Books about BRATs

Did you know that today is National Military Brat Day? That’s right, we have an actual day! In honor of this occasion, I thought I’d share a few fiction books about brats (and often by brats). What a perfect coincidence that my publisher released the Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of my debut novel, Beneath Wandering Stars–the story of a modern-day Army brat–in April, the Month of the Military Child. If you’re at all interested in reading this Young Adult, coming-of-age story before anyone else (one that adults will hopefully enjoy, too), please scroll down and enter to win an advanced copy!

But before we get to this “new kid on the block,” let’s talk about some members of the popular crowd in the world of military brat books.

Books about BratsThe Great Santini by Pat Conroy

The story of a Marine fighter pilot and his family, The Great Santini is a modern classic that captures one of the archetypes of military life–the authoritarian officer father. Although not every military brat grows up under such a strict regime, many will sympathize with Ben Meecham, the Great Santini’s eldest son, as he confronts his love/hate relationship with his larger-than-life father and fights to come into his own.

Sadly, Pat Conroy passed away just last month from pancreatic cancer. Like many brats, Conroy grappled with his complex identity his entire life and often explored these conflicts in his writing. He once told NPR:

“I’m a military brat. My father was a Marine Corps fighter pilot from Chicago, Ill. I did not live in Southern towns, I lived on bases. I was a Roman Catholic, which is the strangest thing you can be in the South. Not only that, I married a Jewish woman from Bensonhurst. So when people refer to me as a Southerner … I liked it because I never had a home. It was the first name that was ever associated with me that put me in a place.”

 

Books about BratsThe Yokota Officer’s Club by Sarah Bird

“After a year away at college, military brat Bernadette Root has come ‘home’ to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, to spend the summer with her bizarre yet comforting clan. Ruled by a strict, regimented Air Force Major father, but grounded in their mother’s particular brand of humor, Bernie’s family was destined for military greatness during the glory days of the mid-’50s. But in Base life, where an unkempt lawn is cause for reassignment, one fateful misstep changed the Roots’ world forever…”

 

 

 

Books about BratsDurable Goods by Elizabeth Berg

“On the hot Texas Army base she calls home, Katie spends the lazy days of her summer waiting: waiting to grow up; waiting for Dickie Mack to fall in love with her; waiting for her breasts to blossom; waiting for the beatings to stop. Since their mother died, Katie and her older sister, Diane, have struggled to understand their increasingly distant, often violent father. While Diane escapes into the arms of her boyfriend, Katie hides in her room or escapes to her best friend’s house—until Katie’s admiration for her strong-willed sister leads her on an adventure that transforms her life.”

 

 

 

 

Books about BratsThe Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins

If you’re familiar with The Hunger Games, you may already know that the author of this YA sensation is an Air Force BRAT–and upbringing that surely influenced her ideas on violence and war. Suzanne Collins explores military life more directly in her children’s picture book, which is a semi-autobiographical account of the year her own father went to the Vietnam War.

 

 

Books about BratsIt Burns a Lovely Light by Penny McCann Pennington

This  USA BEST BOOK FINALIST is on my summer reading list!

“‘Us four and no more’ is the James family motto as Farley, savant-like William, and their beloved parents move from military base to military base. Then, in the course of one horrific evening, the family becomes completely unsprung. Stunned and grief-stricken, Farley and William move into their aunt’s decrepit boarding house overlooking the city of Pittsburgh – a city still reeling from the loss if its great steel industry. But tragedy threatens from several directions, and their newly-built family must pull together in order to save what they can from disaster yet again.”

 

 

Books about BratsBeneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles
Here it is, my debut novel, which will be published this coming August! In the meantime, I’d love to give a few ARCs away to other book-reading BRATs (and anyone else who is interested), so I hope you’ll enter the raffle below!

In researching books about military families, I’ve discovered that many of the most popular brat novels depict military life during the Vietnam era or earlier. While many aspects of the military lifestyle remain the same (e.g. moving around a lot), one of the things that led me to write Beneath Wandering Stars was a desire to share the experience of military brats since 9/11, as well as what it’s like to be stationed overseas in Europe during high school. Here’s a short summary of the story:

 

After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–another young soldier and a guy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, Beneath Wandering Stars takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds.

Enter to win an Advanced Reader Copy!a Rafflecopter giveaway

I  hope you’ll also join The Wandering Writer e-newsletter for announcements & future opportunities to win prizes!

Do you have any favorite BRAT books that I missed? I’d love to see other recommendations, so please leave a comment below.

The Cover for BENEATH WANDERING STARS is here!!!

BENEATH WANDERING STARSFor a new author, seeing your book cover for the first time is kind of a big deal, especially since most authors have little to no say in the cover’s design. That means if we end up hating it…well, too bad. Thankfully, this was NOT the case for me, as I’m happy to report that the wonderful publishers at Merit Press did an awesome job. I love, love, love the beautiful book cover for my debut Young Adult novel, Beneath Wandering Stars (August 2016). Merit will “officially” reveal the full cover on April 27 on YABooksCentral.com, but I wanted to share a “sneak peak” here as well.

If you are interested in receiving and reading a free Advanced Review CBENEATH WANDERING STARSopy (ARC) of the book, please email ashleelcowles@gmail.com and I will enter your name in a raffle drawing, as I have several copies to give away! Stay tuned for the full cover reveal at the end of this month!

Healthy Writing Habits: How to Stay Fit When Working from Home

As an INFJ, I love, love, love working from home, but doing so requires the establishment of healthy writing habits. As soon as I made the switch to a home office, I started seeing this annoying little phrase everywhere I looked: “sitting is the new smoking.”

And I believe it. I’ve always tried to be an active person, but when I went from teaching on my feet at the front of a classroom to teaching online at a desk all day, I noticed the difference immediately, especially since my “other job”—writing novels—also requires staring at a screen from a seated position for hours on end. And it wasn’t just weight gain I was worried about – my entire body hurt. Back, shoulders, wrists, legs – the constant aches made me feel like I was in my nineties instead of my thirties, and assured me that drastic changes needed to be made if this working-from-home gig was going to be sustainable.

Enter the FitDesk.

fitdeskA few months back I mentioned an awesome Christmas gift I received from my parents: a laptop desk…on an exercise bike. Several readers asked me to post a review after I had a chance to use the bike for a few months, so here it is:

Overall, I love it. If you work from home and spend a lot of time on your computer, the FitDesk is definitely worth the investment. Here’s why:

 

  • The FitDesk forces you to sit in a position that is good for your back and lessens tension in the neck and shoulders. That, along with the constant leg movement, has already lessened my aches and pains considerably. For me, this benefit alone makes it worth the $300 bucks.
  • It’s comfortable and high-quality, which makes me think I’ll be able to use it for many years to come. I usually spend between 2 and 5 hours on the FitDesk and only after that point does the bike seat start to make by butt go numb. If you do a few hours on and then a few hours off, this isn’t an issue.
  • You can change the tension on the wheel, depending on how challenging you want the pedaling to be. When I’m in video or phone meetings, I crank that baby up and try to pedal as hard as I can (so long as I’m not expected to talk), but I keep the wheel at a lower tension when I’m doing things like editing my novel, grading assignments, or checking email. However, when I’m doing something that requires me to think a little more deeply, I do find it difficult to keep the momentum going…

…which brings me to the major downsides of the FitDesk (though I don’t find it that big of a deal):

  • I can’t really write creatively while on the bike. In other words, I can’t write brand new material. Maybe it’s just me, but for some reason when I’m working on a story, I get so lost in this imaginary world that I have trouble doing two things at once. When I’ve tried working on my novel while on the FitDesk, at some point I’ll look down and notice that my legs have stopped moving. It’s like that little exercise we all did as kids: trying to pat our heads and rub our tummies at the same time. I’m sure there are people out there who are more coordinated than I am, but my brain apparently finds it challenging to create and pedal at the same time. That said, I have no problem pedaling while doing less creative tasks like email, grading, and even editing my novel, which means I still spend a lot of time on the bike.
  • The only other negative thing about the FitDesk is that I can’t seem to get the speedometer that comes with the bike to work. It would be nice to know how far I’m pedaling each day, as well as how many calories I’m burning, so I’ll need to call the company’s customer service team at some point.

I am happy with my purchase, but I don’t think the FitDesk is an adequate substitute for daily exercise. In the three months I’ve been using it, my legs have started to feel more toned and I’ve probably lost a few pounds, but most of the time when I’m working on the FitDesk, I’m not pedaling hard enough to really sweat, so I don’t count the time spent on it as high-intensity, cardiovascular exercise. This means I still try to fit in a run or a weight-lifting session most days of the week.

In conclusion, I don’t think the FitDesk is going to melt the pounds away on its own if that’s what you’re after, but it will likely help most people keep off the additional weight they’d gain from a sedentary desk job. Most importantly, my body feels so much better than it did a few months ago, and that alone makes it a worthwhile purchase and a great way to break up the time spent at a normal desk.

Other Tips for Staying Healthy & Fit

  • Get outside every day. A lot of the writers I know (myself included) have a more melancholic temperament (to use a medieval classification) and spend a lot of time in their own heads, so I find it vital to break up the time in la-la land with a walk or jog. The fresh air, sunshine, and movement are always energizing, and I get many of my best writing ideas out on long walks.
  • Start the day with a green smoothie. I can’t do anything (including speak to other humans) until I have a cup of coffee in me, but I’m not very good at eating enough raw vegetables. An easy way to add more of that beloved kale to your diet is with a green smoothie. My favorite blender combination is half a frozen banana, a handful or spinach/kale, mixed frozen berries, a teaspoon of flax seed, all mixed with almond or coconut milk.
  • Stick to a Screen Sabbath. I try to avoid screens, or at least my laptop, one day each week so that my eyes can have a break. I also have a daily tea time ritual in the afternoons that gives me a chance to get off the computer for 30 minutes to an hour to read a physical book.

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What do you do to stay healthy when you work at a desk all day?

Why Do So Many Adults Read Young Adult (YA) Fiction?

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In college I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain and often took the Metro to get to class (going so far as to adopt the urban practice of wearing running shoes with my skirts while commuting, and then changing into leather boots once I got to school — college students in fashionable Spain don’t do sweatpants). Inside a particularly crowded Metro train one morning, I wondered how so many people could find the concentration to read despite the commotion and lack of personal space. Across from me, a woman ( in her late 30s) and a teenager a few seats down both read books from the same series: Harry Potter.

Arguably the Young Adult novels that reignited the YA genre back in the late 1990s, Harry Potter has transcended all kinds of boundaries — culture, ethnicity, gender, and perhaps most noticeably, age. Yet J.K. Rowling isn’t the only author whose work appeals to both youth and adults. According to a 2012 survey, 55% of Young Adult books are bought by grown-ups. Based on the blogs and conversations I’ve come across on the web, many of these adult YA readers seem to be young women in their 20s and 30s.

My immediate response to these survey results is why? Why do many adults enjoy reading fiction involving a protagonist who is so much younger than they are?

The easy and more cynical answer is that we live in an age where adolescence is prolonged due to a variety of factors, so turning eighteen or graduating high school doesn’t necessarily mean one has “become an adult.” Some might say our society idolizes youth (botox, anyone?) and fails to value the wisdom often thought to come with age. To give an example of the lack of “pop culture gap” between today’s generations, current parents in their 30s and 40s may find that they actually share the same tastes in music as their children — something practically unheard of in previous generations (“Elvis Presley! That’s not music! Sinatra–now there’s a man who can sing.”). So is that what the popularity of YA literature among adults is all about–we late GenXers and Millenials are simply overgrown juveniles? A generation of “lost boys” who don’t want to leave Neverland?

Cultural shifts in maturity levels and expectations may be part of the puzzle, but I don’t think it’s the entire story or even the most significant factor when it comes to determining the reasons YA literature resonates with so many people. After all, the concept of “children’s books” and “grown-up books” is probably a more modern distinction, and as C.S. Lewis noted, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” The most timeless stories are often considered “good” precisely because they transcend boundaries and speak to universal human emotions, questions, and struggles.

But why the YA explosion in particular? I’m sure there are authors writing excellent stories for younger children, but stories featuring teens seem to be the most popular children’s books among adults, and I think there are several reasons for this:

  • To start, the visceral nature of adolescence is appealing in a society where more and more adults spend hours living “virtually” or in some distant future.

I can’t put this concept any better than my wonderful editor at Merit Press, Jacquelyn Mitchard: “For a young person, everyday life is epic. They live in dog years, changing on a molecular level.” I don’t think I’ve ever lived more in “the present tense” than I was as a teen. Granted, I was in high school before social media was “a thing”–so virtual realities weren’t really a distraction from the present moment–but I have always been a rather future-oriented person. When I was about 11 or 12, I used to keep myself awake at night dreaming about my future life –where I wanted to study Veterinary Medicine (yeah, that didn’t happen), the farmhouse I wanted to design and build (also hasn’t happened…yet), the kind of man I hoped to marry (one of out three goals ain’t bad!). Interestingly, most of my forward-thinking stopped when I was in high school, about the time adults actually start pressuring young people to think about the future. My sixteen-year-old self, however, was too focused on that day–on my friends, on a crush, on the upcoming soccer game. I can’t think of any other time in my life, except for maybe brief periods of international travel, where each day was lived completely in the moment. Every emotion, every new experience, every relationship had deep, life-or-death significance, and I suspect this raw, 3-D, technicolor existence is one of the things that attracts adult readers to YA fiction. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the power of now. Besides, reading about teenagers struggling with some of the greatest challenges a person ever faces–growing up and figuring out who we are–is so much more rewarding than scrolling through the Tweets of grown-ups who supposedly have it all figured out.

  •  YA fiction bends the rules of storytelling–but they’re the right rules.

The broad category “Young Adult” is one of the most dynamic, creative genres in fiction right now. Yes, there are some fixed rules (the protagonist must be a teen, obviously), as well as common tropes (cough, love triangle), but many beloved YA novels tackle tough topics, cross sub-genres, and even create new ones. Take, for instance, Evangeline Denmark’s debut novel CURIO, a work of speculative fiction that has elements of steampunk, historical fiction, and fantasy, to the point that some have given this novel a new label: “magic-punk.” Yet while stories like Denmark’s may push the envelope in some ways, YA lit remains more reserved and cautious in others. Now there’s definitely edgy or even explicit YA out there, but most authors of Young Adult fiction know that an “everything and anything goes” mentality isn’t a responsible or appropriate way to approach this genre. As a result, YA authors can’t always rely on cheap tricks to hook readers (or at least not without push-back and controversy), or use excessive violence and sex as ways to keep people reading. The strength and appeal of a YA novel is more likely to be found in the storytelling itself, not in forbidden fruit or easy thrills.

  • Young Adult literature is all about “what ifs?” and possibility, and sometimes we adults need to be reminded that the world is much bigger than the one we often find ourselves in.

Many of the recent hits in YA are epic stories that make readers question what it means to be a hero, as well as the limits of what is possible. Nobody needs to be reminded of this potential more than adults, who often find it difficult to push beyond what is comfortable or secure the older we get and the more responsibilities we take on. Reading stories about hopeful young people who have an entire lifetime before them can reinvigorate an adult’s sense of possibility, while also reminding us of where we are on the mortality timeline (enter line from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying”).
In short, adults who read Young Adult literature aren’t necessarily stunted adolescents trying to escape reality; they may actually be attempting to get more in touch with it.

Want to learn more about my YA stories? Join me here.

Where Most of Us Live: Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn
My midnight cat, Emerson, knows how to curl up with a good book on a snowy morning.

I don’t write book reviews often, and when I do, they’re usually of fiction titles. The review that follows is an exception, and it’s an exception for two reasons. First, because Between Midnight and Dawn is an imaginative collection of poetry and prose that reveals what great literature is at its core: a psalm, a cry against the darkness, a prayer. And second, because I am privileged to know the talented compiler of this collection, Sarah Arthur, and the story of how I came to know her is too crazy not to share. It’s the kind of story that makes a person (a.k.a. me) believe “coincidence” is just a word we humans use to describe bigger realities we do not fully understand. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, the book.

sarah arthurBetween Midnight and Dawn is a “literary guide to prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide.” So to be clear, this work is meant to lead readers who celebrate these liturgical seasons through a collection of great literature that explores themes of darkness and light—themes many of us experience deeply in the dead of winter, when spring is on the horizon, but still feels so far away.

Let’s start with the title. As soon as I realized it was a line from a T.S. Eliot poem, I knew this was my kind of devotional (by which I mean, a devotional for someone who has difficulty connecting with most devotionals).

 

…Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,

The future futureless, before the morning watch

When time stops and time is never ending;

And the grounds swell, that is and was from the beginning,

Clangs

The bell.

(From “The Dry Salvages” in Four Quartets)

I love T.S. Eliot’s poetry because I have no idea what he’s trying to say. And yet I know exactly what he’s trying to say. His words evoke paradoxes that resonate, mysteries that are as true and clear as the clang of a bell, but oh so hard to explain. That pretty much sums up what I often feel during the season of Lent and even Easter—a time of ancient traditions and mysteries that go deep and ring true, but can be difficult to articulate in a world of abrupt soundbites and short status updates.

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In contrast to the fast, cursory internet reading of everyday life, Sarah Arthur has compiled a collection of words meant to be savored. As she poignantly states in the introduction, these are words for those who have “lain awake during moonless hours between midnight and dawn,” and who often feel that “the darkness is final. It owns the earth utterly. It takes hold in the tick of the clock and the stillness of the woods and the shallow breath of your own mute body…It is the last and definitive night.” Yet as every insomniac knows, “by some magic that cannot be quantified, it is not. The earth stirs, inhales, stretches…Light, where there was no light, makes visible: first the outline of a window, then the edge of the bed, your own hand, a book open on the covers. There’s no saying precisely when the turn happens. But it does. Every morning. From the beginning of the world.”

This book is a literary treasure trove all about the turns. It is also about the long nights in between them—the still points that are not always peaceful. Between Midnight and Dawn contains excerpts from beloved classic writers and poets such as George MacDonald, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Christina Rossetti, yet there are many selections from contemporary authors, too: Luci Shaw, Scott Cairns, and Wendell Berry, to name just a few. If any of these names are familiar, then you will surely appreciate the encounter with old friends, but be prepared to make new ones as well.

Now for the insane story of how I discovered both a new and old friend in Sarah.

I suppose I am from Michigan (that’s where all my family is from), but for the first thirty years of my life, I never lived there once (two words: military brat). That all changed in 2012 when my husband and I moved to Michigan so I could pursue a writing fellowship at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. We were there for only a year, but it was an eventful year that exposed a series of intriguing connections (or in more dramatic Anne Shirley-type language, “circles of destiny”). One such “circle” was revealed during a visit to the annual C.S. Lewis Literature Festival in Petoskey. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, so when my husband and I heard about this event, we decided to make the drive north, given that we could stay overnight in the farmhouse my parents own, located in a small town about 40 minutes from the quaint little city of Petoskey on Lake Michigan (see, that’s a sign there’s some Michigan in me—I know the distance in minutes, not in miles). The first festival event we attended was a panel discussion that Sarah happened to be a part of. As soon as I saw her, I turned to my husband and whispered, “I know her from somewhere.” When the panel moderator introduced the speakers, I quickly figured out where that “somewhere” was—Sarah was also a graduate of Duke Divinity School in

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Duke University Chapel

Durham, North Carolina, where I had recently pursued a master’s degree, and I was pretty sure she looked familiar because we had been at Duke at the same time. After the talk, I introduced myself to Sarah and we discovered that we had, in fact, overlapped at Duke.

“What brought you all the way up here for the festival?” Sarah asked.

(I’m paraphrasing here. You should also know that while the speakers at the C.S. Lewis Festival are always outstanding, Petoskey—a small city located at the very top of Michigan’s “mitten,” the lower peninsula—is not the easiest place to get to, so this festival is a rather regional event. That’s what makes this “it’s a small world” story even stranger).

In response to Sarah’s question, I explained that my dad was originally from a tiny town not too far from Petoskey, so we’d decided to drive up for the weekend to attend the festival and visit family, too.

“Oh, what town is that?”

“Onaway,” I replied (population 880). “You probably don’t know it; it’s pretty small.”

“Oh, I know Onaway. I have family there, too,” Sarah replied. “Who are some of your relatives?”

“The Chowen family.”

Sarah’s face broke into a knowing smile. “I’m related to the Chowens.”

That’s right, folks—it turns out Sarah and I are distant cousins. My great-grandmother and her grandmother were sisters. We had never met before this moment, and yet we both attended a fairly large seminary at the same time, in another state a thousand miles away, where we sat in the same lecture halls, never knowing we were related. We both love C.S. Lewis and literature in general, we are both fascinated by the power of the imagination, and we both write for a young adult audience (Sarah has published several wonderful books for teens).

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Our own “Green Gables”

To reference my beloved literary heroine once more, I had discovered “a kindred spirit”—one of shared DNA as well as soul. After the festival, I told my grandmother about Sarah; she dug up a box of old family photographs and produced pictures of Sarah and her mother in minutes. In one of these images, Sarah is riding with my great-grandfather Cecil on his tractor across the property my dad inherited—a once-working farm pictured here, land that has been in the Chowen family since the late 1800s (the old barn finally collapsed two decades ago).

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Perhaps some of you who are reading this will regard the encounter as one big coincidence. Yet for me, this little story has become a source of light during dark times between midnight and dawn—times when it feels like the Narnian winter will never end, days when all the magic has been sucked out of life. Like all the best stories, it reminds me that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Such a lived story—which is what liturgy is, too: lived story—helps me remember the Mystery behind everything, gracing me with hope that when we encounter this Mystery face to face, “what we’ll see then”—as Sarah puts it in her rich literary guide—“won’t be simply light at the end of a tunnel, but light at the end of all things, the final and permanent morning.”

 

 

 

Finding Your Story in the Middle of the Journey

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As a kid, cross-country moves were one of the few times I woke up early enough to see the sun rise. My parents used to load me and my sisters—still blurry-eyed and pajama-clad—into the minivan before dawn, that way we’d (hopefully) fall back asleep and they could have a few hours of peaceful driving without sibling bickering. I remember opening my eyes as the dusky night sky melted into rainbow Sherbet streaks, relieved to know that the darkness was almost over. The sunrise on a long drive from Colorado to Alabama, or Texas to Washington, marked a major milestone: there was now enough light to read.

Life in a military family involves countless goodbyes and new beginnings, but books were portable friends I could always count on. Stories have shaped my imagination for as long as I can remember, and the characters who became my companions during an upbringing of constant change gave me a sense of security—something even the most durable child needs. No matter where we moved, or what my new school was like, or how long my dad might be away, the places and people who inhabited the books I loved would always be there. Imagination was a timeless realm, a place I could always escape to, even if every other aspect of life was out of my control. Stories taught me that life itself is a Story, one with all the necessary components of a plot (spoiler: you don’t get a great Climax or satisfying Resolution without a few Crises and an ‘All is Lost’ moment).

Maybe books didn’t play a huge part in your childhood, but I bet stories still shaped you in some way. For some reason, we humans can’t get enough of them, whether those stories are in the form of fiction, history, movies, or music. In hindsight, my deep affection for books as a TCK makes sense, given that nomads and storytelling have been traveling companions for…well, forever. Roving tribes from around the globe used to gather around campfires to sing songs and swap tales. The bestselling book in human history tells the story of a people’s wanderings in the desert as they sought out the Promised Land. In Ireland, there was once a class of itinerant storytellers called seanchaithe—traveling bards who took on the role of keeping folk legends alive. Even the more stable and sedentary members of society in ages past enjoyed the accounts of adventure, suffering, and triumph that travelers brought back to share with the rest of the community upon their return.

I find it interesting—and not coincidental—that many of the stories that captivated my imagination as child were about other nomads. Odysseus had his galley ship, Laura Ingalls had her covered wagon, Frodo had the many feet of his fellowship, and millions of other “brats” like me had minivans plastered with “Army Strong” bumper stickers. Other kids got to spend their entire childhoods in the same town surrounded by the same set of friends, but reading about these wanderers showed me that my family wasn’t as strange as we sometimes felt. There are many benefits to growing up in a close-knit community surrounded by extended family and neighbors you know well—in fact, this is probably one of the best ways to grow up in terms of overall emotional and mental well-being—but reading stories about other nomads helped me identify and internalize the particular advantages of life as a Third Culture Kid.

This wasn’t something I was conscious of at such a young age, but for most of my childhood, I viewed our military life as a grand adventure. It was a lifestyle that sometimes made me sad, but it was a positive experience overall–except for that one time in high school when it felt like Uncle Sam had a personal vendetta against me by making me move the summer before my senior year. My father was the one who joined the Army when he signed that dotted line, but we all believed we were contributing to a greater good. I never enjoyed saying goodbye to the people and places I’d grown to love when it was time for another PCS, but I also knew we weren’t just aimless wanderers; when we moved, we moved for a reason. For a child especially, there’s something magical about being caught up in an Epic that’s much bigger than your own small tale.

To allude to an earlier blog post, stories have taught me that home isn’t always a physical location. Home is made up of the people and places that shape our identity and help us understand our place in this world. Our memories of childhood often produce strong feelings of nostalgia, a word that comes from the Greek for “homecoming” (nostos) and “pain” or “ache” (algos). I don’t know about you, but the strongest feelings of nostalgia I’ve experienced are never for one static place in particular, but for a million small moments and memories that make up the tapestry of my life. I don’t ache for a particular house or a specific town, I long for the chirping cicadas and pine-needle carpets of a forest in the Deep South, or an eternal afternoon on a white-sand beach on Oahu, or the cobblestone streets and red-tiled rooftops of a historic village in Germany.

It turns out Home looks a lot like a little girl in the back of a car with a book.

What does “homecoming” look like for you?