At age 10, Talia Leman helped raise more than $10 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Now the high school student and founder of RandomKid has written a moving memoir titled "A Random Book about the Power of ANYone." In this excerpt, Leman introduces readers to her little brother Zander.
got she rallied thousands of students in the U.S. to raise over $10 million to contribute to the survivors and victims of Hurricane Katrina.
High school student Talia Leman is convinced that anyone — repeat, anyone — has what it takes to make a difference in the world around them and be greater than they might imagine possible. In this excerpt from her poignant and honest new memoir, "A Random Book about the Power of ANYone," Leman introduces readers to her very special little brother, Zander.
Trust me when I say I never meant for this to happen. At the time, I was only trying to get through the fifth grade.
But it did.
This is a story about the power of ANYone.
It’s about a random kid who believes we can do anything we want in life, like not eat cottage cheese. A kid who loves science, but goes into a fog over the details of history. A kid who is a clumsy, offbeat dancer and a clumsy, offbeat speller, but who believes that clumsy is no reason not to dance and write anyway. A kid who got other kids to band together for a single cause and rivaled our giving power with top U.S. corporations. A kid who constantly gets in trouble for talking at school, but now gets asked to talk — all over the world.
And that kid is me. My name is Talia. I’m a random kid and this isn’t just my story.
It’s our story.
Though it didn’t start out that way. It took ten years for our roads to converge, and it couldn’t have happened in a better place than Iowa because it sits right in the middle of the heartland. The exact place where my mom’s family settled three generations ago. They didn’t choose their hometown based on the climate, the school systems, or the weirdest fried thing sold at the state fair; no, they just instinctively “knew.” Apparently my dad’s family were better mechanics; they live in California.
Had it been up to me, I would have chosen Iowa. For me, it is as fabulous as it is flat. We have 180 degrees of sky. No buildings to obscure our view of that big blue wonder. Just wide-open spaces that make it the perfect place to grow corn or soybeans ... or a family.
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Yep. Where we live there are more pigs than people. But the people we do have are friendly — the kind that wave at you by lifting their hand at a 30-degree angle off the steering wheel when they drive by, regardless of whether they know you or not.
And that brings us to my family.
I’ll get to the one hanging from the ceiling in a moment. My dad is a plumber, except he works on humans. And when you work on humans, they change the word to Latin and add an ologist, making him a gastroenterologist.
The bottom line is that it’s the least appealing part of the body anyone should ever want to make a career out of. My dad wears suits with a perfectly muted sheen, crisp shirts, graceful ties, and fashion-forward shoes. He’s articulate and refined yet he’s a robust singer and a huge Beatles fan. And he can mimic just about any sound that comes out of any creature.
My mom is a make-it-happen mom, so much so that she keeps her make-it-happen hands accessible to her at all times, sporting a backpack purse (still) and walking our dog with his leash attached to the drawstring of her running shorts. And she prefers to do whatever it is she does from the backseat of our lives.
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That might lead you to believe that she is reserved, but au contraire. She dances out of theaters in great display because she can be completely taken over by life. She is funny and creative, and she can get people to do crazy things right along with her. Like when she had the man sitting behind her on an airplane tie her head to the headrest with the arms of her jacket because she forgot her neck pillow and wanted to doze without nodding forward.
And that brings me to my little brother, Zander. He’s four and a half years younger than I am and exceptionally entertaining. He can read 700 pages in a weekend, giving him an affinity for prodigious words.
For him, the real world and the pretend world overlap. He mingles with the Greeks, the Jedis, and the ancient Egyptians, and, in any given moment, he is Sherlock Holmes, Anubis, Spock, or a Sasquatch. In that way, he lives in the widest universe anyone could ever imagine.
He is grateful for things for which no one would think to be grateful, and bothered by things most of us don’t even notice. And he expresses his emotions whenever and wherever. Some people don’t know what to do when meeting someone who doesn’t follow the “people-rules” very closely.
We have never been able to put a footnote on what’s up with my brother. Some assume it’s an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and some assume it’s PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified), which is the professional way of saying, “I dunno.”
Trying to figure it out gets in the way.
He refers to his particular assortment of traits as his “gift-abilities.” Like his knack for the truth — even when it’s not a good idea. Once he told my teacher, “My sister thinks you’re a big bad wolf.”
There are two reasons I wanted you to meet my family: First, if your car ever breaks down in Iowa, you’ll at least know somebody. Second, they’re the whole reason I wrote this book.
Well, mostly Zander.
It turns out that sometimes the best gifts in life are wrapped in deceptive packaging. They are not contained in a box or a bag, and they are not something you can buy or create or even experience. They are not something you asked for or even imagined you wanted. But this kind of gift can end up wrapping you with a bow so big and beautiful that you become more than you could have or would have without it.
Zander is that kind of gift. And he brims with gift-abilities. If he had been the kind of brother who simply sat at the dinner table next to me, tossing snow peas in my hair when my mom wasn’t looking, and caring more about baseball or Legos or hermit crabs than what I was doing, then none of what I’m about to tell you would have happened.
Reprinted from “A Random Book About the Power of ANYone” by Talia Y. Leman by arrangement with Simon and Schuster. Copyright © 2012 by Talia Y. Leman.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive