I pulled Jess Redman’s Quintessence from my bookshelf on Christmas Eve, and this book turned out to be everything my heart needed during winter break. It is a brilliantly crafted magical quest– one that reveals truths about anxiety and emphasizes the importance of friendship and self-discovery. Alma is an unforgettable character, and her Alma-ness might just inspire you to grow the light of your you-ness.

Quintessence: noun. the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class ; the aspect of something regarded as the intrinsic and central constituent of its character ; a refined essence or extract of a substance ; (in classical and medieval philosophy) a fifth substance in addition to the four elements, thought to compose the heavenly bodies and to be latent in all things.

The truth is, I allowed 2020 to dim my light. For many, 2020 was a year that brought more anxiety than peace. The homebody in me was giddy for a while, but I grew to feel bored and somewhat broken. My Melissa-ness started quietly fading. Like Alma, I felt glimmers of it over time, but there have been many hours, days, weeks, and months that I have been longing to rediscover my light.

My reading life had quieted until Quintessence called to me from my favorite shelves. The simple act of committing to a book and cozying up with a blanket gifted me a glimmer of Melissa-ness. Throughout the days I was reading, I happened to be in search of a word for the new year– one that fits into the personal puzzle I am trying to solve. Curating a list was not the difficult part. Connecting to a word felt challenging.

As I ventured through Four Points with Alma, I found myself comparing the dictionary definition of quintessence to the meaning I was crafting in my own mind. Perhaps this is the word for me, I considered more than once. When I reached page 279, Dr. Parry confirmed for me that quintessence is the word I am being called to connect with. . .

Quintessence is your you-ness distilled down to your truest parts. It is yours to discover, yours to grow, yours to share. Yet somehow–and this is where things get marvelously complex and wondrous–it is also the thing that connects you to everything else that is true. To the earth and the oceans, to the wind and the fire, to friends and family and strangers and enemies, to the very stars beyond, beyond, beyond! And that connection, oh, that is where the magic and the glory are dear soul!”

As I reflect on the imprint this middle grade novel has left on my own heart, I imagine the great impact it will have on countless young readers. Thank you, Jess Redman, for sharing Alma’s story, for inviting readers to discuss mental health, for reigniting my reading life, and for inspiring my first One Little Word. 2021 will be my year of self-discovery and interconnectedness. In 2021, I will write the story of my own QUINTESSENCE.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Published by Melissa Quimby

Melissa is a 4th grade teacher in Natick, Massachusetts. She can often be found with an iced coffee and middle grade novel in hand! Connect with her on Twitter & Instagram - @QUIMBYnotRamona.

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