Level 3--1st Place
Dear Victor Hugo,
I've been in jail before, but not for a crime. I was a prisoner of my own mind. Nineteen
years had been Jean Valjean's time. Had Les Miserables not come, LIFE would've been mine.
You wondered, "What had taken place in his soul?" I could tell you, but OH! How awful it was
to have known!
My term began in fifth grade, when I slammed the metal door shut. It started at school,
where clouds of whispering and jeering made their cuts. A couple weeks later, I was going out to
recess one sunny, autumn day. Someone I didn't even know slid past me: Cough. Cough. "Gay. ..
Towards the end of the year, my classmates graffitied the back of my shirt with chalk.
Screeching and laughing, they chased me as I told them in vain to stop. This was when the seeds
of resentment first began to grow. This was when the acid of injustice began to creep up from
below. I became the bull's-eye, and the other kids all took their shots. What did I ever do to
deserve this? Why me? I thought.
One year later, I threw away the key. To begin with, I was slammed with dodgeballs
during P.E. Then, every day when I opened my home-brought lunch, my classmates would
interrogate me until it hurt, "What're you eating? It looks disgusting. Is that dirt? Dirt? DIRT?"
In the classroom, the girls would cast me oblique glances. Whenever I was near, they'd sneer and
say to each other with feigned blandness, "Do you see that? She doesn't shave her arms! Ewww!
Ewww! Ewww!" Snicker. Snicker. Ha-ha-ha. But more poison would spew. On a bitterly cold
December day, I wore a sweatshirt to keep myself warm. Some of the fuzz must have stuck to
my hair, and right away, in buzzed the swarm. "What's that nasty white stuff on her head? Is it
lice? Humph, she never showers," they said. On an afternoon after Winter Break, my class was
being dismissed. I was filing out the door, and they decided to make some more of their own
bliss. "Hey! Watch where you're going!" someone shouted from behind. I felt a sharp elbow jab
into my spine. I tried to keep my balance; my arms flailed on each side. Alas, I watched the
ground careen towards me with disbelieving eyes. I heard a thud and laughter and stomp, stomp,
stomp over my books. I tasted rancid sobs that were stuck in my throat. The next morning, my
knees looked like Seurat's "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte." Blue, green, and purple pixels
morphed at a distance so you'd see fist-sized bruises shaped like ink blots.
School smothered me in a cocoon of sweltering fermentation. I loved to learn, but I was
learning in fear and intimidation. The mold of revenge slithered into my dank, dark mind. I saw
evil around every corner; I started to hate mankind.
Things only got worse in seventh grade, when I shrunk my own cell. I huddled in a
mildewed corner and tried desperately to change myself. A voice shouted at me that I wasn't
good enough. I slinked through the hallways while my thoughts fumed in a huff.
In eighth grade, I covered the window so there'd be no light. I groped in darkness and
learned to love the night. I loathed society and thought everything was vice. I was inhaling
miasma and exhaling shards of serrated ice. I felt myself drowning in my own gloom. The
concrete walls in my head contracted further until I had no room.
Then, in ninth grade, a saving grace swooped in. More than a century and a half after you
had written it, I had found your book. The words of Les Miserables wrapped around me and
implored me to look. You wrote of Jean Valjean, "He looked at his life, and it appeared to him
horrible; at his soul, and it appeared to him frightful." An electric current jolted me; a flash of
lightning exploded in my mind. I gazed at my reflection and saw that I was turning into a
monstrous kind. I realized then that I had to get out; I knew that I needed to free myself.
I devoured your epic and clawed at the bars. Then, I read this, and the image gripped my heart:
"Javert answered, 'Take your revenge.'" But when Jean Valjean had his tormentor
helpless and bound, he did not exact vengeance pound by pound. He cut Javert loose and forgave
his old enemy. The passage continued, "".he said, 'You are free.'"
The Earth tilted on its axis and righted itself. An earthquake tore through my prison, and
the choking waters drained through this yawning shelf. I don't need to get even, and as I am, I'm
fine! I twirled and laughed and kicked the cell door open wide. Poof! And the bar of revenge
crumbled away-disappeared. Poof! Poof! Poof! Poof! Gone, too, were those of anxiety, self-
doubt, hate, and fear.
Never before had I read a tale of my own life. I was Jean Valjean, and I saw through his
eyes. I ran through streets and scaled impossible walls. I released Javert and carried Marius after
his fall. Your characters and their emotions seared me to the bone. For the first time, I wasn't
drifting; I wasn't alone. Your book was my silver candlestick; it lighted my way out. It guided
me off of a hate-encased route. Your book had liberated me from a muddy, sordid pit, and also
through your pages had I learned how to fully live. Jean Valj ean had pulled F antine and Cosette
from the dregs of misery. He had no regret-s, and that was why on his last hour, he could say, '" I
die happy.'" Your book opened my eyes to the beauty in this world. I knew I needed to help
others understand this truth-to hold this precious pearl.
That's when I met another who, like the old me, had no faith that goodness would prevail.
She hated society and longed to hear it wail. She had obsidian black hair and keen blue eyes. Her
smile could outshine the stars, though you'd rarely see it fly. She was scorned and rejected, alone
but not wholly lost. See, drawing was her passion; art was her love. But, she was a pessimist. I
could see that she needed some cheer, so I made her a present for the end of the year. I crafted a
tasseled graduation cap and attached to it a paper rose with a letter inside. On her last day of high
school, I gave it to her and said, "Surprise!" Out came her luminous smile. She was enraptured
with unadulterated glee. My heart was warm and my soul sang with joy as she deeply thanked
me. I waved, said goodbye, and told her to look inside the rose, for the letter contained
everything else I wanted to say-encouragement, wishes of good luck, and messages about being
brave despite what the future may hold. Because of your book, I had unshackled my mind and
brightened another person's day. Because of your book, I had learned how to be free and happy
in the best possible way.
"If vivait"-he lived-you wrote. Now, I live; I am strong and bold. Whenever "Javerts"
decide to doggedly hunt me down, I will heal the pain, cast off resentment, and stand my patient
ground. I will lift my face to the horizon and anticipate the dawn. I won't lock up myself again; I
will move on. For a while, I had been one of"les miserables"---the miserable ones-but because
of your story, all that has changed. Now, I dance instead of sulk when the weather turns to rain. I
am at peace with others and myself. I know that there will be trials, but if I maintain my freedom,
all will end well. Let the tempest rage! Let the waves roll! I've got your novel, my anchor for the
Free to live,
Level 3--2nd Place
Dear Louisa May Alcott,
There have been many books in my life that have contributed to the shaping of
my character, actions, and morals, but none of the magnitude that your novel, Little
Women, has had on my life. When I first sat down to read Little Women I was a 7th
grader, reading it for the sole purpose of completing a classic novel assignment. I will
say that I did love literature before reading your book and did not have a hatred for
books previously, but I absolutely did not set out to have the life changing experience
that I did. By the time I had reached the last page of your story, I had cried, cheered,
and thrown the book across the room. I connected with the characters in a way I never
had before and my heart was torn to pieces when I realized the story had an end. Now,
as a sophomore in high school, this book is still impacting me everyday. While reading
this book, my eyes opened up to who I really was and who the woman that I aspire to
be in my future truly looks like. I have learned of the many paths open on the road of
life, that everyone you will ever meet has a flaw, and that love is an absolute necessity
in life .
Growing up I have always struggled with the question looming over my head,
"What do you want to be?". I dread this question, and the thoughts and anxiety it brings
me. I am always searching for what the answer is and scared that because I don't have
one, my life will have no purpose, no significance. After reading your book, I had an
epiphany. Jo, Amy, Beth, and Meg were such drastically different people. They all lead
different lives, aspired to be different things, and had such contrasting personalities. But
I realized, they all ended up happy. That is the simple truth of the matter. There are
many different roads you can travel in life. There is not a set path you can't stray from
without creating severe consequences. Your life can have many different outcomes and
that really is okay. You don't need to struggle with who you are, you are you! As long as
you stay true to yourself as all these extraordinary little women did, your life will end up
the way it should. I do not know what I want to be, and I am okay with that. Your book
showed me that I can choose from many different paths, my path can change, it can
bend, but as long as I trust myself, it will not break.
As a young girl navigating through the troubling world of teenage popularity, I
was always struggling with my self-image and insecurities, both about my physical
appearance and personality, as every girl does. I saw the "popular girls" as something I
should aspire to be, the answer to every problem and situation being, "If I could just be
like them, everything would be perfect." Reading Little Women I was able to delve into
the lives of other girls going through the same thing I was. They all struggled with
wanting to be someone they weren't and were always wishing they were better. Amy is
the character that truly taught me to accept my flaws and realize that everyone else has
their own too. She was the beautiful, perfect, poised lady everyone else wanted to be
and envied for her grace. I was surprised to see that she, of all people had
imperfections. She had a temper, was snobbish, and sometimes just plain terrible. In
other books I had read, the main characters were always brave, beautiful, and kind,
having little flaws. Seeing that every character in Little Women had their faults, no
matter how perfect they seemed, I realized that in real life everyone else does too. The
gorgeous popular girls had flaws, just as I did. Little Women helped me see that these
girls didn't belong on a pedestal and that I did not need to worship them. They are just
human, they aren't perfect and no one is. Everyone has trials and problems, but we
need to embrace them and love ourselves for who we are.
Because of Little Women I realized that love is imperative. As soon as I started
reading, I realized that I connected the most with Jo. I am independent, geeky,
opinionated, and often stubborn, just as she was. While I don't oppose the idea of
marriage as Jo did, the idea of love and finding that love has always been hard to wrap
my head around. I am very independent and find it hard to see myself relying on others,
and that makes me push some people away, not sharing enough of myself with them.
Learning about Jo's life and personality, I was able to truly see myself in her. She was
also standoffish when it came to love and the idea of falling in love terrified her, as it
does me. When Jo finally got married, I learned the first lesson of love Little Women
taught me. Jo, of all people, found love and was able to overcome her fears and tear
down the walls she had put up. This helped me realize that no matter how independent I
am, I will always need the love of others and one day I will find the person that is able to
break down my walls. As I continued to contemplate this, I discovered the second
lesson. Long before she was married, Jo had already found love. She loved her family
with all of her heart; she felt their pain as well as their joy. This helped me realize that I
already have so much love surrounding me. Love from my family and friends that will
never fade or change. I do not need a husband to have love, it has always been around
me. It has shaped who I am, built me up when I was broken, and helped me shine in my
moments of glory. In general, I learned that love, for others and from others, is a
necessary thing in life. Without love you cannot function and reach your full potential, no
matter how self-reliant you think you are.
Little Women has completely changed the way I view life. Your simple story of
real, approachable characters has snuck into my heart and I am thankful for that. While
your book didn't show me my love for reading, it did something even more important. It
set a higher, more select standard for what a profound novel really is. A book shouldn't
just be dramatic, scandalous, or humorous. It should be earth shattering. It should haunt
you and the decisions that you make every day of your life. Little Women has done that
for me and I thank you with all of my soul. I can't express its total influence. To quote
Little Women, "I want to do something splendid ... something heroic or wonderful that
won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it and mean
to astonish you all someday." You have done just that. I wish you were still here to even
catch a glimpse of the impact your book has had on millions of lives, including mine.
You have left a legacy behind you, something I aspire to do. Long after you're gone,
your book continues to change the world, the most meaningful part of anyone's life.
Level 3--3rd Place
Dear George R.R. Martin,
When I first jumped on to the bandwagon of A Song of Ice and Fire after hearing of the
popularity of Game of Thrones, I never expected a series to be so complex, yet so
relate-able. However, I have not been to war, nor have I experienced the life of a world
tom apart by falling kingdoms. But the characters you have so carefully designed and
planned out have their own personalities that I never expected to so greatly respect.
Though, it wasn't the heroic acts or the decisions made by the characters that impacted
my thoughts- it was the simple act of speaking that created their impact on me.
"There are no men like me. Only me (Jaime Lannister, A Clash of Kings)." So often
throughout society it is urged that someone follow the status quo under the guise you will
be an original being by doing so. As a normal teenage girl trying to figure out who I will
grow up to be, the pressure to be a representation of what is perfect in society is all too
obvious. Whether this representation is either what size someone is, how someone dresses
or styles themselves, or even what exact brand of makeup concealer one uses, the present
media changes too quickly and too often for anyone to be 'perfect' in the eyes of the
society. I personally struggle with my self-image and often find myself watching others
that I respect to try and decipher how they act and what makes them how they are. But
upon reading Jaime Lannister's quote, it finally dawned upon me that no one is able to
meet the world's expectations. Jaime, the golden boy of Casterly Rock, could not even
keep up to the high expectations of the world of Westeros. When he acted and did was
was right for the world by killing the Mad King, Aerys, the houses and lands of Westeros
only saw that he had forsaken his vows and killed the king he had sworn to protect. No
one took into consideration what would have befallen the land had he stepped back and
kept his sword sheathed. Society treats hardly anyone fairly, no matter fact or fiction.
Whether you find it strange or not, I take comfort in the fact that not everyone is perfect
and that we are all doing what we can to prevent the world from dragging us down.
"Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can
never be used to hurt you (Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones)." Though I myself am
not a personal victim of abuse or bullying, I can easily admit that I myself am my own
worst enemy. When I lay in bed late at night, alone with only my thoughts to keep my
company, I often lose sleep over my own worries and thoughts. The thoughts that
everyone keeps buried in the back of their minds often come forth like an unstoppable
fountain and leave one with the sensation of drowning in their own self pity and loathing.
I often find myself mentally beating myself up for how I act, how I look, and what makes
me the person I am. But, in the morning when I think back on the night before, I realize
that there is nothing I can do to change the inner workings of my mind, for that is what
makes me a individual. When I first read Tyrion's famous quote last fall, it changed my
outlook on who I am. The world will see you as you are and no doubt judge you for it,
and the world may even try to make you feel guilty for what you have no control over. By
accepting my flaws and quirks, I am no longer affected by what the world thinks of me,
and this allows me to better myself as a person without the hatred of the world pressing
upon my shoulders.
Your novels have allowed me to take strength in who I am and in what makes me human.
It is today, because of your words, that I am confident enough in myself to let the world
think what they want without myself caring about their opinions.