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When I read a book that I know may have a profound impact on a YA’s life, I have to share it with my readers. JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman is one of those novels. (I felt the same way about Gayle’s other books, IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT. If you haven’t read them, they’re a must-read too!)
So, that is why I am doing a giveaway for JOD. It’s open internationally if your country allows for free shipping through The Book Depository, so make sure you check that. Ends Sunday, February 14, 4:00 PM CST.
A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay
When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.
Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon!
1. Including Shakespeare’s plays in the novel: Gayle does an amazing job of breaking down the plays that, even if you’ve never read them or seen them, you’ll be able to understand what she’s referring to. And it just might inspire you to go and see one in person or rent one on DVD.
2. The settings: London, Paris, Amsterdam, NYC, and Boston – Gayle captures these cities so magnificently that even if you haven’t been to these cities, you’ll be able to visualize the sights and sounds and tastes and smells. I’ve been to London, Paris, Boston, and NYC and her descriptions brought me right back.
3. There are other books out on the market about how one day can change a person’s life. But what I love about JOD is that the one day Allyson and Willem share in Paris has its highs and its lows. It’s not perfect, which, in my opinion, is a reflection on real life.
4. This is a novel about stepping out of your comfort zone, self-discovery, personal growth. There’s plenty of pain and joy that goes along with these actions, but if there wasn’t, then they wouldn’t be significant. This novel encourages calculated risk-taking, which I am all in favor of at any time in one’s life.
5. Imperfect characters/no cliched characters: There isn’t one character who is perfect i.e. too handsome or gorgeous, too smart, or fits into a cliche. These are “real-life” characters and maybe you won’t identify will everyone (the family seder and how people interact was very different than my own experiences as an adult with my children – ours our fun. We laugh and people ask to get invited each year – they love my cooking, the telling of the Passover story etc. :D), but you will certainly find someone to connect with on a personal level.
6. Gives the reader a different perspective on what constitutes love. Most of the time, love is not about being swept off your feet and carried up the staircase. Love can be messy and strange and confusing and painful and amazing and inspiring and definitely life-changing. I deeply appreciate how it’s portrayed in JOD.
7. Friendship: Gayle shows the ups and downs between friends, an authentic portrayal of how one can grow close or be distant depending on the stage of your life. Instead of worrying about it, Gayle’s portrayal takes a healthy perspective.
8. Decision making/choices: I love how Allyson learns and chooses to do what’s best for her and not what’s best for her parents. It takes tremendous fortitude to buck the system and decide what is best for you rather than giving into someone else’s dream for you. DREAM big and TAKE ACTION! Love this.
9. Conquering fear: Who isn’t afraid? But if you’re not bold, if you don’t “Dare Greatly” (the title of a book I love by Brene Brown) then it’s very difficult to move forward. JOD epitomizes “Daring Greatly.”
10. The writing/storytelling: Absolutely captivating and brilliant. I love the minute details such as the watch that Allyson wears, the coins that Willem flips over between his fingers. These and many more add richness to the story.
11. The portrayal of adults/parents: Flawed, annoying, kind, welcoming, nurturing, selfish. That only captures some of their characteristics of the adults in this novel. Absolutely authentic to real life.
12. Use of foreign languages: French, Dutch, Chinese – you don’t have to know them to appreciate the language or get the nuance of what’s going on. Gayle clues in the reader beautifully when need be. There will be times when you learn along the way or feel clueless like Allyson does. It’s exactly how it should be.
For more information about Gayle Forman and her books visit her website: http://www.gayleforman.com
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Note: There also is a helpful publisher’s readers guide in the back of the book. The questions created by me were done before I saw the guide. Use them both.
Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…
He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…
The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.
Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.
To see my Goodreads review, click here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/443052366
(Mature Young Adult/ New Adult)
Page-Turner Thursday this week is dedicated to two frequently banned books. I am a firm believer in the freedom to choose reading material, and that parents and teachers and teens can make appropriate decisions together. The right to read these novels should never, ever be taken away from others. These books save lives. These books give hope. These books give a voice to YA who often believe they don’t have one.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
From Goodreads: In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.” Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.
Soon, her grades plummet, her relationships with family and friends deteriorate, and she needs more and more of the monster just to get through the day. Kristina hits her lowest point when she is raped by one of her drug dealers and becomes pregnant as a result. Her decision to keep the baby slows her drug use, but doesn’t stop it, and the author leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Kristina/Bree may never be free from her addiction.
My review from April, 2011: Extraordinary book about the use of crystal meth and heroin by a young woman who had lived a near perfect life until her first hit. Then the monster took over, changing her life forever. Written in prose, one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. Loosely based on Mrs. Hopkins’ personal experience with her daughter.
Why I believe this is an important YA novel: Just once. That’s all it takes for a person to become addicted to crank. This novel is raw and brutal and direct and real. It’s exactly what some YA need to read. Yes, there’s drugs, sex, alcohol and everything else that will make a person squirm. Good. Squirming is good. Dying from a drug overdose happens way too often. I personally know people who have been addicted to drugs. It’s a living nightmare. For the YA. For the adults. Save a life – share this with others.
For more information on Ellen Hopkins and her novels, check her website: http://ellenhopkins.com/YoungAdult/
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
From Goodreads: Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.
Watch the book trailer here:
My review from November, 2010: I recently heard the following statistics: 1 out of 4 girls are sexually abused and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused. Scary numbers indeed! Scars is an important, emotional story about sexual abuse and cutting. It is hard to read, but even harder to put down. Whether you or someone you know has been abused or whether you want to understand the physical/spiritual/sexual/emotional impact, this novel is IT! There is a lot of intrigue and questions as the reader is led on a journey with the MC to discovering her perpetrator so that she can move forward on her path to healing. This novel will haunt you long after you put it down. Truly memorable. A must read.
Why I believe this is an important YA novel: Scars is one of the most daring, bold novels I have read on the subject of abuse and cutting. So many young adults don’t know whom to turn to when they’re abused. They may even begin to self-mutilate by cutting to deal with the pain. No one should ever have to experience what transpired in this Scars. But it happens, much more frequently than any of us want to believe. This novel gives voice to those YA. This novel will help guide them to getting the help necessary. For those who wonder why a teen would need a book to help them figure this out, instead of talking to an adult, it’s because many don’t know how. They don’t know what to do, and the pain is so great, they don’t believe others will believe them or will help protect them from a sexual predator. Scars has the ability to change that. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t take it lightly. Read it, pass it along to others who may need it, too. Even if all is well, in your life, Scars can be a reminder of the blessings in life! Don’t take it lightly.
For more information on Cheryl Rainfield and her novels, check out her website: http://www.cherylrainfield.com/
On July 16, 2012, the awesome, inspiring, bold, calculated risk-taker, QuHarrison “DJ CTZ” Terry, a senior at Nicolet High School, asked me to write about what it takes to be an effective risk taker. I’m sharing some of that post on my blog with a link to the rest on his:
What is VICTORY? In my mind, it’s taking CALCULATED RISKS. When you look at the best-case scenario and say, “Oh yeah, I can and will take this idea and make it a reality!” And then you look at the worst-case scenario and say, “I can live with that.” I am a firm believer if you want to really succeed, you need to be willing to take risks to get there, be willing to fall flat on your face and the pick yourself up. I am a firm believer that those who take calculated risks rarely fall flat on their faces because it means you’ve done a lot of homework, legwork, planning, testing, implementing. Of course, there’s always the chance that it turns out differently, and you need to be willing to live with it. Then try again, but a different way. To succeed, it takes a powerhouse effort, giving it everything you have and then fifty percent more. And courage – the most ballsy, blast-it, go-for-broke courage. This is how I like to live my life. I am a calculated risk taker.
Let me explain:
To continue reading, click here for the original post: http://lifestyle.vneckmafia.com/conquering-the-art-of-risk-taking/
Crissa-Jean Chappell with NARC
What could happen if you’re caught by the police with illegal drugs? Criss-Jean Chappell discovered that many young adults are forced to turn NARC, many more than anyone could imagine, or face severe consequences, including jail time. Here’s my review as posted on GOODREADS – NARC by Crissa-Jean Chappell is a powerful, eye-opening novel about a boy named Aaron who gets himself into some serious trouble. I was deeply impressed with how Chappell brought out Aaron’s voice, making him a sympathetic, troubled young man who is deeply loyal to family, protective of friends, and caught in the middle of his poor choices from the past and his current desire to make changes in his life. He takes some stupid risks and gets mixed up in some pretty messy things, all involving drugs. This is a cautionary tale – well written, strong voice, and fascinating supporting characters.
I definitely recommend NARC. This book should be in every HS.
Here’s your chance to win a copy of NARC through GOODREADS –
AND – ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a copy from ME when the book debuts – Just post a comment below. Twitter followers – 1 extra entry. Facebook followers – 1 extra entry, Tweet or post on Facebook – each counts as an extra entry. Follow Crissa-Jean on Twitter @CrissaChappell – 1 extra entry – GIVEAWAY ENDS: SUNDAY, JUNE 29, 8PM CST, WINNER CHOSEN – QU HARRISON
1. NARC is a powerful novel about perceptions – people aren’t who they seem on the outside. This message goes with the concept of “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” How do you apply this to the characters in NARC?
When the story opens, Aaron is in his senior year at Palm Hammock. In his mind, everybody at school wears a mask. Sometimes it feels like you’re given an assigned role (like players in a chess game). He dreams about flipping the board and starting over with a new set of rules.
Aaron is “human wallpaper.” He’s on the outside, looking in. Then he meets Morgan, the so-called popular girl with the Cleopatra hair. As they grow closer, he learns that things aren’t so easy for her, either. At lunch, she would rather sit under a tree with a book than face the stares and whispers in the cafeteria. He soon finds out why.
2. Often in life, young adults have a tough time identifying their strengths. But once a person focuses on them, they can guide a person in making a difference in this world. Looking at Aaron, take one or two of his strengths. What would you wish for him to do with them?
Although he wouldn’t call himself strong, Aaron makes a lot of difficult decisions. He’s not an adult yet, but he’s forced into a position that requires him to act like one. At last, someone is taking him seriously. I believe that young adults are often pushed off to the side. They feel like their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. All they want is for us to listen. Aaron needs to find his voice. That’s where he discovers his inner strength.
3. On the flip side, many people get locked in their weaknesses. What are Aaron’s weaknesses and what can he do to start moving away from using them as a crutch to fail?
He desperately wants to be liked. Throughout the book, he uses magic tricks to get attention. In a way, Aaron feels like he has to pretend (or be fake) in order for people to like him. Sometimes it takes the shape of lies. Or hiding your true feelings, all because you’re afraid of being judged. The kid who’s cracking jokes in the back row? He might be hurting on the inside, but never shows it.
Pretending is like battle armor in high school.
4. NARC definitely makes the reader think. How has this story impacted you, changed you?
In my research, I discovered that it’s not as unusual as you might think—young people (including teens) who put their lives in danger to work as police informants. I was drawn to the idea of a seventeen-year-old doing an adult’s job. And I was curious about the ways it would change his view of the world.
5. You said that you see yourself as a little bit of an “outsider” or an observer. What do you mean and why has it made you a better writer?
Much like Aaron, I floated like a ghost through school (and that was okay with me). Sometimes I wanted to be invisible. That would be my super power. When you’re quiet and spend a lot of time alone, you learn to pay attention.
As a storyteller, you must be an observer of human behavior. That’s where you find the good stuff—the way people speak, the funny gestures they make. I also love to draw. When I’m working on a book, I see it as “drawing with words.” I try to create little portraits of things around me. It might be the smell of low tide at Biscayne Bay. Or a boy speeding past me on a skateboard. He’s got his headphones on and he knows exactly where he’s going. I’ll make up what happens next.
DON’T MISS THESE VIDEOS: And guess what? Crissa-Jean made them. Here’s what she said: “Yes, I made the videos. (I was a film major in college and I also taught film back in Miami.) One of my former students, Marlon Morina, designed the animated trailer for NARC. In fact, I’m working on a new book about…film school kids!
NARC book trailer from crissachappell on Vimeo.
NARC: seven secrets from crissachappell on Vimeo.
literary outlaws from crissachappell on Vimeo.
Chelsea Rae Swiggett
CHELSEA RAE SWIGGETT
AN INTERVIEW ABOUT HER NON-FICTION YA BOOK
Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia
Brave, strong, gutsy –– I repeated these words over and over again as I read Chelsea Rae Swiggett’s non-fiction work for young adults (every parent and teacher should read it too), Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia. This candid, beautifully written personal history takes a hard look at the impact on how paralyzed a person can be when consumed by fears and absorbed into the hell created by the social interactions in middle school and high school.
Brave, strong, gutsy were words Chelsea would never have used to describe herself in high school. I definitely didn’t see them in her book. But the steps she took to CHANGE are no less than extraordinary. She continues to conquer her fears, live in the moment, and challenge herself to experience life to its fullest.
In the past, speaking in class could bring on an anxiety attack.
Now, Chelsea approaches strangers, even welcomes new interactions.
In the past, traveling anywhere brought horrific fears of death.
Now, she gets on airplanes and relishes in seeing new things.
In the past, going to school was a living hell. She eventually chose to be home-schooled to survive.
Now, she mixes it up with online classes and on campus classes at college.
In the past, Chelsea escaped real life by delving into books, writing reviews for her website – http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/
Now, she still loves to read and review books, but she utilizes this passion to meet others with the same interests. She has a social life, too.
In the past, Chelsea was obsessed with her weight – depriving herself of food. Her self-image was dismal. She was consumed by how she thought others people perceived her.
Now, food is no longer her enemy. More often than not her self-esteem comes from within and not based on how others perceive her.
So how did Chelsea do it? Without a doubt it has been a process, most importantly CHELSEA WANTED TO CHANGE! She faces her fears one at a time. She lives in the moment.
I had the privilege of speaking with Chelsea about her transformation. Here’s what she had to say:
I have had to remind myself to breathe, not to be overwhelmed. The world is not ending right now. I tell myself I can deal with a situation I’m in and can get past it.
I no longer obsess over different things. For example, if I coughed I would worry. Did I cough too loud? Or if fell down and others saw me, I worried about it for weeks. Do they think I’m a klutz? This constant worry was killing me. Finally, I realized no one else was worrying about these things. I saw that everyone messes up and it’s useless to obsess over what other people may or may not be thinking of me.
I realized I needed to just live. I realized there are only so many years to fully understand myself, so I decided to take the opportunity and do it now. What I learned was it’s important to do what you’re passionate about and don’t allow fear to stop you. If you want to travel, you need to travel. If you want to go to concerts, do it. It is important to find a way to live comfortably and follow your dreams. Don’t stop yourself from accomplishing something you want to do. Spend your time with your passion.
One needs to find balance. A person can hide behind their passion and use it as an excuse not to live. For example, I love to read so I used reading to stay away from others, hide from the world. I was comfortable, but wasn’t putting myself out there. I wasn’t living. But I turned my love for reading into a positive. Instead of letting my passion cripple me, I now use it to connect with people. Working on Coffee and Cliffhangers I‘ve been able to connect with the literary community. I’ve met so many amazing people including other passionate readers, book reviewers, and authors. At first the connections were through social networking, and then in person at different book events.
Through authors’ books, I gain insight into their perceptions. Authors put themselves in their work. It’s personal. I appreciate their vulnerability. I love getting into their heads and seeing what makes them click, how they view things. Books have helped me see that I am not the only one who has issues and problems and goals in this world. There have been so many times I’ve got caught up in my own problems. Reading has helped me see I’m not alone.
One of my goals? I would love to be a successful author, to be able to help and connect with authors and readers. It is the most amazing feeling in the world.
I first connected with Chelsea through Twitter where I learned about her website http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/ and about Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia. It’s been a privilege to get to know her better through this interview. She’s an extraordinary young woman, someone I look forward to meeting in person, hang out with at a book event, or talk with over coffee. She is brave, strong, gutsy – amazing. There will still be challenges – we all have them. But I have no doubt she will face them and turn any fear or weakness or anxiety into a strength. It takes work. It takes courage. It takes action. Chelsea epitomizes these qualities and so much more. She is a role model!
To learn more about Chelsea go to her website:http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/
For more information about or to purchase Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia go to: Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/4f4prgd
Author Holly Cupala
Holly Cupala, author of Tell Me a Secret (HarperTeen 2010), didn’t shy away from answering the five tough questions below. I found her answers to be meaningful, thought provoking, authentic. Thank you Holly!
I brought Tell Me a Secret to Starbucks to read while I waited for a friend to join me. I didn’t want to put it down! When my friend was busy adding cream and sugar to her coffee, I snuck in a few more sentences. After she left I decided I wasn’t leaving Starbucks until I finished the book.
This YA novel will grab ahold of your heart and squeeze tight. I held my breath and swiped away more than a few tears, not wanting to be overtly public and sob out loud. The characters come to life and become a part of you. This is not a book where you can be indifferent. Holly addresses tough issues of sisterhood, faith, friendship, pregnancy, secrets, dreams, and identity. There is something for everyone in this novel – lessons to take to heart as long as you look for meaning. Don’t miss Tell Me a Secret. It’s a must read for YA, parents, and teachers.
1. In Tell Me a Secret there are several secrets. What do you feel should be the “rule of thumb” for keeping or sharing secrets with others?
Liza, you’re not going to let me off easy! I think there are a continuum of secrets, ranging from harmless to dangerous, and it can be so difficult to determine where on that continuum someone else’s secret is. There are the obvious ones: physical abuse. Date rape. Life-threatening habits. But what about the subtle ones? Like emotional abuse? If a friend told me a secret, I would do my best to help my friend make healthy decisions and to stick by them as they dealt with the consequences. If a friend is sharing a secret with you, they may be asking for help. Trust your instincts.
2. Your MC, Rand (Miranda) discovers that she is pregnant. What are some dos and don’ts for a pregnant teen or for a friend of a pregnant teen?
Miranda doesn’t have very many people she can trust in the novel—she’s lost her best friend, the baby’s father avoids her, and her new friend is not what she seems to be. Her mother is locked behind a wall of her own grief and shame, and worst of all, the sister she trusted and looked up to most is gone. Miranda eventually seeks out her own support network and finds a friend in the last person she expects.
If I had a pregnant teen friend, I would encourage her to find a friend, mentor, or family member she could trust to help her through the difficult decisions and processes of a pregnancy. Whatever she chose, there would be consequences—a good friend would help her. On the other side, friends can be a lifeline through unexpected circumstances. If you are a friend, you may be more important than you know. True friendship shines through adversity, and there is hope on the other side.
3. Rand made quite a few mistakes that were painful lessons for her. What do you think a YA can learn from mistakes and how can they move past them or learn from them?
Miranda sees flaws in others but is blind to her own, until extreme circumstances awaken her vision. I think most of us, to a greater or lesser degree, don’t really see our own mistakes. What’s that saying? We judge others by their actions, and we judge ourselves by our intentions. To see one’s own mistakes is a powerful kind of wisdom, one that opens doors for helping others. I think one of the most painful lessons for Rand—but also the one that sets her free—is that she can’t find herself in other people. For much of the story she wonders, what would Xanda do? When she begins to make her own choices, she finds a surprising strength.
4. Tell Me A Secret also is a novel about the meaning of friendship. What warning signs should a YA look for in their relationships that someone is not a true friend?
True, there are some wicked friends in Tell Me a Secret! Some of the warning signs? When you feel bad or sad or small or ashamed whenever you’re around that person. When it’s all about them. When they aren’t interested in what is important to you. When they blow off your concerns about their behavior. So many more, but it can be so hard to recognize when you’re in the middle of it.
When I was in high school, I hung out with a group of girls that were exactly like what I just described, but for some reason I just didn’t see it. I wanted things to get better. I thought if I could just work a little harder, or say the right thing, we would have a great friendship. Finally a girl I met in my English class, and who I talked with all the time, said, “Why do you even hang out with them? Why don’t you hang out with me and my friends?” I did, and she is still my very best friend. (In fact, we now say our friendship is over 21. J)
5. Rand is forced to take a job at a bank and give up her dreams of going to art school. There’s a great lesson here about pursuing your dreams. What’s your best advice to YA who have dreams, but are not sure that they actually can make them happen?
Thanks, Liza! I hope, if anything, that this book inspires readers to pursue their purpose in life. It doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I think it takes a whole lifetime to discover it, but there are glimpses. In our dreams, in our passions, in our talents. Miranda makes a decision that completely shuts one door—but what she gains is determination and courage to follow another course. The job turns out to be an asset to her, and in a way, she finds out the only person truly responsible for her future is herself. I would wish that for every person longing to pursue a dream.
When I was sixteen, I learned the value of stepping out of my comfort zone. I had spent the majority of my life in Anderson, SC going to school, hanging with friends, playing soccer. So when a teacher at my high school presented the opportunity to travel to China as a foreign exchange student, I wanted the adventure, and so did my friends. We had seven months to prepare.
But there were obstacles. Money was one – the trip would cost $2300 for two weeks. That would have been a big enough reason not to go, especially when you don’t have parents handing over the cash. If only it were that simple. The greater challenge was mental. The teacher had told us that traveling to China would not be easy. He told us that the food would be unlike anything we had ever tasted, that we would see extreme poverty, and that we would walk most places, so being in top physical shape was crucial. In other words, it was not going to be a vacation. This was going to be a hardcore trip.
I started fundraising for the trip, working at school to pay for the plane ticket. Family and family friends also helped out, which I deeply appreciated. Unfortunately, every one of my friends decided not to go. Sure, there were other kids from my school who committed to the program, but without my closest friends, I knew the experience would be harder.
The idea of leaving America was unsettling. I had never left the country let alone faced an eighteen-hour flight around the globe, which was how long it took to reach Beijing, China. To say I was stepping outside of my comfort zone is a super understatement!
Upon arriving in China, I immediately became the minority surrounded by millions of people who spoke only Mandarin, not English. That was one of the scariest parts of the experience – not speaking or understanding the language. The people stared at me as I walked down the street. They took pictures of me, and with me. Beijing was a nice city in comparison to the majority of cities in China, though it still had smog, litter, disease, and crime.
It wasn’t until I went inside the heart of the country that I truly realized that I had stepped into a whole different world, one of extreme poverty. I went from the grandeur of the Great Wall to the dirty rice fields of inner China. These people had nothing! I felt true compassion for the first time in my life. I had left my comfort zone so far away, and I didn’t even miss it. Sure, I missed a home cooked meal, but my eyes and taste buds were exposed to something completely out of my comfort zone, and I soaked it up.
At one point we traveled by mamu (a taxi cab, which is a motorbike with a cart) to a middle school – grades 7-9. We had printed cards with the address of our destination so that the driver knew where to take us. Some students from our group got lost and ended up arriving at our destination much later than expected, a frightening experience to say the least (some were even in tears). The school we visited was different from anything I have heard of or experience in America. It was a boarding school with thirty-five hundred students. There was no air conditioning, we were told not to even step into the bathrooms because they were revolting, and the English class we attended was crammed with fifty or sixty kids in a room way too small for that number of students. They attended school from eight in the morning until seven at night with a two-hour mid-afternoon break for naptime. Each day, from 7:30 until 8:00 A.M., the students were outside on their school field doing tai chi.
Food was definitely an issue. Some kids hardly ate anything during the trip, but I am one to try new things, including fish heads, scorpion, squid,octopus, and even snake. We stayed in a real nasty hotel – there wasn’t a vacuum cleaner in the entire place, we always walked with our shoes on, and bugs were crawling everywhere, even the beds.
If I had the choice to take that trip again, I would pack my bags and go immediately. Life is all about experiences. We learn through making decisions. From those decisions come experiences, and from experiences we can learn how to step outside our comfort zone. The comfort zone constrains us, while leaving that place of comfort defines us. My trip to China was definitely one of the most defining moments of my life, and I hope it inspires others to step out of their comfort zones.
While at first I was constrained by fears of all these things I had heard about China, ultimately I wanted to experience it for myself to know the truth. The experience changed me, changed my perspective on the world. I had never seen so much poverty in a nation, except for on TV, and experiencing it touched me in a much more personal way than seeing it on TV.
Renowned video game developer Steven Coallier once said, “Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” He couldn’t be more right! Life is about experiencing all that you can, but if you are held back by your fears then you will stay stuck inside of your comfort zone forever. It takes true courage to take that leap, but once you do you’ll never look back and miss it.
Before I left for China, I was perfectly content staying where I was. There was no reason for me to go on that trip other than the desire to leave my comfort zone and experience all the differences that China had to offer. I ate some of the grossest (and best) food I’ve ever tasted. I made friendships that will last forever. And most of all, I kicked my comfort zone to the curb, and now try to live every moment as if it were my last. I am more willing to help others, more up for personal challenges and try new things.
All of life’s experiences, whether good or bad, define who you are. Challenge yourself – completely revolutionize your future. It doesn’t have to be by traveling to China, though I recommend it! You could challenge yourself by taking a harder course in school or not smoking dope when everyone else is doing it. Desire to have more, do more, and see yourself as someone who can be different by stepping out of your comfort zone. If I had passed up this opportunity to go to China, I don’t know if it would ever have come up again. One thing is for sure, my life would not be the same.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist and lyricist
About Jeremy West: Jeremy is a student at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL studying film. He’s a photographer, writer, designer, and Apple computer lover. His blog, NOVEL THOUGHTS, is another way he shares his creative side with the world – reviewing YA novels, interviewing authors, and providing cool opportunities to win awesome giveaways. Find Jeremy through his blog at www.novelthoughtsblog.com