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Books Got My Back
Janae Marsh

I love to read. For as long as I can remember, all I did was read. If somebody wanted to see me, they knew where to find me: on my bedroom floor with my Pocahontas blanket, reading any book I could get my hands on.

Reading was my escape from the world. To this day, when I’m reading, I don’t know what’s going on around me. And when I feel like my problems are too big to handle, reading helps me calm down.

Reading came in handy when my aunt and I were not getting along. My mom died when I was 2 years old and I ended up living with my grandmother and my aunt.

My aunt could be real hostile. She would call me dumb and stupid on the low, and tried to make it seem like I was the devil in disguise.

One day I was in the living room watching cartoons. A character with a nasty attitude was on the screen. My aunt came over and said, “That little girl reminds me of somebody I know.” She said that I acted just like the character—good around important people, bad around her and Grandma. But I didn’t think that was true.

Sometimes she’d walk around my house and roll her eyes at me or my cousins for no reason. I’d be like, “Grandma, I ain’t say nothing to her,” but my grandmother wouldn’t say anything. I felt powerless because I was this skinny little child who nobody listened to. It made me sad, too, because it seemed like my grandmother didn’t care.

At times like that, I tried not to let what they said stick in my mind. I’d think to myself, “She’s unhappy and misery loves company.” But whenever my aunt or grandma would start talking about me or calling me a problem child, I’d take my Pocahontas blanket and my Goosebumps books and lock myself in the bathroom. I would sit in the bathtub, close the shower curtain and read for hours. The bathtub was my getaway without running away from home.

The longer my aunt and I argued, the longer I stayed in the bathroom. Avoiding the situation did work, because eventually my aunt left me alone.

But it got so bad that my brother had to go to his friend’s house to use the bathroom. Then my brother was always bragging about how smart his sister was. His friends would say, “Yo, Phil, it’s all right if you’re an only child.” He was like, “I do have a sister. She’s reading in the bathtub.”

My grandma would try to lure me out. In the summertime she always kept icees in the refrigerator for me. My grandma also got me a television because I couldn’t go to sleep unless I stayed up at night watching cartoons. The day I got a television, my brother got so mad! He was like, “Why’d you get her that? She’s not gonna watch it! She won’t even know it’s there!” He came in my room to watch TV during the day, while I was still reading in the tub.

image by Stephanie Wilson

Reading didn’t just help me escape, though. I think it made me smarter and more thoughtful. Reading helps me relax and gives me time to calm down before I confront a problem.

In my house there are lots of children, and they all drive me up the wall. Sometimes I just want to be alone. So when they start acting up, I grab a book before I slap one of them. If you walk in my house and you see me reading, I’m probably mad and trying to calm down.

Reading helps me get perspective on my life. When I was younger, I always thought about how life would be different if my mom was around. My life wasn’t really rough, but it was hard dealing with her death when I was so young. As I got older I couldn’t really remember my mom, and I guess that’s what made it so hard.

When I read A Child Called It, about a boy who was terribly abused, I was thinking, “Here’s this little boy whose mother is beating him for no reason.” I always knew that awful things happened to others, too. But after reading A Child Called It, my views about my childhood changed.

I thought that my grandma was so mean, but no matter how mad she got she never tried to burn me or hit me. And she would never call me “it.” The book taught me to think about others even though I have my own issues.

I also like how reading lets me put myself in other people’s shoes. The most recent books I’ve read are the Harry Potter series. I like fantasy books because sometimes I don’t want to be Janae. I want to be Winter the ghetto princess in Sister Soulja’s book The Coldest Winter Ever, or Addy, the hero of a series called Addy: An American Girl.

Addy is my favorite because she is so brave. Addy went through being a slave, having her father and brother taken away from her, and having to leave her baby sister. Addy and her mother also had to run away to Philadelphia.

Often, if you grow up knowing one way of living, you’re not going to try to change it because many people don’t like to change. That’s why I like Addy. What 9-year-old do you know who could go through all that and stay positive? She’s like a role model to me.

For a long time, reading helped me understand myself and the world around me, even when I had no one to express myself to. Luckily, I’ve finally found someone who understands me. She’s my cousin Maddy. When we were younger, we always played together and kept each other company. Now we are very close. I see her almost every weekend. If she comes over, I’ll get out of the bathroom and we’ll talk.

But during the week, my cousin isn’t here. So when I need to step back from life, I always have my books.

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