These Words Matter: Jennifer Niven

In addition to being a writer, my mother was a voracious reader. She passed her love of reading and writing to me—actually, it was more than love. It was a passion for words. One of the earliest books I can remember her reading aloud was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

These Words Matter: Jennifer NivenI fell in love with Alice the first time I met her. Back then, we were the same age. She seemed to love cats like I did, and she only wore dresses like I did. She also had an enormous imagination, which was something my parents always encouraged in me. I was convinced my mom had written the book herself because here was Alice, this little girl who navigated the vivid world of her dreams with common sense and some impatience, while also liking cats and wearing dresses. She was so much like me.

Since birth, I was taught that I could be or do anything, that I was limitless, and Alice’s adventures showed me for the first time that this could be true. I’m an only child, and so much of what I loved to play at the age of six, eight, ten, was pretend. In my mind, I could go anywhere and be anything, just like Alice. I wanted to go to Wonderland too.

Maybe real-life rabbits don’t carry pocket watches and maybe everyday cats don’t disappear and reappear in trees, leaving only their smiles behind. Maybe flowers can’t sing or talk and caterpillars can’t give cryptic advice. But in the world of imagination, they can do all those things and more. This became especially important in fourth grade when we moved from Maryland to Indiana and I had to make new friends in a strange place I wasn’t sure I liked.

Alice is all the more special to me now because it makes me think of my mom, who died in late 2014.

I can pick up a copy of the book, open the pages, and suddenly I’m that little girl again, stepping into Alice’s shoes, hearing my mom’s voice as she tells me a story. This is one of the most wonderful things about books—they are timeless. You can step in and out of them again and again, at seven or seventy, and they will always be there for you, their worlds and words intact and welcoming, just like home.

Jennifer Niven is a full-time writer. She's written eight books, including All the Bright Places (2015) and the forthcoming Holding Up the Universe (October 4, 2016). When she's not working on her next novel, she's contributing to her web magazine, Germ, thinking up new books, and dabbling in TV. Basically, she is always writing. This year, Jennifer's All The Bright Places was a Zoella Book Club pick!

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