Last week, Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner wrote a great piece about the difference between books that have moved her vs. books that have changed her in a tangible way. She then went on to talk about how Just One Day by Gayle Forman is one book that caused her to take action in her life, to do something that, I suspect, was rather hard for her. I loved her blog post, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Between reading this blog post and learning about the #BooksArentDangerous hashtag, I decided to share something about how Ann Aguirre’s The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things motivated me to do something outside-of-my-comfort-zone.*
For those who don’t know, The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is the story of Sage Czinski, a girl who has spent the last three years trying to change everything about herself, trying to be perfect. She thinks that if she can manage to seem completely innocuous, then none of her fellow classmates, not even her best friend Ryan, will peer beyond the surface or ask hard questions about her past. She’s never struggled with sticking to this plan until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little standoff-ish, so beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted. Shane just wants to keep a low profile, to play his guitar and work on his music. His past wasn’t easy, and his new school is his last chance. He isn’t looking to be happy; he just wants to graduate and go his own way, but he never expected to meet a girl like Sage. Love can’t fix all the broken things in their lives, and Sage and Shane will learn that sometimes life has to fall apart completely before it can be put back together again….
When I first picked this book up, I was expecting a relatively light YA romance. As usual, I hadn’t reread the description before I started flipping to page one, so this decision may account for why I didn’t realize that there might be something a little darker around the edges of both Sage and Shane’s lives. Also, let’s be honest, how often are “bright and shiny” the chosen attributes of someone who has a dark and twisty past? I suspect it’s not very often…. Now, before we go any further, know that I’m not about to spill the dark and twisty secrets these characters are trying to keep under wraps here because: 1) YABookShelf.com tries to be spoiler free at all costs, and 2) the impetus behind this article has nothing to do with the darker parts of the characters’ lives.** That said, don’t believe for one second that the dark moments make this book risky or dangerous for teen readers. Whether a teen picks up this book because it speaks to their lived experience or not, they aren’t going to find themselves doing anything dangerous because of it. If you think books can do that, what you’re really saying is that teens don’t have minds of their own, that they can’t think for themselves, when every experience I’ve ever had with teens proves otherwise.
Rather than through the dark moments, The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things changed me through its depiction of Sage as the so-called “Princess Post-It” or simply “Princess,” and how her Post-it note messages affect those peers who receive them. You see, every school day, Sage finds someone who is having a bad day, and she attaches a positive message on a pink Post-it note with a purple glitter pen to their locker. And no, these aren’t mere clichéd expressions either. Each of the messages is carefully selected to show that Sage really sees them in some meaningful way. She might not know everything about her classmates, but she has observed something real, something important, about the Post-it note recipients. At the same time, I was also moved by Sage’s wish that “somebody would write something nice on a Post-it and stick it on [her] locker for a change,” that someone would see beyond the mask that she’s been wearing for three years and know that she could use a little cheering up, too.
At first, I identified with the messages themselves and the wish to receive the same merely because of an event that happened when I was a teen. Just before the Christmas holidays during my last year of high school, I was home sick with mono. It sucked, but something unexpected happened to brighten my day, something that resembles Sage’s Post-it notes. One of my teachers assigned our class the task of writing short, anonymous messages to each of our classmates, and the ones I received were sent to me through my younger sister. The messages could be about anything, but they had to be positive and directed specifically about the recipient. It’s telling that all these years later, I still have them. Some of the messages spoke to either my smile or quiet demeanour, and occasionally went on to say that they liked my ideas or writing style (it was a creative writing class). Some of them spoke with promise about my future and positive attitude. Some just said that they missed my presence in class, and a few said that I was a great all around person and friend. If it isn’t clear, I not only kept these messages, but also take them out and read them occasionally. I’ve also kept a few messages sent to me from teachers or coaches that I had over the years, but maybe because they were from my peers, the messages I received on that particular day are the ones I treasure most. They also helped me to understand how the Post-it note recipients felt in The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things.
Of course, if it was only a long ago memory that this novel brought up again, then I couldn’t really say that it either changed my life or made me want to be a better person. However, something happened on Friday, May 15, 2015, and just like Sage, I couldn’t let my positive thought remain unsaid, or rather, unwritten. I was working in a public place at the same table as a woman who is about 10-15 years older than me when she received a phone call from her daughter. Now I can’t say whether this woman was having a bad day, but from her half of the conversation, I could tell that her daughter was stressed about either finding a job for the summer or creating a business selling ice cream from a cart in the park. The more they spoke to one another, the more I heard her offer solutions and advice that her daughter wasn’t able to see for herself because of her stress and self-doubt. I was so moved by this woman’s patience and obvious love for her daughter that I didn’t trust my voice to say it, so I found a scrap of paper that I could part with and wrote this down:
I couldn’t help overhearing your phone conversation, and I just wanted to say that you seem like a really great mom. I mean, I don’t know you, but you were so understanding, patient, and supportive. If she doesn’t always appreciate you, know that she will.
Have a great day and long weekend,
I’m a shy person generally, so even after I wrote the message
down, I wasn’t sure if I would give it to her; I wasn’t sure how to give it to her. However, when an opportunity presented itself, I did, and I immediately saw the results of my effort. She told me it was sweet and would be something that she always keeps – just like the messages I’ve kept all these years. Then in an odd coincidence, she said: “I always tell my kids that if they have a thought, they shouldn’t let it pass.”
I neither know how the universe works, nor understand how the first person that I ever wrote a positive, Princess Post-it-worthy message to would not only believe in sharing these kinds of messages with others, but also teach her children to do the same. However, I do know this: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things gave me the idea to share my positive thoughts with an absolute stranger, not just people I care about or know well. I also know that while this may have been the first time, it won’t be the last.
* I may still write a full review of The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things, but in the meantime, I think this piece will give you an idea of why this novel means so much to me.
** Even though the darker parts of the book, and the way Sage and Shane deal with them or hide them, helped me to fall in love with this story.