Oak Bluffs School eighth-grade students Lily Davey and Bella Chimes were honored for their written work at the statehouse on May 14 as part of a national reading and writing program for young people.
The students submitted a letter to Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or dead) about how his or her book has made an impact on them or has changed their view of themselves or of the world around them.
Lily wrote a letter to Tahereh Mafi, the author of “Shatter Me.” Bella wrote a letter to Donna Cooner, the author of “Skinny.”
Lily, Bella, and fellow honorees were celebrated at a ceremony for the top one percent of letter writers from across the Commonwealth. Both students attended the state awards ceremony at the Massachusetts State House with their families and their teacher Donna Hopson, who submitted the essays.
They girls each received a Citation from The House of Representatives signed by State Representative Timothy Madden and Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo.
This year, 50,000 students wrote letters nationwide and Massachusetts ranked among the top four states for participation, according to a press release. For more information, contact the Massachusetts Center for the Book, on the web at www.massbook.org.
The essays follow:
Dear Donna Cooner,
Most days I look in the mirror after the shower and wait for it to show my reflection. And I just stand there looking at the perfect copy of me and ask “Why is it so hard to like myself.” I stare at the mirror and notice all my flaws: ugly braces, huge ears, pale, white, lifeless looking skin, an awkward jawline and gigantic eyes that seem to dominate my whole face. All the things that make me unique seem to be breaking me down instead of building me up.
But in a way, your book Skinny saved me from myself. It made me realize that just because I don’t look like the girl on the cover of Vogue doesn’t mean I can’t be my own type of beautiful. Society classifies beauty very specifically now-a-days. You have to be incredibly skinny with a toned stomach, flowing soft hair that frames your face, tanned smooth skin, perfectly pursed lips, enchanting eyes and a dazzling smile that makes everyone in the room gasp. Writing that description actually makes me uncomfortable because I know I will never look like that. That might be beauty, but it’s not the only kind. Beauty lives in the curvy girl you have all your classes with, who makes you laugh everyday. Gorgeous thrives in that girl who is self-conscious of the cuts in her wrist. Pretty stays in the shy girl who doesn’t realize she has the most stunning smile.
Beauty is not defined by your weight, or hair, or ethnicity; it is defined by your drive and amount of heart. Ever and I are very much alike because we felt like we had no control over who we were, like we were on a downhill spin and just decided to plummet further towards our doom. But as I read on and watched Ever discover her strength and confidence, I began to want to feel good about myself, too. A little light went off in Ever when she could see her appearance start to change, and she could sense the hope of finding her self-confidence.
Ever’s past haunted her, about just as mine does to me. And everyday it feels like a constant battle between remembering the good and the bad or just forgetting everything all together. When I was little, things were simpler, and I knew who I was just like Ever wished she could live in her past when it was easier for her. But as she and I have gotten older, we lost our way and at the end of the book, she discovers that acceptance and love can heal all wounds. By the time she embraces her “inner elephant,” I felt as if I could, too. My favorite part was when she finally confronts her feelings and starts to say things like “I am . . . pretty.” It feels like sometimes it’s only your own mind making you feel worthless. Skinny lives in all of us, but when you realize Skinny isn’t everything, you’re free. Skinny only has the power over you if you let her have it.
I believe that Ever was a lot stronger that she thought she was because she had to deal with all those hateful words said about her. After I finished your book, I had a newfound confidence. Now I see how uniquely stunning my eyes are and how they cannot be described easily, and that my skin isn’t lifeless, but creamy white and soft like silk. Despite my braces, my smile is genuinely real and is slightly childish because of my dimples. I realized there is nothing wrong with my body; the reason I felt too gawky and strange was what I thought of it and who I compared myself to. Ever found herself in the music; it saved her, and I hope one day, I can discover something I love like that. Thank you for teaching me that beauty isn’t defined; it’s infinite. The combinations of features that can make you beautiful are neverending.
Someday when I’m older, and I have finally grown into who I am, I will remember this book because it lives on in me. It is my fuel for realizing things will always get better. I can not thank you enough because you started the flicker of hope inside of me that will turn into a blazing fire of acceptance.
Dear Tahereh Mafi,
They’re only words. Only lines, only numbers. They went inside of my mind and warped everything, twisted my thoughts around and formed them into new shapes I never thought existed before. Every notion I’ve ever had about the future of the world disappeared, as if the thought itself had been struck through with a line, crumpled up like a piece of paper and thrown into the trash along with the rest of the world’s hopeless dreams. The flying cars and golden cities I’d always associated with the future evaporated, the empty spaces they left filling with images of children that will never witness birds fly, never see them spread their wings across the empty blue sky and soar above us all.
When I opened Shatter Me to page one, it was like you picked me up out of our safe, unharsh-in-comparison world and tossed me into Juliette’s mind, threw me into her life of solitude and loneliness. I thought that our world was terrible, with all the wars and starvation us humans are always causing and doing nothing to fix. You took the worst things about’ this world and stretched it to a new level, a level so extreme and terrible and beautiful that I didn’t think it was possible. You created a wasteland that could easily be the future for this planet.
Whether Shatter Me was meant to be perceived this way or not, I saw it as a message. A shoutout to the world, telling them to change the way they function now or they’ll continue to royally screw up our world. I didn’t see only see this as a message to help our planet, but also to help our society. A message to never ignore the girl with no friends that sits in the corner all alone until you know her story.
Juliette’s childhood broke my heart in a crush-me-up-as- fine-as-powder-and-burn-me-to- the-ground-until-theres-nothing-left-but-ashes terrible way. Her parents were some of the most terrible horrid downright bad-to-the-core characters I’ve ever read about. If Shatter Me was a fairy tale, which it could never be because it’s all too real, all too possible, Juliette’s parents would no doubt be Ursula, Scar, the Queen of Hearts, the Wicked Witch of the West, all at once. I think the role of Maleficent, the most evil villain of all time, would belong to Warner’s father, the brains eyes personage face everything behind the Reestablishment.
I’ve never been one to cry at books. My eyes were filled with unshed tears throughout the entirety of Shatter Me. A few might have even escaped the safety of my eyes and traveled down the treacherous path of my face during Destroy Me. When I found out that Juliette’s mother had stuck her hand in a fire to see if it was a real human hand, it was like my own hand had caught on fire, along with my heart and everything else in my body. I could feel the blisters setting in, red and popping and unremovable scars that I will never be able to get rid of if I live forever, painful. That wasn’t why I cried. I cried because I didn’t know the human race could be that terrible. I didn’t know that we had the capability to do things that were that harmful, especially to your own family, your own daughter. Or maybe I always knew it, and just hoped it wasn’t true. It’s all too possible real to digest.
This book helped me escape the harsh place we live in, and put me in a world ten times worse one hundred times more terrible one gazillion times more horrifying and it was exactly what I needed. I needed a slap in the face wake up call, for someone to scream at me that our world isn’t as bad as I think it is. It could be one hundred times one million times infinity times so much worse that no number large enough exists to describe it. Call me a pessimist, but one day it will be that horrifying, bad, terrible. We all need a little white bird with a gold circlet around it’s head to come fly us away from the enclosing walls of our prison, even if where it leads us is to an open space of dismay. At least we’ll be free.