During my childhood in a small farming community in Illinois, I often felt like a visitor from another planet. I was so different from classmates that I might as well have been an actual alien.
As an Indian girl, so much about me was foreign; I had long black hair, brown skin, ate “weird” food, and spoke a “funny” language. I had friends and felt accepted, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would always be an outsider, no matter how long I lived there.
I admit it caused me no small amount of grief. I begged my parents to let me start wearing the latest fashions (too expensive), cut my hair (no way), and hang out at the “cool spots” in town (absolutely no way). I started to wish I wasn’t me… until I met Aerin.
I met Aerin when I was 10. She was a young princess who looked different than everyone else (like me!) and didn’t feel she belonged (like me!). She was the main character in The Hero and the Crown a fantasy/scifi Young Adult novel by Robin McKinley. I immediately felt a sense of kinship with Aerin; she was smart, awkward, and stubborn—but determined to do something with her life even if it meant she had to do it on her own. Aerin’s journey isn’t perfect—more than once, she makes a serious mistake—but through the journey, she learns to claim her power and place in the world. And though she curses the traits that make her stand out, they prove to be the very things that help her develop into the hero who saves her country and her people.
I plan to share this book with my daughter someday, who I hope will love it as much as I did. She won’t have to worry too much about the issues that caused me grief when I was a kid; we are fortunate to live in an area that is a multi-culti hotbed, inclusive of people from all kinds of backgrounds. But I know that insecurity will creep in and she will question herself. When that happens, I’ll sit and read this book with her and show her that she’s like Aerin, too—that it’s ok to be different, that every hero has obstacles to overcome, and that her uniqueness, like Aerin’s, is what gives her the power to slay dragons.