A personal essay by Amanda Montell
I don’t know if there were other kids. So far no one I’ve asked has confirmed.
I’ll probably never be sure if on different days or in different cities, other sixth graders were tracing my footsteps at the public library. Nervously shuffling past the popular reads—Harry Potter, A Wrinkle In Time—toward a dustier shelf of the children’s nook. It’s sweet how nervous you get when you’re little and think you’re getting away with something bad. A rogue finger in the mixing bowl, a story you didn’t ask permission to read. Kids are such boring criminals. They don’t even know what bad means.
My staple was Chicken Soup for the Kids’ Soul, which seemed innocuous enough. The book offered true stories for children on a number of topics. Family, school, first crushes. But I picked it up for one reason only, each time skipping directly to page 171, the fifth chapter, the one labeled “Death & Dying.” The title’s bold pair of letter Ds, black and ominously serifed, seemed almost onomatopoeic:Death, Dying. Even a person who didn’t speak English could tell what these words meant, just from the look and sound of those unrelenting Ds, the beating of the tongue on the roof of the mouth like a war drum or the blow of a club.
*Originally published in Literary Orphans