Read Your First Real Novel

Nine-year-old Lila hadn’t planned to blitz through her first actual, no-pictures novel in a single day. It just kind of happened.

It was where it happened that proved a bit awkward.

Late July. Thetis Island  — a stupefyingly tranquil haven in the British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. A perfect place to read. Except that, when you’ve been asked over to someone’s place, it’s not considered great form to bury your nose in a novel the whole time — even when that novel is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, gateway drug to a life of reading for a generation of kids.

Lila had squirreled herself away in the tent all morning. She reluctantly joined the group for lunch as requested. She brought Harry.

“Come on, Li,” said her dad. “You can tear yourself away long enough to have a conversation. Look. These are our hosts. They’re very interesting. Find out one thing about them that we didn’t know.”

Lila brought to this task the enthusiasm of a detective on the eve of retirement, then excused herself to go to the biffy. She never returned.

Her strategy was to stay out of view; that way, maybe people would forget she existed and she could read in peace.

She spied a hammock slung between a couple of sturdy firs. She hopped in and drew the sides in around her, sealing herself off from the world, a pig in a python.

“Like me to slip a snack through the crack?” her Dad asked. Lila let out a loud guffaw. He took that for a no.

As it happened, the lowest tide of the year had exposed the beach. Purple and orange sea stars asterisked the reef. The group headed out with clam pails.

Lila too. Bummer about being nine; you’re not quite old enough to be left alone in a place like this. She came. But she was far, far away.

“Earth to Lila,” her dad said. “Where are you? Tell me what you’re seeing.”

“Harry’s on a centaur,” she said. “He just saw Voldemort drinking the blood of unicorns to buy a little energy.” It had taken her a few hours to settle into the rhythm of a real novel. The sentences were so long! In her graphic novels a couple of words usually did the trick. But this was high-bandwith fare, with characters that invited you in, and a whole world that you met halfway and completed. It was literature. She was sold.

At night, in the tent, Lila got within a dozen pages of the end before it got too dark to see.

Inside her sleeping bag, darted around like a mouse.

“Lila!” her mom said. “Go to sleep!”

She cruised to the finish line in the early morning, then re-emerged into the material world.

It was good to have her back.

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