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Books that changed your life

chestryoakAlyson Noel‘s blogging over at the Teen Fiction Cafe today, asking what books changed your life or your view of life?

This is so hard! The moment I think of one great book, I think of five others that I’d feel guilty for NOT mentioning. So I’m going to go with one of my stand-by favorites, The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy. I’m sure I found my way to this book via Seredy’s Newbery Honor-winning novel The Good Master, which presents an idyllic view of traditional Hungarian life. (You might not have known it to look at me, but “Unfeasible” comes from the Hungarian, of course.) After The Good Master, I grabbed everything else I could read of Seredy’s — her Newbery winner, The White Stag, The Singing Tree, which was a sequel to The Good Master, and finally found my way to The Chestry Oak. I’d never cried so much reading a book as I did the first time I read this. It’s about a young Hungarian boy, a prince as I recall, living in a castle just before World War I, whose parents are killed or in some other way are out of his life, and how the hardest thing he has to do in leaving his home and everything he’s ever known to move to the safety of America is to say goodbye to his stallion.

Let me just say, I bawled. I remember my mom coming up to check on me, just to make sure I was ok — my sobs had carried down to the kitchen below. I don’t know if The Chestry Oak kicked off my horse-book-reading phase or if it just happened around the same time, but suddenly, I was tearing through everything in the library with the words “horse,” “stallion,” or “pony” on the cover. Besides that, it was a piece of real-life history — and not ancient history, either. Something that happened recently enough that I knew people who were involved in the battles being described — granted, it was a great-uncle, but he was still family, and that made it immediate. That made it REAL.

I’m still a fan of historical fiction, even though, looking back now, I doubt The Chestry Oak was all that “historical” when Seredy wrote it. But books like it are why I majored in history in college (along with English because, hello! Books!), why I dragged Rexroth to see The Other Boleyn Girl at the movies, and why I think of Sean Bean first not as Boromir, but as Sharpe.

So — what books changed YOUR life? Tell me, and tell Alyson!

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