Reading fiction has the potential to save lives. As a high school English teacher, I have seen the way literature opens the eyes of teens. I work at an affluent, majority-white school in an incredibly affluent city that is also majority white. While books like Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, and even Romeo and Juliet may not excite the youth, it does give students a unique opportunity to see that they are not alone in their feelings. The struggles of young lovers are nothing new. I have seen students going through their own romantic drama find a kindred bond with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Students find overwhelming compassion for Simon and Piggy in a world gone mad without the watchful eyes of adults. And, in an exploration of racial and sexist dismissiveness in the characters of Crooks and Curley’s Wife through the eyes of Lenny, many find compassion for the lived experiences of those who may not share the same privileges of our community.
Reading fiction helps people of all ages to realize that they are not alone in their feelings and gives students an opportunity to learn coping mechanisms that may otherwise go undeveloped. After reading a great story, one has a greater awareness of the trials that others face and, therefore, recognize the signs of those struggling and will be more willing to lend a helping hand or an open ear. Reading Saves Lives.