that not every person is going to relate on a deeply personal level to every story you write. It’s just not possible. It can be frustrating, because you want to reach everyone.

But just because someone isn’t changed by a story now, doesn’t mean they won’t be someday.

You’re reaching more people than you think. People with very different experiences and disappointments and dreams and failures and fears.

The audience you are writing for is very important. Your genre is important.

The depth of your story, how relatable your characters are, your theme – these are even more important. When you are writing fiction, you are saying to someone, “Here – let me tell you a story.” And you are hoping that at least some piece of it will speak to them. You are hoping that at least one paragraph, one page will be enough to motivate them to hold that book close to their heart. To love it. To need it.

Maybe someone won’t need it now. But they might need it eventually.

A good story isn’t about pleasing everyone. It is about meeting people where they are, about saying to them, “You are okay. You are understood, and you are loved.”

I don’t love books because they make me happy. I love them because they make me feel alive.

Write stories that make people feel. Books are not an escape. They are discoveries. To some readers, books are adventures. Take your readers on epic quests. Change their lives. Make them feel whole.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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