Creative Nonfiction

The Girl Who Read

Hayley Emmons '19

I stood with a story clutched in my grasp, cardboard outside and paper insides held between hands that were chubby and slightly sweaty, as children’s hands tend to be. The hardcover book didn’t have a protective sleeve, leaving the scratchy green fabric it was bound with to press a criss-cross pattern into my palms. The novel was surprisingly unassuming for one that I’d heard so frequently praised and admired, but I would be lying if I said that simply holding it didn’t send a thrill of excitement shooting through me.


Gripped in my hands as I stood in front of the slightly dusty bookshelves was a well worn copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s a book that I’d heard about multiple times, but I hadn’t thought myself up to the challenge of reading it before that day. After all, I was just a measly second grader. My own sister, the smart young girl who had dazzled the teachers before I got to Holualoa Elementary, hadn’t even read it until she was in third grade.


I stood close to the bookshelves that were crowded with books of a hundred different colors, rocking back and forth on my sneakered feet while I deliberated. Just the week before, I had put the tome back on the shelves after judging myself not yet up to the challenge. This time though, I wondered while brushing my hand across the top cover with a reverent touch, feeling the ridged texture under my fingers like I was reading braille.


Around me, the other kids of Mrs. Cummings’ second grade class swirled around the small room, laughing and pushing into each other while ignoring the treasure trove that lined the walls. It was the week’s mandatory trip to the cramped school library, and most of the other students had found their books and checked them out with Ms. Umeno, the librarian. The smell of aging paper mingled with the scent of grass and dirt that had been tracked in on our shoes, and weak afternoon light filtered through the open door to illuminate the rough brown carpet.


Usually I was one of the first to grab a book, sign it out to my name, and curl up in the corner with my legs crossed beneath me while waiting for the others to make up their minds. That week though, I was frozen in the moment and surrounded by sensations as I shifted forwards and backwards, deliberating about if I wanted to get the book in my hands or just put it back for another week. I was smart, and would definitely get attention and praise if I read it at the tender young age that I was. If I couldn’t get through it though, if it was too difficult for me…


Well. Then I would just be frustrated and angry and prove to myself that I wasn’t as advanced as I liked to think. Gritting my teeth, I ran my fingers across the small picture set into the front cover, feeling the smooth texture that felt out of place next to the rough green material. The image promised a three-headed dog and wizards flying on broomsticks, a mysterious forest and a glowing white unicorn. That alone intrigued me, but when combined with the high recommendations of everyone who had read it? Well, that was too difficult to resist for long.


Lifting my chin, I gripped the book tighter and trotted over to the front desk, putting it down with a soft thud when I got to the front of the line. “I’d like to get this one, please!” I chirped in my politest voice, bouncing on the balls of my feet. Now that I had made the decision, I was brimming with adrenaline and could feel my pulse hammering throughout my body.


“Ooh, that’s a good one,” Ms. Umeno said, pulling the novel towards her and stamping it with the return-by date. “Have fun!” She called after me as I snatched the book and raced back towards the rest of the class.


I could feel the eyes of some of the other students on me, looking at the size of the book I’d chosen with something close to awe. I was never popular among them – people didn’t usually choose to befriend the girl who constantly had her nose in a book – but I felt like this move had earned me a little bit of respect.


While we waited for the rest of the kids to finish picking whatever small book they wanted, I sunk to the floor, hunching over my crossed legs and pulling open the cover with gentle fingers. It was clearly well-worn, the spine soft and pliable after being read by dozens of hands. The scent of a well-loved and well-lived book drifted up to my nose and I felt a smile, unbidden, spread across my face so wide that my cheeks started to hurt.


Flipping to the first page, I let my fingers caress the paper, my vision lingering on the drawing of a baby in a blanket below the words “Chapter One.” My breath caught in my throat as I hesitated above the pages, feeling like I was teetering on the edge of a cliff. Let’s go, I thought, my eyes hungrily pouncing on the first line as I took the leap.


As my smile pressed into my cheeks, I read the words that had shaped a generation and would eventually come to feel like home. They would feel like just as much of a home as the cold-tiled, warm-ovened house that I’d grown up in. The lines would grow to be as familiar as each and every tree that surrounded our house and protected our property. I didn’t know any of this yet, though. All I knew was that this was a difficult book to read, and I was going to read it anyway, and I was going to crush it.


Sitting in the corner of the cozy school library, legs tucked underneath me, I read the words that would change my life.


Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.