I used to think I liked books because they offered an escape from my reality. Yet, the more I read, or perhaps the older I get, the more I realize that what I seek are plausible alternatives. I do not want to shut out or forget my world. I want to understand it so that I can influence it.
I’m On You Side, by Emily J. Vaughan, starts with a garbage bag. The bag belongs to Cassie, a teen who has been in the foster care system for over ten years. Every time a foster family or the system decides it is time for Cassie to move on, she must stuff her existence into that flimsy plastic bag.
This time, Cassie and her trash bag end up with the Bender family. Once again she has to get used to a different set of pseudo-parents and their house rules. Once again she must go to a new school. The only difference is Jeremy.
Though he has grown up with most of his classmates, Jeremy is as much of an outsider as Cassie. Students, teachers, and even the administrative staff go out of their way to make life miserable for him. Also, Jeremy is blind.
I’m on Your Side, like this review, is a very quick read. The tone of the prose is perfectly young adult: slightly melodramatic, self-assured yet vulnerable. Reading this book meant taking a step back in time emotionally. I remembered the anger I felt towards the chaos of the world.
Many books and shows and movies focus on this chaos. They dwell on the shocking details of the countless things wrong with existing.
I admit that it is gratifying to have frustrations affirmed; it is cathartic to watch a character simply succumb or a superhero fantastically overcome. But, it isn’t helpful. Lingering over our troubles will never move us past them.
I think Vaughan understands this. Cassie’s story isn’t about her situation. Her story is about how she learns to look beyond it, and herself. Once she moves past the self-absorption of anger and fear, she is free to see the hell others are going through. She is free to care and to act.
This is not a perfect book. There are one or two lapses of continuity. Some scenes should have been tighter. Yet, you will immediately root for Cassie and for those around her. There is more heart in this book than in some best-sellers I have read, and I will take heart over form any day.
One more thing I appreciated about I’m on Your Side. We have a female protagonist, Cassie, and multiple male characters who are pretty pivotal. However, the story never reverts to a love story or triangle. Love is neither cheap nor contrived in this book. Rather refreshing, don’t you think?