[This piece originally appeared on my writing tumblr, which I no longer use, but was written in high school and expanded on in adulthood; it has been edited slightly]
Hermione Granger saved me. I know; a fictional character saved me. Sounds cliché, right? Well, it’s true.
Growing up in a generation where cool kids disobeyed their parents, wouldn’t read anything unless it was Cosmo, and smoked stolen cigarettes behind the bowling alley, I was a nerd. My big sister’s friends would come over and they would listen to bands I’d never heard of, talk about boys they had kissed, and discuss how dorky some of their classmates were. According to their standards, with my too-round glasses and my thrice-owned hand-me-downs and my nose always stuck in a book, I was a grade-A, certifiable nerd.
I worried about this. A lot. I knew we were poor, and I knew I wasn’t popular, but those things didn’t get to me. But knowing that I was considered a nerd threw me into the strangling hold of anxiety. I constantly fussed about my hair. I refused to wear hand-me-downs that had more than one previous owner. I started wearing (a little too much) makeup. I ditched the too-round glasses for some slightly smaller (but still just as dorky, in hindsight) frames, and eventually switched to contacts. I stopped carrying a backpack and hauled my books around in my arms because the popular girls didn’t carry backpacks. But instead of trying to socialize and become popular, I turned to books for comfort.
Books didn’t judge me. Books didn’t care if my hair was just right or if my clothes matched. Books didn’t care that my pubescent awkwardness wasn’t nearly as easy to hide as other girls’ my age. Books just sat there, in my lap, like a cat; except these cats could go anywhere with me, and I didn’t have to clean up after them. I could laugh too loud or cry too hard, and my books didn’t care. Books were the best friends an introvert like myself could ever ask for.
Despite the comfort books brought me, I was alone. I was very aware of the looks I got from other girls at lunch, when I would prop myself up against a wall or under a tree or on a swing, book in hand, and block out the world until the bell rang. I was aware of the fact that at the school dance, when a boy actually came up to ask me to dance, I turned him down to sit comfortably next to the front door and read Moby Dick. I was aware that I was probably the only kid I knew who would get grounded from reading and be forced to go outside and play with my neighbor’s kids.
At the end of the day– books or no books– I was alone.
When I was twelve, I was introduced to the Harry Potter series. Growing up in a strict Seventh-day Adventist family, Harry Potter was banned from my house for a long time. My mom was convinced that if I was let into the Potter world, I would be sucked into witchcraft and would “start worshipping Marilyn Manson”. However, I managed to convince my best friend’s mom to get me all of the Harry Potter books that had been released, knowing that my mom would not have the heart to take a gift away from a child. Before school started on January 8, I had already read the first three books in the series and was just starting the fourth. And once I finished that book, I restarted the first book again, and reread them over and over until the spines of the books gave up and had to be taped together.
I was obsessed. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before: a magical world that I had never heard of; adventures I could only dream of; and a hero who started out as a poor, misunderstood boy, with his two friends—one of them a nerdy girl by the name of Hermione Granger. Unlike so many books that I had read, where the main female character was always popular or pretty, or otherwise became popular and pretty by way of a “life makeover” that had somehow passed me by, Hermione Granger was a nerd. She wasn’t gorgeous. She wasn’t popular. She wasn’t a rule-breaker.
She was me.
At first I hated Hermione. Just admitting that now brings a sick taste to my mouth. But it’s true. I hated the fact that we were so much alike. I hated the fact that she was so average, so plain, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t popular, she wasn’t perfect, and she wasn’t a damsel in distress. She knew who she was, and she wasn’t going to change that for anyone. She was unlike any female character I had ever come across and so much like myself, and I despised her. When there were rumors about who was going to die in the next books to come, I even hoped it would be her, because wouldn’t just be so devastating?
By the time Order of the Phoenix was out for preorder, we had moved to a new town, and I had joined a new school and made a couple of friends, but books were still my crutch. As was custom for many fans of the Harry Potter books, before any release, books or movie, I would reread the series. As I reached the Yule Ball chapter in The Goblet of Fire, something clicked. I don’t know exactly what had changed in my life, but while I sat and read that chapter for the umpteenth time, I ached for Hermione. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and hug her. All she wanted was one night where she wasn’t her normal, geeky self, and I could relate.
When I read Order of the Phoenix, my bond with Hermione strengthened. I understood her. I felt her. I was her. She was me. She made me stronger. She was a bookworm, yes. But she still had friends. She still had feelings. She still had adventures. That could be me. She even befriended crazy Luna Lovegood, knowing exactly what other people thought of her. Did she care? No. She was comfortable with the fact that she was a bookworm who had some weird friends.
I realized that Hermione was a strong female character; and she was a nerd.
Throughout the Potter series, Hermione mentions books and her love of them quite often. Harry and Ron even sometimes tease her about it. But instead of turning into a recluse, she carries on with her life, and still enjoys books just the same. I mean, even when Dumbledore died, he left The Tales of Beedle the Bard to Hermione; he knew that she would read the book and therefore find the Deathly Hallows symbol, ultimately leading Harry to defeat Voldemort.
Now, I’m not saying that because of Hermione, I became a witch and helped my best friend defeat a dark wizard. Sadly, even though I bought a wand in Diagon Alley last week, I’m a muggle. I can’t do magic. I’ve never had any adventures that involved saving anyone, and I’ve never once seen a house elf. I did, however, marry my ginger best friend, but that’s beside the point. Hermione didn’t turn me into some fearless leader. I still have anxiety. I still have no friends. I still prefer books to humans for all of the reasons I previously listed, and then some.
But I have no shame in being a bookwork. A geek. A nerd.
Hermione Granger was one of the first positive role models in my life, showing me a strong female character who loved books. Someone once tried to argue that Belle from Beauty and the Beast could fall into this category, but they fail to realize one thing—Belle was a damsel in distress, a princess, a girl trading her life for her father’s. Hermione was a bookworm, like Belle, but she was a heroine; she didn’t need a hero. She was, aiding in the fall of Voldemort aside, just a normal teenage girl who loved books.
Realizing that there were bookworms who weren’t totally helpless helped me. I was no longer ashamed of turning down sleepovers to stay home and read, but I also wasn’t totally opposed to putting my book down to go hang out with friends. I wasn’t embarrassed about spending lunch breaks with my nose in a book. I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I was a nerd.
Without Hermione, my life probably would have gone one of two ways: I would still be so completely obsessed with books, living with my mom instead of married, and have no social skills whatsoever because I simply never believed i myself; or I would have given up being a bookworm, deprived of human interaction, and joined in with what the “cool kids” were doing so I could fit in and have some friends.
Sometimes, I really don’t like myself. But, because of Hermione Granger, no matter how down I’m feeling, I know that I can always proudly say:
I am a bookworm. A geek. A nerd.