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December 18, 2012
Read this YA Book If…
Revisiting a Classic: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
by Erin Cowles

OK, I recognize that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is not a young adult book. I also recognize that it is extremely well-known. Even the Great Gonzo knows it like the back of his hand.

That said, I'm a firm believer in the value of young adults reading classic literature, and A Christmas Carol offers much to teens (and I'm not just talking about the fact you get all of Dickens' delightful wit and storytelling abilities with a fraction of the word count of his other books). This book has fantastic messages that should resonate with contemporary teens about the opportunity for beauty in ugly circumstances, the power we all have to fight the big problems of the world in our own small corner of it, and a celebration of generosity and compassion.

You don't need me to summarize the plot. Ebeneezer Scrooge, a selfish and unfeeling man, is haunted by four ghosts who show him the sorrow and ugliness of the world, but also the beauty and nobility that individuals can rise to, even within these circumstances. And, more importantly, they teach him that his actions can bring beauty into the world. Through staring the world's ugliness in the face, rather than glibly dismissing it, his heart is softened. Scrooge recognizes his own power to alleviate suffering, and he does so in earnest.

Confession: While I have watched several film version and heard many others summarize the plot, I had not read the original until this December. I was blown away by its quality.

When a story is so well-known, it is hard to appreciate its originality. But really, who looks at the jolly carolers and delightful feasts of the Christmas season and says, “You know what this holiday needs? A ghost story!” But Dickens pulls it off with flair. It is a remarkably effective device.

Critics often celebrate stories that delve into the darkness, and bleak endings grow increasingly popular. While I don't believe in sugar coating the world (I am a sucker for a good dystopia, after all), I argue that it takes a lot more skill to write about goodness and virtue than sorrow and dysfunction. Dickens' ghosts do this. They keep the story from falling into the sentimental. Not only does the creepiness balance things out, but it gives an urgency to Scrooge's transformation. This story is not about him not feeling jolly on Christmas – this is about the state of his soul. The virtues we celebrate at Christmas – generosity, service, and compassion – are essential to our own spiritual well-being. We need this time of year to get our own souls in order. We need to remember that our actions impact the lives and souls of others. We need to remember to keep our hearts soft when it is so much easier to look the other way. We need to fill our hearts with love.

Even if you think you already know the story and don't need to read the book, I encourage you to pick it up and try to see it through new eyes. You won't regret it.

Read this book if …

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