Yesterday I read this article about the books teenagers read as rites of passage, and whether this is applicable in the present day. I felt very guilty that I haven’t actually read any of the books listed except Brave New World. I read Brave New World during my first year of university and I didn’t enjoy it.
What got to me about this article is that it suggests that the rite of passage book is about the protagonist being the ‘outsider’.
I thought it would be a good idea to write a list of my favourite rites of passage books that I loved when I was a teenager, but you know what? There’s only one story.
When I was twelve, I saw Stand By Me first the time. It is the story of four boys who lie to their parents and go in search of a dead body of a kid their age found along the train tracks. I instantly fell in love, with the story, the characters and, in particular, Chris Chambers. I watched it regularly throughout my teens, learning the script by heart. After a few years it became my comfort film, that which I would put on when I was feeling low or insecure. It protected me, it made me feel that I wasn’t alone and it made me happy. (I should point out that I never watched the very beginning or the very end…) It helped me through the depression I suffered during my GCSEs and A levels, and when I felt homesick at university.
When I was eighteen I tracked down Different Seasons by Stephen King, a collection of four novellas including The Body. This is the novella which Stand By Me is based on. I read it and fell in love all over again. As with all book-to-movie adaptations, the movie is different to the book. Much to my delight, while Gordie Lachance is the main character in the movie, Chris Chambers is the main character in the book. The book has so much more detail about each of the characters but especially Chris.
At first consideration, Stand By Me/The Body is not about an ‘outsider’. Not in the way that the books mentioned in the above article are. However, after a little more thought I realised that of course there are outsiders. Each of the four boys are outsiders; Teddy is labelled as crazy and haunted by his father’s mental health, Vern is the typical, dim-witted kid bullied for his weight, Gordie is suffering at the hands of his grieving parents and believes himself to be a mistake in the world, and Chris, my beloved Chris, is the intelligent and brave boy from a bad, violent family. His reputation is not his own and he is forced into actions that fit other people’s idea of who they think is.
The story is not about them being outsiders, as such, yet each of them is an outsider. It’s why they’re all friends.
This is a rite of passage story, after all. Being an outsider, being different, is something that every teenager experiences in some form. This is an age when you are trying to discover who you are, when you are building your identity. And teenagers are cruel to each other. It makes sense that stories of these kinds would appeal to teens.
All four boys in Stand By Me are entering their teens, not only are they outsiders but they are relatable, which is why I connected with it so quickly when I was twelve.
I continued watching Stand By Me regularly into adulthood. I still own the book, now yellow and crumpled which falls open at all the best parts. I fell into the tradition of watching the film at New Year, which to me is the most depressing time of year. This tradition only diminished when I met my husband, Chris.
What was your rite of passage story?