There are some books that are not intended for young readers, but are occasionally read by them anyway (I would also posit that there are books meant for young readers that are far too revered by older readers…I may or may not be referring to the adult Twilight phenomenon). IT was such a book for me. I was maybe 12 when I read it the first time. Not entirely too young, but definitely on the lower end of the intended reader spectrum. I was lucky enough to have a family that didn’t sensor my reading habits. Since I went on to have a lifelong adoration of Stephen King, the outing obviously had no ill effects (except for a healthy fear of clowns and wariness of solitary balloons and fortune cookies).
Occasionally, we as readers get lucky enough to read the right book at the right time in our life. For me, I needed IT at age 12. Seventh grade (and age 12 in general) was an awkward year for me. I had an unusual home life that had just been upended and I was quite possibly a card carrying member of the losers club (without any fellow losers, at least it felt this way, but near teenage emotions have a way of skewing towards the dramatic – even in memory). I needed to read about others who were in a similar, but entirely different, position. Reading realistic fiction would have been too depressing, thus IT was a near perfect solution. I got to be ensconced with other outcasts, but I didn’t have to fight their battles (thankfully, Pennywise would have been hard to handle solo). I also got to read about growing up, moving on, and forgetting. Nearly every single member of the losers club was supremely successful after a difficult childhood. Clearly, these lessons didn’t sink in entirely, as I grew up to be a librarian – the only non-successful career of the bunch (the irony is not lost on me). However, I am a happy librarian on any given day, so that counts for something.
After a successful adolescent outing with IT, I was quite happy to join in on the #ITAlong. Returning to characters that meant so much to me as a young adult and still being as enamored nearly 20 years later, is incredibly gratifying. I love The Stand, but I consider IT to be Stephen King’s best character work. I still love Ben Hanscomb, he might be one of my favorite characters of all time. And I, too, was a teensy bit irritated by Richie and found Stan to be dull (even his using the bird names to escape was rather anticlimactic). I liked Bill and Bev in the novel, but it must be said that I did not care for their characters in the movie version (especially Bill). About Eddie and Mike, I was ambivalent. But I think I would’ve enjoyed having them all as friends. I think it is also worth noting that Patrick Hockstetter might be the creepiest kid of all time (which says a lot given Henry Bower’s existence).
One of my favorite things that Stephen King does as a writer, is he often make the town an overarching character in his novels. Derry was no exception. In a King novel, the town is rarely a good character (this is true in Bag of Bones, ‘Salem’s Lot, Desperation, etc.). I lived in New England the majority of my life, northern New England in particular. I would venture to say that the towns there do have more character than say a town in Colorado (and more of a “town feel”, please note I am excluding Boulder, which is a character unto itself). I don’t know if it’s the history, the people, or what. It just is.
So, the good:
- the characters, especially Ben
- the depiction of Derry
And the bad:
- There are parts, but I can’t quite get it into words. I can’t say the interludes, because I liked some and I think they work in illustrating the true nature of Derry and IT (though some were on a the dry side)
- the juvenile debauchery was just odd
- “We lie best when we lie to ourselves.”
- “Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
So, there you have it from someone who has dared to read IT twice. I suspect I’ll read it again someday. As far as Stephen King books go, I give IT a solid 5/5. And if there’s a #ShineOn next year, I am totally in. What better book to read during a cold, dark Colorado winter than a book about a cold, dark Colorado winter.