Level 2--1st Place
October 16, 2013
As you’re flipping that last page, you long for there to be more to the story. You hold that book tight, thinking about what you’ve just read. In special cases, your whole perspective is changed. However, in rare cases, you act differently towards others, carrying out your whole life in a different manner; and your book, Before I Fall, is as rare as can be.
The way I treated people before reading Before I Fall and now are as different as night and day. Before, I never thought I was judging people; I just figured I was making “realistic” assumptions. After reading Before I Fall, I compared Sam and her friends to the most popular girls in school. I always thought that crowd just liked attention and only cared about themselves. But after seeing what Sam went through, I felt sorry for her. She went through the pain of trying to become something she wasn’t, just to be accepted. This caused Sam to live every moment of her life worrying, scared that the old Sam would come out and say something stupid, casting her down on the popularity scale. By reading Sam’s story, I saw who the real Sam was, and I started to wonder, are some of the popular girls in my school dealing with the situations like this, acting like something they’re not? I learned to not be mad at those “mean” girls, but to feel sorry for them. I now have more respect for those girls, and knowing they go through a lot more than they show, I find I want to lend a hand and help them accept their real personalities.
Aside from learning not to make hasty judgments about people, I now carry out my whole life in a different manner. Although I used a confident persona, secretly I thought I was bad at everything, like I was failing in life. Not only that, but I got offended by any snarky comment someone mentioned about me, taking it very seriously. I then got angry with myself for being oversensitive. After that, I would think there’s something wrong with me for taking these little things to personally. I then would become even more enraged with myself for thinking I was the victim. Maybe the person who said the sarcastic comment had a lot on their plate. I should feel sorry for them, not me. It was a vicious circle I couldn’t escape, occurring over and over. It haunted me every day, until I read Before I Fall. I observed how Sam began accepting that she wouldn’t be perfect at everything. She began caring for others more, creating that perfect balance of respecting others and yourself. Because of Sam, I now try to live my life with that balance, acknowledging others’ problems, yet still taking care of my own. I can’t imagine how I used to get through my days before finding this balance, struggling to say a few words, putting on that fake smile, tricking others into believing I was okay. I can’t imagine living a life any other than the more balanced one I’m living now.
Your book, Before I Fall, was no ordinary book. It didn’t just change my perspective, it made me act differently. I live my whole life differently. I can see the deeper level of a person, knowing they’re struggling at this very moment, just as I was before. You’d think that connecting with a book is comparing the story to your everyday life, but it’s more than that. Your book, Before I Fall, taught me to use the comparison of my life with Sam’s to make myself a better person all around. Your novel goes beyond the ordinary; it’s as rare as can be.
Level 2--2nd Place
Dear John Green,
You say, through Hazel. in The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) that some infinities are greater than other infinities; over the past several months after reading your book, this has made me reflect on my own personal infinity and the people who have made its existence possible. For the first ten years of my life, I lived in Overland Park, Kansas before I moved to another state. Kansas means so much to me; she began my infinity within childhood, and I can never thank her enough for that. However, my obsessive love for Kansas and my friends there had become an anchor, a burden keeping me from moving on to other things and people. I was too stupid to realize that letting others in would in no way lessen my love for the people that I had already accepted as friends.
I spent years stopping myself from continuing to expand on my infinity because I had reached a point so low that I believed it was over and that nothing could be done. Of course, at that time I didn't know that this was my "infinity"; I merely saw life from the perspective that I could never be as happy as I was in Kansas, so I stopped trying after a while. Those are the years that I will never get back, potential moments to add to my infinity that will never occur.
Though Hazel's days were more numbered than they should have been for a 16 year-old girl, we all have numbered days. When I say this, I don't just mean life, but childhood as well. There will come a day (though hopefully it isn't soon) when I will look out my window, see a blizzard of white in front of me and for a fleeting second think, "Oh, great! On top of everything else I now have a driveway to shovel!" There will come a day for every child when this thought will have replaced, "First I will go sledding. Then I will build a family of snowmen. Then I will build a snow fort and have a snow ball fight and drink hot chocolate and live happily ever after." The magic and wonder behind simple pleasures will have slowly started to fade.
There will come a day when I will drive past a playground on the way to work but instead of kicking off my shoes and sprinting to the swing-set I will continue to drive because I will have other, more seemingly-consequential, matters to get to.
While these days are, in some cases, inevitable, there are still things that I can do to push them off. It is up to me to come up with my own form of Phalanxifor to delay the ending of my numbered days of childhood. Without TFlOS, I would have never appreciated the people in my life who make every moment worthwhile in the same way that I do now, and I would have never understood the value behind taking the time to be carefree.
Because of my move from Kansas and what I have learned from TFIOS, I have started cherishing my friends above all else, because I now see that I need-to properly appreciate them before oblivion steals them away from me. I have learned to treasureevery conversation as if it were my last and to make every moment last a little longer. While oblivion is inevitable, and like Gus, we all fear some kind of oblivion, there is no way to face this fear because in several cases we don't even know what we are afraid of. The best we can do to face oblivion is to use distractions, such as events of the present and everlasting moments, to escape it.
Gus also fears dying without having made a mark on the world; having felt forgotten by so many people who used to be very close to me, I can understand his fear from a different perspective. Like Gus, I would like to be someone who is worth remembering. After moving, I often find myself wondering if my presence is missed or if things just continue as if I wasn't there in the first place. Though I have accepted the fact that life goes
on regardless of whether or not I am there, I have noticed that I try to be the kind of friend that people would miss. And while I am not near being a perfect person, I want to do something remarkable, something memorable, at some point in my life.
Even before reading TFIOS, one of my biggest ambitions was to one day write something with the capability of changing people. While that is a lot to ask of myself, TFIOS has strengthened my desire to reach this goal. After reading your book, my eyes have once again been opened to the impact that one man's scratches on paper (as Van Houten would say) can change sorneone's life and their paradigm on the world around them. My biggest hope is that one day, the scratches I make on paper will be meaningful enough to cause that kind of change.
My goal would never be to change the Universe because that is impossible, but when all salvation is temporary, I think that at least changing one life with my words is a goal worth pursuing. While I'm not one to reread the same novel over and over, I have those days when 1 casually glance in the general direction of my bookshelf and a glint of robin's- egg-blue catches my eye, so I take your book off of my shelf and begin to read. No matter
where in the book I decide to start, every time I reread your words I learn something new about myself. And while you probably get thousands of letters like this each day, I would personally like to thank you for providing the words that have changed my life in impossible and unimaginable ways.
Level 2--3rd Place
Dear Markus Zusak,
I have always loved writing, but I want to thank you for changing the way I use words. When I first picked up a
battered library copy of your book, The Book Thief, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Mostly, it was because I
had no idea how powerful words can be. I, having always had an abundance of literature available to me at my liking, didn't
understand why anyone would want to steal books. But in reading the first chapter my views changed. It was beautiful and
meaningful. The power I had felt was only the start of the power that I would come to discover and yet I was already
To me, The Book Thief became more than just a book. Yes, it has a cover and a binding and a plot, but it's more
than just that. It is filled with words - words that convey feelings that are so meaningful: love, hatred, pain, and sorrow. I felt
like I was Liesel Meminger. When she cried, l-cried. When she laughed, I laughed. But, I have never met Lisel, or been to
Germany, or lived during the Holocaust for that matter. So as I read and reread the book, I wondered: Why did I feel that I
knew her? was her?
As I was mulling this idea over in my mind, it seemed as if the answer simply floated off the pages. I don't know
how I couldn't have seen it before. The moment I picked up this dog-eared and water-stained book, I didn't realize I was
stumbling upon a concept that would change the way I think: It is the words themselves that are so powerful.
Words, that can make a girl my age steal books, it is words that made Hitler so powerful, and words that can kiss
you like soft falling snow or sting and bite you like a harsh wind. These are the things that Liesel realized too, and the
reason why Death described the color of each waxy and dripping sky.
They gave them power:
Power- when Death was forced to pick up souls, day after day with no rest and no control. Words were the
distraction that gave him meaning. Ironically, words were the power that gave Death a sense of life.
Power- when time after time everyone that Liselloved was ripped away from her. They helped her cope with pain
as she read with her Papa in the dark of night. And they helped her love something again.
Power- when she was just a young girl caught in Nazi Germany and Max taught her that words can give her
freedom when otherwise she felt trapped and powerless.
Before reading this book, I took words for granted. I had as many words as I wanted to use. I squandered them. I
used words, but rarely if ever did I stop and think about their power. They are dangerous, they are beautiful, and most
importantly, they taught me that I have power.
Growing up I have always heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt
me." But this is wrong. The way words are used can make a soul crumple with pain. The way words are used can also lift
you up until it feels like you are dancing among the clouds. And words began to give me power, and a voice: a voice when I
am merely a child who is told where to go and what to do and has little control over the scheme of things. A voice for a
teenager who, like most teenagers, is searching for a way to become important.
I am not battling the Nazis, but I am battling the struggles of modern day. Words have given me the courage to sit
and talk to the lonely girl with Down Syndrome, and to betray my friend's trust to save her life when she was suicidal, and
find out who I want to be through writing poetry. I can soak up these juicy words and let them fill me with strength, just like
I am haunted and amazed by words, so strong and yet so delicate like Liesel. It was through Liesel's love of
words that I came to an epiphany: I possess a beautiful and yet dangerous power through words that I must use wisely.
Thank you. Mr. Mark Zusak, for helping me realize words will never fail me through life's twists and turns. Thank
you for helping me realize that no matter what happens, I will always have power, not through the quantity of words but
rather what I decide to do with them.
Thank you letting me "steal" the knowledge of a lifetime from you. I have never treasured words more than I do now.
Marissa E. Young