For teens looking for a great read, some social interaction, library’s book club is the place to be
Wendy Rios is a bibliophile, and a proud one at that.
To her, words are simply a gateway to another life. Just 13, she immerses herself in a world of novellas and tomes and all works in between, pouring over more than a dozen writings a month.
“I find reading transformative,” she said during a recent interview. “I enjoy the emotional highs and lows books provide. I like getting lost in the story.”
Her brother, Eduardo, three years her senior, shares his sister’s avidity for all things literary.
So, once a month, he joins his sister at the Willmar Public Library, where they natter among like minds as part of a teen book club.
Conceived by Kelly Scherer, the club offers youth between the ages of 13 and 18 a forum to discuss and dissect works from genres they may ordinarily shirk.
“Teens like to talk about books as much anyone else,” said Scherer, who studied English and Library Science in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before moving to Willmar three years ago to become the downtown athenaeum’s teen services librarian. “ … So we decided to create a space to empower them to do that.”
The most recent powwow was conducted on March 11.
There, the Rios siblings allied with Jaylee Schanus, 18, Fatuma Baraki, 15, and Ugbad Abdi, 14, to discuss with Scherer the graphic novels “Anya’s Ghost” and “American Born Chinese,” two works selected for their socioeconomic themes.
In “Anya’s Ghost,” the protagonist is a teenage Russian girl who immigrated to the U.S. as a young child and has since attempted to distance herself from her heritage, not wanting to appear fresh off the boat.
Broken into three tales, the penultimate story in “American Born Chinese” centers on a second-generation child of immigrants who moved from San Francisco’s fabled Chinatown to a mostly white suburb.
As the story unfolds, the child struggles to fit in at his new school and within the white American culture as a whole.
Stereotypes play a key role, with a weighted focus on the accents, dress, hairstyles, physical appearance, eating habits, academic performance and hobbies of the Asian characters.
“Diversity is an important subject in libraries right now,” Scherer said. “Because I have a diverse group of kids coming to book club, it’s important I have books they can relate to. I like hearing their thoughts on these things.”
And those notions touched on a myriad of themes: race, religion, the manifestation of guilt and decorum.
“This is a place for us to have intellectual conversations about something we love to do,” said Schanus, who dreams of acting for a living.
Effervescent with a toothy smile, Schanus has been a vivacious bookworm for years, the comedic science fiction series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” her dearest reads.
“I love to create situations in my mind,” she said. “Books are my happy place. And with book club, I get to interact with others who feel the same way. It’s very rewarding.”
Adds Wendy Rios: “I get to talk about books without feeling like I’m getting weird looks. I love it.”