> Letters About Literature 2014
Dear Patricia Reilly Giff,
I was the girl with the ripped and tattered clothes and had a hard life. I felt dragged down and not able to develop in life. That moment I thought I could do something, I was knocked back down over and over repeatedly.
My dad died when I was three years old. The only person I could hang onto with a thread was my sister Serena. She was always there for me through the ups and downs. Hollis taught me that no matter who dies they would always be in my heart for as long as I shall live.
When I was with my biological mother, she mistreated me. I was taken away from my biological mother and was later adopted by my cousin, Tamara. She was very loving and affectionate. That’s when I read Pictures of Hollis Woods. I wasn’t the easiest kid to teach manners and all different kinds of things to, but all that mattered was if I was loved or not. Before that, I was never able to explore the world or any of the wild cities.
When I read this book, I knew how Hollis felt because she felt like I did, but she had nowhere to turn just like she was in a box. With one person to change her life, she stretched out of her box and got to explore the world like I am able to do now.
Hollis taught me to keep my chin up no matter what happens in life and to look at the bright side of things. She also taught me to take chances and risks to get what I want in life. It doesn’t matter if I have fancy clothing like rich kids have. Who cares? I don’t. It also doesn’t matter if anyone is pink, blue, orange, or purple. Hollis had a friend who was African American and it didn’t matter to Hollis.
It’s amazing what a book can do to change a life and this one changed mine. Sometimes families need to dig deeper in the heart to find a child love.
Dear Ben Mikealson,
I remember pacing the isles of books at the library, my neck sore from tipping my head sideways to scan titles, when the words that marched across the spine of your book leaped to meet my eyes. I knew right away it would be full of more than just life lessons and suspense and wisdom, like other books. I know it would be truth. But my gaze dropped to the mountainous pile of books my little arms could barely carry that I planned on checking out, and I promised myself I’d come back for your book another day. I did, eventually, because that book stuck out like a beacon in my night. It turns out, my instincts did not lie. Your book was one of those reads that brings purpose to my flying thoughts, which never seem to make sense until I put them on paper. It brought me some level of comfort, away from the sense of always being lost that stays settled inside me. Your book showed me that maybe I don’t need to be perfect; all I need is a little purpose to spur me on. Maybe this wasn’t your intention when you wrote Touching Spirit Bear. Maybe it makes no sense … but don’t worry, I can explain.
I have to tell you of the way your book sucked me in, and sent me spiraling and spinning into a world of perhaps one of the most powerful forces of nature … anger. I don’t know if everybody felt this when they read your book, but I remember Cole’s fury. Specifically, I remember my surprise at how well I recognized his emotions—they were my own. I guess everyone becomes angry sometimes. And I promise I don’t beat people up. But to be honest, rage is something I used to encounter often. I have a little brother, what do you expect? Well, in all seriousness, I am one of those people who believed that everything in the world should go my way, because—most of the time—I think I know best. I am also strict about fairness. I remember whenever my brother put one toe out of line—or anyone else—I’d feel that fire inside me, and before I know it, I’d be livid. But when I read your book, I met my anger face to face, and didn’t like what I saw. Cole’s recovery on the island didn’t happen in black ink, on the pages of a book. It happened inside me. When something antagonizes me, I think of the stick Garvey showed to Cole. I absolutely adore that analogy. I can’t look at my fury, I have to ignore it and steer my attention to the bright side. I tell myself that in two days, I won’t care about whatever frustrated me. I think of Cole. And this was only one of the ways your book showed me the truth.
Now that you understand what pulled me into your book, I have to tell you about how I wish I had read it earlier. Maybe my guilt goes back to fifth grade. You see, there was this fateful day when my teacher was out and a substitute of the worst kind took her place. All day—and days before—a friend of mine who is the role model of all nonconformists had been teased and taunted about her opinions. But sometime during math, they took things too far. I remember her water bottle was knocked off her desk, and she outstretched her arms, reaching for it, but someone snatched it up, and she yelled, ”Give it back!” but it was tossed to someone else, and in front of the whole class, her water bottle was volleyed around. She scrambled to grab it, I could see the desperateness in her eyes and feel it in me. I didn’t know what to do; I looked up at the teacher pleadingly, but she only watched. She was just as helpless as I. Eventually, she quieted everyone down and continued the lesson. I know that around five kids wrote letters to the teacher about what happened.
That girl who had been bullied, she didn’t come to school the next day.
If I had read Touching Spirit Bear before, I might have known what to do. After reading a whole book of, for lack of better words, morality, I believe that I should have stuck up for her. I understand that, like Cole, those kids probably lived miserable lives and wanted to feel powerful. Your book makes that all clear for me. And, just so you know, that same kid that lead the taunts against my friend is blatantly bullied right under the teacher’s eyes. No one does anything, no one sticks up for him. Not even me, because I am too scared. I am ashamed of this, and hope to improve myself. With the help of your book, and many others, I will try to make this happen.
Do you understand now how your book showed me the truth? I know now that life is elegant and ruthless, and altogether beautiful, just like the natural world Cole encounters on the island. I hope I can complete the transformation that was fueled when I read your book, just like Cole, even if it takes an Alaskan island to do so. I have always wanted to go to Alaska, by the way, and after reading your book the passion was only intensified. I hope someday, when I become a writer, I can pass on the truth you taught me, just like that Native American blanket. I used to feel like I was supposed to be a flawlessly moral and virtuous person, but now I feel like as long as I have something worth living for, my best effort will be just enough. Thank you for everything.
“I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at the party even though you could have… I need to know that these people exist.”
I just stole that line out of the book, but I don’t think that I would be able to come up with a combination of words as fitting by my own accord. The characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower often speak the words that I can never find. Each of Charlie’s simple yet profound statements have resonated within me and comforted me, because I know that he would listen and that he would understand. I need to know that these people like Charlie exist. Although Charlie cannot sit down and talk with me today, I know that he is alive in you. I know that he will understand.
I have always thought that there’s something off about me. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if it’s possible that I see the world through different eyes than everyone else. Like Charlie, I never connected well with other kids my age when I was younger. I was different from them in some inexplicable way that I have yet to understand. Just like Charlie, I once faced the curious stares of my classmates as I returned to school after a long stay in a psychiatric hospital. Only Charlie would understand the way the eyes of my classmates darted to the floor as I caught my peers searching me for signs of instability.
Like Charlie, I’m the one who gets lost in books and writes papers when she doesn’t need to. I’m curious about who picked the lint off this thrift shop sweater before it was mine. I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I have fallen in love with my best friend. I write poems about suicide. I wonder how the world looks from the perspectives of everyone around me, and I have felt infinite. “It’s strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book.” Sometimes I think that I am Charlie.
I read Perks at a time in my life when I needed someone to listen and to understand. All that I needed was a friend who could teach me that it is alright to be the person I am, and this is what Charlie became for me. Charlie showed me the broken pieces of myself and the crevices in my soul, and taught me what they meant. I felt less alone when I came to realize that he sees the world in much the same way that I do. The single difference is that Charlie is able to bring his emotions to life with words. He is able to sum up complex feelings in simple statements, without the clutter of big words, dramatic metaphors, or cliché. Charlie is raw passion. He is transparent in his sometimes brutal honesty. He is real. I have never met someone quite as genuine as Charlie.
After reading this novel, I understand that even genuine love doesn’t happen perfectly; and that you can tell when it’s real when you have nothing gain from a relationship, but that doesn’t matter. I know that I will never lecture my kids about the starving children in China, and I am determined to enjoy whatever life brings, because “it’s happening”. I know that “this moment will just be another story someday.” Like Charlie in the back of the truck, sometimes I raise my arms into the air and lose control of my emotional state for the sole purpose of being aware that I am there, and that I am alive.
Charlie never reveals in the novel to whom his letters are addressed, and I like to believe that he is sending them to me. I imagine that Charlie knows I will listen and understand, and that I didn’t try to sleep with that person at the party even though I could have. I think that Charlie knows we can understand each other, because neither of us see the world the same way as everybody else.
This letter is jumbled up a bit similar to the way Charlie writes, but I know that you’ll understand what I am trying to say. Please know that I am very grateful for the impact that your writing has had on my life. If I had to guess why you wrote this book, I’d say that it was for people like Charlie—people like me—who just need a friend.
This will be my only letter, so “please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough.
And I will believe the same about you.”