I read a lot of books. Some books are what I call “come-back-to” books. These are books I believe require reading more than one time. One of those books is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which I first read, appropriately, as a teenager. I liked it and I wrote a book report on it. I wish I still had that to compare to when I read it a second time as a thirty-something teaching sophomore English. We were reading Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa by W.P. Kinsella. Most of you will know this book by its more familiar movie version title: Field of Dreams. In the book, the author, Ray, goes and picks up – kidnaps – is J.D. Salinger. I read it a second time and Holden’s story had a different meaning for me than when I read it at fourteen.
A second book on my come-back-to-list is Slaughterhouse Five. Several years ago, I read Vonnegut’s book about Billy Pilgrim and the bombing of Dresden. I haven’t read it again but I would like to. It is a book, like Catcher, that will be different, growing with a reader as years pass. I think as a middle-aged human, this book will not be the same one I remember. I think it, like me, will have a perspective that changes with the passing of time.
Another book on my come-back-to list is Ashley Hutchison’s The Garden of the Golden Children. This Lost Boys Press book is Ashley’s second novella, a fictional follow up to her first novella, A Map to the Stars. As she was writing A Map to the Stars, Ashley knew there would be another book about her childhood. “There were things I felt about my experiences that I simply could not communicate in Map, so I took a literary fiction approach to them. And in so doing, I was liberated to communicate those feelings, to explore them through symbolism and fantasy and mythology.” The Garden of the Golden Children is an allegory that includes “deeper emotions and thoughts” Ashley had been keeping to herself while writing her creative nonfiction memoir. She calls them “sibling books” that can be read together or separately, each with their representation of Time and Death, players in these tales.
Central to the story in The Garden of the Golden Children is the main character Ellis, who attends the Academy in Somewhere. This Somewhere is special—hence the capital S—and the Academy is prestigious. It has a beautiful garden, and in the garden are golden statues of the most promising students from the Academy. Ellis enters the academy with old friends, but she makes new ones as well. Ellis attracts the attention of the Headmaster, a foreigner in Somewhere whose great intelligence and noble demeanor elicits respect and awe from the people of Somewhere. They send their children to him; they trust his decisions. He finds the best students who can leave and become smarter and better, and he builds golden statues for them. It isn’t long before the Headmaster notices Ellis. She becomes his favorite. What no one understands except for the golden children is what it means to be the favorite, the golden child. Ellis finds herself trapped, grieving for what she loses by becoming one of the golden children.
Like Holden and Billy, Ellis must face the world after uncontrollable events. Growing up means leaving behind scraped knees, innocence, and tears easily wiped away. Ellis’ people of Somewhere, Holden’s phonies, and Billy’s Tralfamadorians are the products of time, which changes knowledge and understanding. Time can make memories fade, but pain lingers. For these three characters, time is both a friend and a foe.
Time and Death are characters in The Garden of the Golden Children. Ashley describes her novellas as representative of these abstract concepts turned concrete, though she won’t say which is which. “It varies from person to person and I think the most important thing is the individual perspective, not author intentionality.” If anything explains “come-back-to” books for me, it is this statement. Stories vary from reader to reader and, I would argue, from reading to reading as time passes.
It has been a long time since I read The Catcher in the Rye or Slaughterhouse Five, but I know I will read them again. First, I need to read The Garden of the Golden Children’s sibling book, and return to the garden with a changed perspective. We are never the same person when we return to a story. That’s the greatest part of reading: books grow as we do. Find The Garden of the Golden Children in our bookstore. Read it. Read it again, and understand what time can do.
Emily Rozmus lives in rural Ohio in an old, haunted house, just one of the many she has lived in over the years. A former English teacher and school librarian, she has published non-fiction writing in School Library Connection, The Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, and on the Nerdy Book Club blog. She also reviewed children’s books for School Library Connection. Emily is drawn to gothic literature.