I finally, by hook AND by crook, succeeded in getting Chestnut to read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which is…awesome. The book I mean.
She loved it. It has everything a person could want: a rich girl and a poor girl, a mean lady, chocolates in a box with a violet ribbon, secret passageways and helpful servants. Also: WOLVES.
I'd heard that there was a sequel, but being the dismissive, impatient person that I am, I dismissed it. It couldn't compare, I was sure. When Chestnut and I brought it up at dinner, Diana said, "Ugh, a sequel to a beloved children's book. Don't tell me: it's probably got the heroine shaping up and becoming beautiful and marrying somebody." Ouch.
But then I talked to a smart person who said, "Wait, what?! You haven't read Black Hearts at Battersea? You're missing out. It's BETTER than Wolves of Willoughby Chase."
Here is what I did: I requested it at the library (thank you, interlibrary loan!). And I bought a copy for Chestnut's oh-my-God-she's-turning-12-at-sleepaway-camp care package.
Chestnut loved it, with a pure and true love. Read it over and over in her cabin, on the subsequent vacation, everywhere she could. Read it and read it and read it. It worked its way (as these things will) into her games and imagination.
But I? I did not love it. I saw the whimsical, sweet story unfolding at a remove. I was mildly diverted. I didn't fall in.
I thought: 1) this is because my heart belongs to the first book. Or: 2) I am just, you know, in one of those moods. Or 3) It's maybe just not that good. But truly? I think it's 4) The door has closed. I am a grownup. And that magical falling into a book like this and letting it enter my soul is now lost to me.
This felt pretty bad. I mean: I am a grownup, and I am generally happy with that. It's not like I want to be 8, or 10, or 12, or any of those ages I have passed through. I like being able to rent a car, and take a walk at 3 in the morning if I feel like it, and move through the world with some modicum of autonomy.
But it reminded me of a seismic event a few years ago: I bought a toothbrush, and when I got home I realized I hadn't even checked to see what color it was. I'd just taken the top on (soft bristles though—I made sure of that). But comparing among the blues, reds, and greens? It hadn't occurred to me. And I thought: Oh. Now THAT'S being a grownup. And not in the most appealing way.
I do keep in mind that as much as my toothbrush color sense may be affected, other things are too. I can read Middlemarch (that paragon of grownup fiction) with far greater understanding. Ditto: much of Tolstoy, Trollope. I know some things, however painful, that I didn't before, and this is good. And I can still witness with great pleasure the joy another person takes in having the sort of open heart that stories like this are made to enter.
Still: if you happen to know a nice person in the 12-and-under range, you might steer them towards Black Hearts of Battersea while their metaphorical door is still open. And by steer I mean, of course, to leave it on the coffee table and appear uninterested in whether they read it or not. By all trusted accounts, the magic is there, even if it can't touch me.