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Percy Jackson Is My Therapist: How YA fiction relieves mom's stress

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis

On New Year’s Eve, 2009, my four-year-old was diagnosed with epilepsy.

After the ambulance ride, the day in the ER and hearing the words “seizure disorder,” our family was sent home with what felt like a cement block pulling us into despair. It was enough to have watched our little girl collapse, to see her glazed eyes and urine-soaked pajamas, to administer the rectal injection and watch her go into respiratory distress. It was enough. I couldn’t bear one second more.

So, when my husband carried our little girl to bed, I found relief reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians – all five books. I burrowed under my comforter, checked out of my life and checked into another world altogether.

Reading Percy worked wonders for me. It didn’t take but a few paragraphs to forget about the seizures and imagine I was in the world of Percy Jackson, Greek gods and terrorizing monsters.

I read a book every two days. By the time I closed the last book in the series, the evil Titans were defeated, Percy found romance and things were quiet at Camp Half-Blood. Feeling strong and hopeful for good prevailing over evil, I changed out of my sweatpants, put on jeans and a T-shirt and got out of bed.

I’m not the only one who turns to young-adult fiction for escape and therapy. In 2009, YA sales were up 30.7 percent despite adult hardcover sales falling 17.8 percent. Why? Because adult readers like me love YA books for the stress relief, the captivating stories and heroes, the real-life issues, and the ease and speed with which they can be read.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently started her third YA book club. She explains, “At first I thought I was the only one reading YA Lit in New York, but I found it wasn’t true. There are so many super cool people who share this passion. There’s so much fantastic stuff being written. Now it’s a strong part of the book market.”

YA Reading List to Get Started:

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Sabriel (Abhorsen Trilogy) by Garth Nix

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga #1) by Orson Scott Card

Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Freefall by Mindi Scott

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Researchers at the University of Sussex confirm that reading a novel calmed individuals faster than other stress-relief activities such as taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea. Lead researcher Dr. David Lewis stated, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” What’s more, according to environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephan Kaplan, when we read, we’re restoring our depleted, finite attention just like we do during sleep.

Melissa Montovani of YABookShelf.com adds that “YA novels give adults the chance to revel in the optimism and idealism of youth, and in the ability to live meaningful lives. They present readers with a definable hero, which is something that many literary novels forego. With our busy and stressful lives, it’s nice to be able to just escape into the plot of a novel that really grabs your attention.”

And who doesn’t love that YA is quick, easy, and fun to read? “Reading YA is brain candy,” admits Kate Burke, Associate Director of Publicity for Perseus Books. “For many women I know, the simple and dishy stories of YA are just what they need when they’re up in the middle of the night with a sick child or taking a break after a long day at work.”

Holly Cupala, YA author of Tell Me a Secret and readergirlz.com blogger, adds, “Between being a writer and mom, reading time is at a premium for me. I love taking a moment to read a page or two of the latest Sara Zarr novel or A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler. Sometimes reading about characters surmounting obstacles helped me see life in a new way.”

“People forget it’s supposed to be fun,” says Gretchen Rubin. “They let themselves watch reality TV but expect to read something about the Middle East. Let yourself read something fun!”

Plus, a book gives you stress relief that won’t cost you $125 an hour. Dom Testa, author of the YA sci-fi Galahad series, agrees. “My YA novels are often cathartic. More than once I’ve written dialogue where a character vented some frustration that was bottled up inside me. It’s cheap therapy.”

And right now, when I can’t believe my oldest daughter needs a $900 sensory integration test, therapy’s just what I need. But I’m not going to call my therapist, and I’m not going to scream; I’m going to read a good YA book. Because whether I pick Sarah Ockler’s Fixing Delilah or Becca Fitzpatrick’s Crescendo, either one will work. And soon I’ll be able to breathe.

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