What Does the Power of Story Mean to You?

What does the power of story mean to me? Entertainment. Expression. Escape. But, that’s only scratching the surface. The power of story is so much more. To borrow some gamer lingo, story can be “OP”—as in overpowered. And, that is a good thing. 

By Lamar Giles

The Virginia factory town I came from was situated next to an army base. We made tires, and chemicals, and industrial film. We had no shortage of the kinds of hardworking people often described as America’s backbone, its life blood. My mom was one of those people. A petite woman doing what some might call “man’s work.” Thirty-two years of twelve-hour shifts around steaming, hissing, crushing machines so her children could have a shot at something more, a shot they took and made. That’s a success story.

I was born in 1979. Grew up in the 80s. Came of age in the 90s. By the time I was fifteen, I’d bridged three different decades. The math is weird, but true. A time travel story.

Many of my peers dreamed of playing pro ball or being in the next Wu-Tang Clan, dreams that ended in heartbreak. Love stories.

My point: Life is a story we’re all telling in a big ol’ cross-genre power plant. Professional storytellers—a group I’m proud to count myself a part of—have a special assignment/burden trying to contain the energy within the swirling reactor of imaginings and recollections. All of the above—the town, the times—constantly leak into my own stories, both the lived and the written. My novel Spin is the latest yield of my factory town upbringing, when the music of my teen years inspired dreams that didn’t fit within the city limits. Not unlike Homer Simpson fumbling that glowing plutonium rod each week in The Simpsons intro, I attempted to harness the most potent power of the tales around me without cracking my world in half.

Set in present day, told in an alternating BEFORE and AFTER timeline through three different POVs, Spin was ambitious. It nearly broke me. And I’m so proud of what it turned out to be.  

Rising music star Paris Secord aka DJ ParSec is dead, and she plans to tell you how she got that way. Her former friends Kya and Fuse—who kind of hate each other—are forced to seek justice on her behalf, or at the very least entertain Paris’s violently eager fandom the #DarkNation (think the BeyHive, but psychotic) in the process.

It’s a murder mystery born from the bass of a Timbaland beat thumping through headphones in my childhood bedroom, late Saturday nights trying to imitate (never master) Allen Iverson’s crossover on an asphalt basketball, with a little bit of that senior year Aaliyah (RIP) concert mixed in. You won’t be able to identify every ingredient in my experimental thriller/ode to Virginia music/paranoid warning of our modern Big-Brother-Is-Watching tech. You might catch my unapologetic admonishments of police brutality and media neglect of murdered/missing brown girls. You will definitely laugh at the random trivia (yes Cap’n Crunch has a first name). That’s another story power, combining disparate elements to create something new and whole. It’s alchemy.

Mostly, I harness the powers described to give you fun stories. To keep you flipping pages well past your train stop or bedtime. I’m not ashamed or modest when it comes to my entertainment value. Though, there are other ways to manipulate that power, as many do. Those who fight white supremacy, and homophobia, and misogyny, and ableism. You know, resistance stories. 

Wow. It’s mind-boggling when you think about it. Wanna know what the power of story can’t do?

Be contained.

Not in Ivory Towers. Not by billion-dollar walls.

Because, as I said at the beginning, story is power for the (formerly) powerless.

And there’s more than enough to go around.

Lamar Giles is the author of Overturned, which was a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers; Fake ID, which was an Edgar Award finalist and a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers; and Endangered, which was also an Edgar Award finalist. His latest book Spin will be available January 29. Lamar is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. He resides in Virginia with his wife.

This article is part of the Scholastic Power of Story series. Scholastic’s Power of Story highlights diverse books for all readers. Find out more and download the catalog at Scholastic.com/PowerofStory. Check back on School Library Journal to discover new Power of Story articles from guest authors, including Tonya Bolden, Ahn Do, book giveaways and more.


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