So many characters kept me company in those early years. Charlotte’s Web and The Baby-Sitters Club taught me the power of faith and friendship, and, across the globe from my entire extended family, I held close to my chest their lessons that as much as one was born into a family, one could also build a family united by kinship and love. And amidst that hope, the Diary of Anne Frank gave me the sense that I was not the only girl who had ever come of age in hiding. I had not been through anything as horrific as the Holocaust, of course, but the act of living in hiding and with the need to conceal a core truth about one’s identity resonated deeply. It was then that it occurred to me that maybe I was not quite as alone as I felt everyday. Anne Frank’s honest, raw reflections also alerted me to the importance of not just reading books but of weaving our own narrative, particularly because my story was not often reflected in books at the time.
This power of narrative found echoes in Harriet the Spy, which inspired me to jot down all the little, mundane details of my day in hopes of solving a major mystery. What’s more, Harriet, like Jonas from The Giver, validated my experience as a kid who experienced the world a little differently from everyone else, and as someone who could not help but see (and unsee) certain parts of our world. Altogether, these beloved books gave me a sense of safety, companionship, and home at a time when I needed it most.
It would not be until decades later, though, that I would find the power to start weaving that narrative of my own. And I would not have been able to do it without the inspiration of fellow authors. When Jose Antonio Vargas first identified himself as undocumented in an essay in New York Times Magazine, I was in law school and already documented, but still terrified and ashamed of my past.