Helen and Talia

This post is about two books that affected me growing up: Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClemens and the Arrows Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.

Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You is about Helen Nichols, a girl with dyslexia. Helen is pretty much the opposite of who I was at that age. She was a terrific athlete and a genius in math, while I was always last picked in PE and excelled in English. But the similarities between us were there. Sure, I had no problem with reading, but like Helen, my grades suffered, in my case because I would forget to do assignments, forget my homework, books, paper and pencil.

But the part of this book that really resonated with me was when the school has her meet with a psychotherapist. This is presumably to test her for dyslexia, though that word is never used, I assume because it’s a book for young readers. This meeting ends up getting Helen placed in special education for English, though she’s still with her regular class for other subjects. The psychotherapist has Helen throw, catch, and kick a ball, and tells her she’s very coordinated.

I also met with a specialist, but in my case it was physical therapists, the earliest I can remember being in third grade. They said the opposite about me – that I was very UNcoordinated. I was given a Pilates type ball and a list of exercises to do at home. I also met with a physical therapist in fourth or fifth grade before school. I would do things like ride a Roller Racer between cones set up to form a path. There were other things I did but I can’t remember what.

It might sound like fun, but I was ashamed of all of it. No other kids that I knew had an exercise ball and I was the only one going to the special sessions before school. I was scared of the other kids finding out. One day two boys did see me, and cornered me saying, “You were riding a Roller Racer!” I was also angry because these early morning sessions meant I couldn’t be in the yearbook club, which also met in the morning. Looking back, I think working on the yearbook would’ve been more beneficial, whatever physical difficulties I might have had.

In sixth grade my dad told the band director I should play a brass instrument because that’s what a physical therapist had said. I wrote about my bad experiences in band here . The latest I remember having these weird things I had to do, that I didn’t understand why, was in junior high when my dad bought some kind of rocking platform to stand on while I hit a ball suspended from the garage ceiling with a wooden stick held in both hands. The stick had numbers on it and I was supposed to make the ball hit the different numbers. My brother also “played” with it, but we knew it was really for me.

For a while I was friends with the girl my age who moved in next door, at least until she started hanging out with the popular crowd instead. She came over and I had her try the contraption, explaining it would help her with balance. She gave it a halfhearted attempt before laughingly handing the stick back to me saying, ” My balance is pretty good.”

My dad refuses to talk about this with me. I feel like I have the right to know why I had to do all those things. I also think it’s suspicious that he doesn’t want to tell me, like he knows he did something wrong. Maybe those exercises helped, but I think they did more harm than good, because I felt so ashamed, either because I was made to feel that way or because no one noticed how it was affecting me and tried to make me feel better about it.

I’ve researched about developmental coordination disorder, and suspect that’s what my diagnosis was. I’ve brought it up with my counselor but not my psychiatrist. It could help to talk to him about it. I’m not sure what can be done now and I suspect he’ll say I should focus on the present and my “recovery”. I’m glad my therapist at least will work with me on childhood trauma. Also putting this out in the blogosphere might give me some answers, connect me with others who experienced this, so I don’t feel alone.

I was very much alone growing up. I was alternately bullied and ignored by my peers. I found solace in the Arrows Trilogy because it was a fantasy world where wonderful psychic horses who loved you unconditionally take you out of an abusive situation to be with a select group of other people also chosen by the horses, people who are good at heart and can be trusted implicitly.

Talia, the main character, grows up in a fundamentalist sect where women are married off early to men with several wives. She doesn’t fit in because she likes to read, especially tales about the people who ride the magical horses, who are called Heralds. She is rebellious because of her reading and daydreaming, but also shy and with issues of self confidence. These are exacerbated by her community’s attempts to control her and break her spirit with beatings and other abuse.

Talia finally runs away when her family tries to marry her off on her thirteenth birthday. She’s rescued by one of the magical horses who chooses her to become a Herald. She finally is surrounded by people who care about her, but it takes a long time to finally learn to trust.

These books are good for teenagers, though adults will see problems with plot and characterization. The author, Mercedes Lackey, has a very progressive view of sexuality and includes LGBT characters. In fact there’s a whole trilogy, set in the same world, with a gay protagonist. When I first read that series, I was in junior high and had a pretty conservative background, so I didn’t really like that, but now I appreciate how groundbreaking that was at the time. Maybe it’s time to revisit that series now that I have a more open mind.”””