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> Letters About Literature 2019

2019 Winner - New Hampshire - Level I

Dear Mrs. Draper,
Some books you just finish. Others, you remember forever. I treasured “Out of my Mind”. It gave me a different perspective of my brother. Sometimes, I was very impatient with Dante, and I got annoyed when he took forever to answer a simple question. However, reading Out of my Mind provided me a new perspective. I was reminded of how much more difficult Dante’s life is compared to mine. My brother needs lots of help. Just like Melody. When he was born, doctors didn’t even think he would live. Dante was diagnosed with a very rare condition called hemimegalencephaly that caused seizures, and medications did not help. The right hemisphere of his brain was removed when he was four months old in an effort to stop the constant seizures. He needs help walking, talking, taking a shower, getting dressed, and even more. So it is difficult for him to do ordinary things that we think are so simple. When Melody, had meltdowns, it made me stop and think about how hard my brother’s life is. Especially the time when Melody’s fish tank tipped over and no one was there to help. She just kept screaming for someone to come and help but by the time Melody’s mom got there, the fish had died. I never really thought about how frustrated my brother would be when he didn’t get what he wanted. He will get very mad when something doesn’t go his way. Before I read “Out of my Mind “, I never knew what to do when he couldn’t control himself, and I got really overwhelmed I even started screaming because I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. I now know that yelling won’t help anything, it will just make him more angry. Now, I tell my brothers to stay back, and not get involved because more people will just make Dante outraged, and will make my two other brothers overwhelmed. “Out of my Mind” taught me a life lesson and brought me even closer to my brother. Now, I understand what he’s going through. He’s still a human being just like everyone else so there is no reason why I shouldn’t be patient with him. If I hadn’t read this book, then I probably would not have had the patience to learn that he wants me to make him a chocolate cake for his 16th birthday. If I hadn’t read this book, I probably would have continued to complain when he lets out his excited screams after earning a score 300 in his bowling game on the Wii.
Thank you.
Sincerely, Sofia B.

2019 Winner - New Hampshire - Level II

December 14th, 2018
Dear Laurie Halse Anderson,
I remember feeling like the world was crashing down; everything was too loud, too bright, too harsh; it was all just . . . too much. I remember knowing I had one safe place: the library, surrounded by thousands of books with millions of emotions and stories. I remember seeing a title that stood out like the dimmed sun when you are drowning under the dark oceans harsh waves; a title that promised an escape from the madness inside and outside of me. I trusted Wintergirls to hold the secrets no one else knew; to hold the dark side of my soul.
I trusted it to hold the part of me that was painted with shadows and pain, pinned together with words, and stitched with what caused my heart to break; the part of me that holds insecurities. I remember how Wintergirls had reached into my heart and pulled out all of my deepest insecurities only to tell me I wasn’t alone. I remember feeling safe for once because Lia knew what it was like to feel like you had to be perfect. While reading Wintergirls, I understood I wasn’t totally alone. Society presses everyone with unrealistic exceptions; girls must be thin and boys must be muscled. Everyone must be beautiful; girls must be smart, but not smart enough to understand that they deserve more and boys must be stoic, but at the same time show emotion. She was smart but not pretty, so society didn’t want her. He could make people smile on their worst day but he wasn’t handsome, therefore society didn’t want him.
Sometimes I’d stand in front of the mirror and pick out my flaws: too fat, too much acne, frizzy hair, pale skin, ugly face. Sometimes I’d look at the girls in my grade and feel broken because they’re so beautiful with curled or straight hair, clear skin, slender bodies, and pretty smiles while I was none of that. I was not society’s perfect picture. Maybe I’m not so good at dealing with it either; I hide in words, ink and paper, when I feel too pressured. I spill my mind to paper instead of people because, unlike paper, people can hurt you, betray you. Most people don’t really understand that, so when I met Lia I understood that maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt so sick of society's expectations. I started seeing the beautiful things instead of the ugly ones because the world is full of pain and sorrow and it seems that’s all anyone ever sees anymore. The beautiful things were simple, but they made the world glow; the smell of coffee in a cafe, the wind rushing through the leaves of the trees, how light reflects on water, and most importantly, people. Your words taught me that in some way, whether physical or mental, we are beautiful; the way someone walks or how they look when they see someone they love, how people look when they’re angry or when they’re laughing, happiness pouring out of them, how people’s eyes glow when they’re reading and they’ve reached the climax, even when someone is on the verge of breaking and they get the hug they need and they finally let go of what was burdening them. Everyone is beautiful because everyone has their own flaws and, truly, flaws make us different and extraordinary.
Some people just focus too much on their flaws. I was one of those people and, believe me, I still have my bad days when I’m overwhelmed by my flaws and I think that’s the problem. Society tells us everyday has to be those bad days when, in truth, they don’t; we are encouraged to deflect compliments with “Thanks, but I’m really not” and told that to be beautiful we have to push ourselves to the limit, whether it’s the limit of how much weight you can lose or the amount of skin you can show or the limit of changing yourself; we are told to push ourselves. We don’t have to do that though because we don’t have to change to be beautiful. I know that now. The difficulty is, how can we be beautiful in a world the delves no deeper than our skin? By the end of Wintergirls, I had an answer. We can’t. Which is why we must change society’s definition of beauty or else beautiful people like Lia will die trying to fit into the tight box of society’s expectations. Wintergirls helped me understand that I don’t have to perfect because there is no set definition of what “perfect” is. And if I am beautiful to myself, then I am all I need to be.
A wintergirl that found beauty outside of her skin,
Madelyn Bergen

2019 Winner - New Hampshire - Level III

December 14, 2018
Dear Jennifer Niven,
In eighth grade, my English teacher had the class record every book we read throughout the year on a reading log. I enjoyed it so much that I've continued to log books, and since eighth grade, I’ve read over three hundred books. Although most books have faded into the background, one remains crystal clear—All the Bright Places. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to grab the book when I saw it sitting on a shelf of my local library, despite getting good reviews of it. My bag was already overflowing with books, and my mom had somewhere she needed to be, so she was rushing me to leave. However, I succumbed to my instinct telling me to get the book, and I’m grateful that I did. It’s one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever read, with the story lingering long after the last word. Most adults undermine teenage love, saying what teenagers have isn’t true love, or that they don’t know what it is to have their heart shattered. For so long, I thought getting a boyfriend in high school wasn’t worth it, because we’d break up when we got to college, like many couples do. I was afraid of getting my heart fractured. I’d scoff at couples who said “I love you” to each other, or cringe when I saw PDA in the halls. In reality, the teenage years are a whirlwind of feelings as teens figure everything out for the first time and struggle to fit in. They experience falling-outs with friends, first kisses, and breakups. Every emotion is heightened—love, hate, and even heartbreak. That doesn’t make teenage love any less worthy, and through Violet and Finch’s connection, I’ve discerned that. You have a beautiful way with words, and the love Violet and Finch have for each other drips off the page. As their relationship grows, Violet starts opening up to Finch, and with his help, she begins to heal. Consequently, Violet helps Finch, who plans to die, find a reason to hold on a little while longer. Because of them, I see that maybe, a high school romance isn’t so bad, and I shouldn’t be scared of love. Sometimes, I should let my heart decide what I want, rather than my head. It also shows me that young love isn’t to be taken lightly, and has the power to change worlds. One thing that makes your novel so wonderful are the characters, who are so three-dimensional and human. One specific person who has my heart is Amanda Monk, although she may be a minor character. I see myself in her, because we both put up a gilded front, but what’s underneath is much darker. In Amanda, everyone sees the pretty, perfect cheerleader. What they don’t see is her eating disorder, or how she tried to kill herself. On the surface, I seem to be so put together. What people don’t see is that I have days where I think I’m inferior, where I overthink everything and have breakdowns. As people dig deeper, the messier I am, just like Amanda. No one expects us to be broken beneath the surface, but we are. Violet Markey’s pain also felt personal to me. Six years ago, the most impactful event in my life happened—I moved to India. Although I moved back to America, for a while, I had to live in a new continent, in a new apartment, and go to a new school. I had to leave behind everything I knew, and I was so devastated, I couldn’t stop crying. After Violet loses her sister in a car accident, she shrinks into herself, and stops doing everything she loves. Like her, I’m an avid writer, and when my grief struck, I also stopped writing. Although I haven’t experienced something as tragic as what Violet’s gone through, or had grief that cuts as deep as hers, I understand her loss, because I felt a tiny bit of it. I became a different person, one more subdued, and with no interest in anything. This book beautifully illustrates how people cope with grief, and showed me that I could overcome the feeling, even if it felt impossible. Most importantly, thank you for reminding me that life is worth it, to always keep fighting, because there’s a million reasons to keep living. As much darkness as there is in the world, there will always be more light, so many more bright places. There’s a quote in the book that goes, “...It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind.” This book has given me many important things, and now it’s up to me to leave something behind, something that reaches the magnitude of it. Whatever I leave, I promise it’ll be lovely.
Sincerely, Nilaani Pazhaniappan

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