Women Who Raised Me: Episode Three

 

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I grew up with a wonderful, attentive mother. Super parents, both. Really. But a young girl and developing bibliophile requires a whole host of literary mothers to show her the way. It takes a village.

Episode Three: Ursula Hegi

The year is 2002 and I am in the eighth grade. That's the top of the middle school heap, folks. And, at thirteen, I'm feeling as grown up as I've ever felt (peaked too soon). My English teacher is young and full of radical, anti-establishment ideas about the futility of benchmarks and we have rallied around her in the revolutionary spirit and burned our spelling workbooks. She tacked a list of banned books to the wall and had many of them in her room to loan out; I could mainline the inflammatory literary smut they wouldn't keep in the middle school library. My first selection? Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.

War, sex, Nazism, dwarfism, and a librarian heroine? What's not to love? And, until this moment, I had read only young adult fiction, never something so complex and beautifully written. Not to say that young adult authors can't be masters of craft, but Hegi is particularly daring and shocking. The story is about both Trudi, a dwarf woman reconciling her otherness in World War II-era Germany, and the greater implications of Nazism on the lives of Trudi and the members of her town. I want to make this clear: it blew my mind. Hegi opened me up to a number of great novelists that year--Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway--things that I didn't think I was ready to read because no one had ever told me it was okay.   

 

Next Time: I find out that women write the best horror.

 

Read Episode Two: Kate DiCamillo

Read Episode One: Maud Hart Lovelace