2012 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I
Dear Mr. Lubar,
Though I am in an enrichment reading program at my school, ironically, I don't like to read. One day while I was at my local library with my mom, trying desperately to convince her that comic books and gaming cheat code books did count as reading, she showed me your book, My Rotten Life, Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie. She convinced me to take it out, with the promise that she'd read it to me at night. Yes, my mom still reads me bedtime stories. Though I was reluctant, I thought the cover looked pretty cool and the premise was intriguing. And if I didn't like it, I figured I could zone out while she read.
The problem started after the first page. I was hooked! As the chapters flew by I could totally relate to Nathan and his friends, Mookie and Abigail. I stopped waiting for my mom to read it to me and began devouring it myself. I brought it in the car to read before and after school. I even brought it with me to the bathroom!
When I finished the first book I was beyond excited to hear that the second book was out. However, my library didn't have it yet. That didn't stop me though, I actually begged my mom to get it for me. She didn't even hesitate. I was finally asking for a book. My local librarian promised to order each new one in the series as they were released and she called me each time one arrived. I can't even tell you how sad I was when I realized "Enter the Zombie" was the last in the series. I almost ripped my own head off!
Having been bullied in my previous school, I knew how eager Nathan was to fit in and to be the "cool" guy. I understood his actions and how he responded to the bullies. I cheered when he vomited on Ridley. Being dead and a spy didn't change the fact that he was still a kid and as kids we all want to fit in and we all want to get back at the kids who make us feel like we don't.
I think the most important lesson I learned from Nathan Abercrombie was that being popular isn't all it seems. I wanted to be popular for so long. But now I realize being popular isn't important, good friends are. I have the best friends in the world. They like me for me and not for what I can do. They appreciate my quirky sense of humor. I like them just the way they are too. We don't like all of the same things, but we give each other space to be who we are. We support each other without judging each other. Most importantly we'd do anything for each other. Just like Nathan did for Abigail when he saved her life even thought it meant giving up his own.
I did get squeamish as you described Nathan's rotting body and how his body parts fell off. Reading about how he glued his body parts was pretty disgusting. But the most vivid, disturbing description was when he hung upside down and pressed on his stomach to vomit out the oysters. Gross!
I enjoyed the secretive B.U.M agency and Mr. Murphy. I love spies and have always thought it was a pretty glamorous job. Nathan certainly helped me see this differently. From being stuffed into cans of spaghetti sauce to being thrown out with the garbage, it's not all it's cracked up to be. But having good friends and an excellent book is what makes each day a true adventure.
2012 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II
Dear Natasha Friend,
She told me she was fine. She told me not to worry. But deep down I knew that behind her big brown eyes she was not fine. Her skin was bruised and painted in scratches. Her cold hands grasped for help. Her eyes were heavy and tired. She was drifting and no one could stop that current.
She wouldn't look me in the eye, because she knew that I knew that it was my fault. We were best friends, but how could we continue to be so close, if every time I looked at her I felt that I had ruined her. She was anorexic. And I was the reason.
I wasn't perfect, far from it. My gapped teeth and my long arms were awkward. Sure I was thin, and am thin. I was popular. But, I was far from perfect. I felt like I had destroyed her.
She would never tell me that she was trying to lose weight because she wanted to look like me, but she told everyone else. I couldn't stand myself or what I had done to her.
In your book Perfect, Isabelle showed me what was going through her head. She showed me why she was starving herself. Isabelle showed me that what my friend was doing wasn't my fault. I read Perfect thinking it was just another teen novel – the popular girls, the unpopular girls. However, Perfect showed me that my friend's anorexia wasn't my fault, that I did not do anything wrong, and that I shouldn't feel guilty.
After reading Perfect I felt renewed. I felt like I finally knew why everything I said to her did not seem to matter and why she was so silent – because no matter how many times I told her she was perfect or that she was beautiful, she did not believe me. She had stuffed her feelings deep inside and by reading Perfect I felt like I could figure her out and figure out why.
You wrote this book with such full meaning, to the point where I could understand Isabelle. Yet the part that totally transformed my view was Ashley, who showed me that it did not matter how much a person had, or how much it mattered to have everyone love you, because all it takes is a little bit of low self-esteem to make you hate yourself. Perfect made me realize that I shouldn't feel guilty, that I shouldn't punish myself for something that was so out of my control.
My friend has gotten better. She talks to me now about her feelings, because Perfect made me push myself out of the way and focus on her. I stopped hating myself for what I did and started finding ways to make her understand that I was right there, always ready to talk to her. Thank you for helping me see myself for who I was, and see my friend for who she is. Neither of us are perfect.
2012 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III
Dear Christopher Paolini,
It's been seven years since I began reading you're Inheritance Cycle in fifth grade. I can still remember the first time that I heard about Eragon. A young girl in my class came up to me and said "you should read this book, it is really good and look at the author's name, Kris-toe-fur Puh-low-knee." For the next several years I would believe that I had some strange connection with you via namesake, until I finally leaned that Paolini is actually pronounced "Pow-oh-lean-knee". Oh well, I guess our destinies aren't that intertwined.
I hope you don't find it startling that the reason I loved your books was for more that just an awesome name. But kidding aside, the only reason I even started reading Eragon was because of the small biography on the back cover. It stated that "Paolini began writing Eragon at age fifteen". At only ten years old, I understandably viewed all teenagers as some sort of quasi-deities. You were a symbol that showed me young people can write too, that there is nothing holding us back. And so I read your book. And read it, until every page was exhausted, every map scrutinized, and every Elven word internalized.
A year passed, and I read Eldest, a novel that to the eleven-year-old me, was much harder to read (which helped me grow as a reader in the long run). It possessed betrayals of favorite characters (such as Murtagh) and deaths of favorite characters (such as King Hrothgar). Nothing hurts more to a reader than having both happen at the same time (such as Murtagh killing Hrothgar). Then Eldest introduced a side of a character that even surpassed the famed Eragon in my eyes.
I found myself anticipating the chapters of Eragon's cousin, Roran Garrowsson more than I did for Eragon himself. To me, Roran represented how anyone can be extraordinary without having supernatural abilities. Roran showed an unmatched dedication to his family, and would stop at nothing for his love, Katrina. He was simple. He was a blacksmith. He didn't need any flashy spells or winged dragons to succeed, just a big, bad hammer. And I could connect with him because of it.
The first time I held your third book, Brisingr was when I discovered the Inheritance cycle was going to have a fourth book. This was extremely exciting for me, because I knew the adventure wouldn't be coming to a close just yet. Brisingr helped me find out exactly what I like about reading: finding new ideas no one could anticipate, and that fit the story perfectly. No reader could have guessed that Galbatorix would make the laughing dead, men enchanted to fight without pain, and yet the idea is so simple. The unfeeling soldiers had a strength that was also their weakness; they had no fear of pain, and were reckless for it. The idea of eldunarya, the hearts of dragons, had the same affect on me, allowing me to fit puzzle pieces together and giving a whole new feel to the world of Alagaësia. Galbatorix had the strength of thousands of dead dragons behind him, and that is what made him strong. And again, you showed me that, unexpectedly, being average isn't bad, when Roran Stronghammer saved Katrina from ancient beasts, when he used nothing but tactical advantage and taunts to slay an army alone, or when he wrestled the minotaur-like urgals with just his bare hands. Basically, Roran sent out the timeless message similar to the Beatles: "All you need it love".
I can say with conviction that you are the reason I have taken novel writing upon myself. I began at fifteen, like you. Although I'm not quite a published author yet, many friends, family members, and teachers have given me the confidence that my novel, The Broken Oath, may eventually be hardcover worthy (before I'm out of college, if I'm lucky). I thank you for being an inspiration to me and other young novelists. And one last thing, I am savoring each page of the last novel, Inheritance. I am not rushing into it like all of the others, because I can't imagine ever being finished with my favorite book series.
Sincerely, Christopher Maloney