In recent years I’ve gone back to read some classic fiction that I was first asked to read in high school, 30 years ago, books like The House on Mango Street, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye.
My first response to these second takes was surprise: “Why do we read these sophisticated examinations of American life when we are teens? How could we possibly get it?! This literature is wasted on the young!”
But my second response was more reflective: I might not have gotten it — the author’s message with all its nuance and depth — but I got something. Esperanza, Holden, Nick: These faithful narrators and critics have stayed by my side all these years, prodding and whispering. They asked a teenaged me questions I might not yet have been fully equipped to answer, but which were and remain essential questions: What does it mean to belong? Who is an American? What is true power? And how should we wield it if we have it?