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> Letters About Literature

2010 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I

Dear Judy Blume,

I really enjoyed reading your book "Deenie." It is a marvelous book and I learned a lot about scoliosis and its treatments. I especially enjoy reading how Deenie embraced her medical problem. This book reminded me of my own personal health issues and taught me how to deal with it in a positive way.

In your book, Deenie was very brave to face her problems. Especially when she found out that she has to wear a body brace for four years or more. It was very strong of Deenie to not be afraid to face her problems and manage to find peace when her dream is broken. Like Deenie, I also have to wear a special brace. I was born with genetic foot condition which prevented me from doing sports and many activities. I would often hide my feet and purposely not wear my brace when I am with friends. It only worsens my condition. If my condition is not improved by the time when I am sixteen, I will need to be operated on. I am afraid to have this operation, because I want to be normal like all other kids.

Deenie is proud of who she is and not afraid to show others about her brace. She was able to joke about her conditions and even stand up for herself. I, on the other hand, am embarrassed to let anyone know about my condition. I told my friend once and she embarrassed me in from of everyone by saying I have weird problems with my feet. I was afraid to stand up for myself.

The book, Deenie, taught me how to deal with hardships, real life situations and challenges that we all face. It was a very moving book and I learned a lot about dealing with problems. I often think of what Deenie would do if she was in my situation and it gives me great courage. Thank you for writing a book that encouraged me in showing people who I really am.

Kristin Chan

2010 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II

Dear Jodi Picoult,

I am Lauren Kiessling, a small town, rural girl. As I read your book My Sisters Keeper my whole world became clearer. The book opened my eyes and made me see the whole world through clear glass. I became more open, loving, and caring. I came to see what possibilities lay ahead for me. This book made me strong and braver than I ever could have imagined. I was ready to fight for what I believed, ready to take on whatever tried to bring me down.

This book made me think, "What if it was my sister, my brother, my dad, my mom?" I became more grateful for the people around me, more willing to spend that little bit of extra time with my sister- bonding.

I learned so many life lessons from your book. I make sure everytime I leave someone that I say "I love you." I think to myself what if my last words to them were, "I hate you?" I don't know if I could live it down. I think this book is one in a million and it changed my life. This was the first book to do that. The first one to make a difference in how I lived, how my days went, and the way I acted. You started a chain reaction in my life. You made me realize what was important, and that my family was the greatest thing in my life.

This book meant the world to me having a grandma and a grandpa who both died of cancer. I know they put up a fight, and I would take them back in a second, but they fought enough. Their battle was over. After reading your book my perspective changed. I realized in the end they won. Yes, the cancer conquered them, but they both lived great lives. Your book made me learn to celebrate their lives and not mourn their deaths.

Reading your book made me a better person. I learned how much I could do to help people with cancer. I have now donated and participated in many cancer fundraisers. I didn't know that a girl like me who just lives in little old New Hampshire, could make a difference.

Your book moved my in a way no other book ever has. I think I felt every emotion there is to feel while reading this book. I laughed till I could not laugh anymore. I cried and cried 'till my mouth was salty and my face was as read as a plump tomato. My eyes stung like my legs after I juggle with a soccer ball on a cold day. I shut the book after finishing afraid I'd ruin the pages with my waterfall of tears. I knew it was just a book, but it didn't matter. It changed me.

Your book went against the saying "A picture is worth a thousand words," because even though there were no pictures in your book, some of the phrases were worth a thousand words or more. Thank you so much for writing this book. I'm sure you changed many other lives as well as mine.

Lauren Kiessling

2010 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III

Dear John Irving,

Once when I was at the eye doctor I was asked if I got headaches when I read. I simply replied no I don't because I do not read. My frustrated doctor let out a little giggle and tried asking me again only explaining he is not asking if I read or not but rather if I get headaches. Once again I replied no I don't read because I do not like reading. Making his final attempt my doctor explained once more he is not asking if I like reading or the amount I read but that if I get headaches when I do. I thought about this for a moment and simply replied I am not sure because I do not read enough.

Over the summer going into my senior year I was required to do summer coursework for my AP English calss. For many this is expected and easily accepted knowing advanced English classes often require extra summer work. For me however I dreading summer reading the entire sunny, warm season. 'Othello' and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' were the two books I would be forced to suffer through this year. I put off reading both until a family vacation to Belgrade, Maine. During family vacations most of the day is spent on the dock by the clear, cool lake feeling the warm summer breeze brushing past our skin, and reading. So on the end of the dock I sat, and I opened Owen Meany and began to read.

I have never experienced the love for a book like I did with 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'. Own Meany sucked me in and I found it hard to put down while I was reading. I found myself staying up late at night to finish a section just so I could find out what would happen to Own or Johnny next. John Irving, I will admit that I thought myself a little bit of a nerd for enjoying a book this much, however I did not care.

I found the character Owen Meany one that was easy to connect to. In life at one point or another we are all outsiders and Owen Meany was exactly that. His whole life he was picked on and made fun of for his size, voice and appearance. Reading this brought me back to my days in elementary school when I was teased by the other kids because of the scar I have had on my face since I was three. Reading about Owen being teased I fought the childish temptation of screaming out "stop it" at the children, because clearly I would look like a fool because a book can not hear what I am saying. However Owen was never fazed by the insults, but rather he let them slide off his shoulder as if it were nothing but a speck of dust that he could easily flick away, a characteristic we all wish we could possess. Although I have not been teased about my scar I am constantly reminded of it, from looking in the mirror to meeting new people, and I am still not fully comfortable in my skin knowing that when people look at my blue eyes, three seconds later they will be looking at the imperfection sitting on my cheek. I have always known and understood that we all have imperfections and that nobody is perfect, but it was not until I read 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' that I really started to become comfortable with my imperfections. Through reading 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' I realized how unimportant the little imperfections are and that people who care about them are the ones that don't matter and the people that don't care are the ones that do.

I am a very outgoing girl and I have lots of friends and make friends easily. But sometimes I choose to be alone because I like the time when I can hear myself think and get work done. My mom and dad are also very busy with work and carting around my younger brothers to extracurricular activities so I have also learned to be very independent. I was also able to connect to Owen in this way because he also lived a life of solitude at times, in the beginning it was not because he chose to but as he got older it was because he enjoyed the time alone. Owen marches to the beat of his own drum, he doesn't always do what is socially accepted, driven and had high expectations for himself, and wants to succeed in everything he does in the little time he has to live. I feel like Own and I have all this and more in common. Whenever I am completing a project I tend to have OCD and focus on every single detail until I am sure it is absolutely perfect. Although I know this is being over critical Own too expects a lot from himself and doesn't stop until he achieves his goals. This has shown me that it is sometimes OK to have a little OCD; Owen has showed me that I am in fact not a freak; Owen has shown me that I am not alone.

In my family I call my grandpa, my papou and my aunt, nuna, which other people don't always understand. This is because my mom's side of my family is Greek Orthodox and those names are the Greek equivalent of the English term. However beyond that I cannot say I am very Greek, I do not know how to fluently speak Greek, I don not go to church often and my family does not celebrate Greek traditions on a daily basis. For this reason I have felt that I fully have a connection with my roots. I also have always had a fear of life after death and I have always feared that because I am not very religious I will not be welcomed into the "promised land' we all know as heaven or that once we die there is nothing else and the rest of the world goes on turning forever without us. Owen Meany showed me that you do not have to connect through God through a specific religion and that religion is not always the biggest part of life. I have learned that my actions as a person and who I am is more important than where I go to church to worship. I have wanted to be a better person since reading 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' and I have come to realize that while I am around I want to make the best of my life and try to better the lives of others. Living in the moment is now what I try to do, and I try not to worry about the future.

'A Prayer for Owen Meany' takes place in a small town in New Hampshire. I can relate to this because I too live in a small town in New Hampshire. I have been to some of the places Owen has been, and although I know Owen Meany is a fictional character I can't help but think that I have walked on the same ground he has, breathe the same air he has, and even experienced the same feelings he has. Sitting at the end of the dock reading about Owen sitting on the beach watching the tide roll in I am with him because I am not only experiencing the same New England weather but because I have been there before. I have been to the board walk and Hampton Beach and I have been to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The images in this book remain vivid in my mind while reading because they take me back to my experiences in these places, described to me the same way that I remember them.

John Irving I would mostly like to thank you, to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' and the effects it has had on me months later. Now a quarter of the way through my AP English class I don't always dread reading, I look at reading as a chance to find a new book that I might enjoy as much as I did reading 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'. I'll never forget about the little abnormal, white boy and he encourages me not to be afraid to read, however reading in front of other people out loud is another story, maybe you could write another book to help me with reading out loud.

Sarah Schott

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