Picture this: I'm in 7th grade, and lost. Totally lost. I've somehow lost all of my friends in one of those classic junior high sweeps that no one ever sees coming or ever truly understands. But, here I am, in English, browsing the small collection of books my teacher, Mrs. Wissing, keeps in the classroom. I pick up Homecoming, which is thick, and probably has Wissing written in marker on the side. I read it, and it changes the way I see books forever.
And then I read it again. And again. I keep if for far longer than I should. It is months before I even pick up Dicey's Song, which is the second book in the cycle. There are seven books, but it was only very recently that I finished them. In 7th grade, Homecoming was all I needed.
It's not that I hadn't been a reader before this. I had. I'd read good books, but I had never read anything like this. I had never read something so straightforward, so sad, so hopeful, so deeply, brutally honest. Reading Homecoming opened my eyes to perfection of imperfection of story. It's a sad story, without glamour. Four children are abandoned by their mother and walk from Connecticut to Maryland to find their grandmother. They're poor, and there's no rich relative waiting for the right moment to appear. There's a sister who is possibly autistic, and there's no miraculous recovery. Dicey has short hair and often gets mistaken for a boy, and she never gets a makeover. But there's hope; there's so much hope.
Which is what, I suppose, I responded to. The idea that hope isn't something that's given to you, it's something that you make.
I believe this too. I can't remember if my plucky optimism and rock solid belief in personal reinvention pre-dates this book. Just for argument's sake, let's say it doesn't. Let's say that at twelve years old, I read this book and internalized this lesson. That sometimes your story is bleak. That sometimes it feels like thread unspooling. But, that there's always a horizon. That it takes all summer, and it's scary and it's hard, and you don't move forward because you want to but because you have to. But you move forward. If that's so, if that's what Homecoming taught me, then it is the most important book I have ever read.