I’m not a fan of advice columns and I loathe self-help books, so I was surprised when someone I trust recommended this book. And wow! What a sparkling collection of wisdom Tiny Beautiful Things is.
Author Cheryl Strayed wrote the columns anonymously for The Rumpus (online). She later published Wild, a nonfiction memoir on her solo trek of 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. That book was selected by Oprah for her book club. Tiny Beautiful Things also became a best seller. So things are looking mighty good for Strayed. But her journey to success has been a convoluted one, filled with grief and betrayals. And what she learned, she shares in her Dear Sugar column.
Strayed is always compassionate and maybe that’s what sets her apart. People who write to her know that she is going to set them straight, but she’s also going to call them sweet names (like sweet pea) and make a lot of sense. She deals with betrayals of all sorts, the death of parents and children, miscarriage, rape, infidelity, financial troubles, jealousy and the sense that personal success will never come—all of life’s big problems. The letter in which she reflects on her one-time job as youth advocate at a middle school is worth the price of the book. Unfortunately, some of our students will recognize their own stories in the stories of the teens Strayed worked with—how they are living through a hell that no one, especially someone so young, should have to experience.
There are other teen problems discussed. (A fun answer to a teen is in “Hell is other people’s boyfriends.”) But anyone of any age can relate to all of the problems and Strayed’s sage responses. She often tells a story from her own life that seems totally unrelated—she’s a great storyteller—and then comes around to the connection to give the reader an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
Here Strayed is talking about people in their twenties, but I think it makes sense for teens, too: “Because you’re in your twenties, you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an a*****. . . . You’re generally less humble in that decade than you’ll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”
Read this for the excellent storytelling and you’ll come away with something that sticks.
Caveat: The folks who write letters to Dear Sugar often use very colorful language and Strayed uses it right back. The problems they discuss are often of a very mature nature (but, unfortunately, they are things that happen to high school kids, too).