Letters About Literature: Dear Gayle Forman

Last week, we featured the first of two letters that tied for the National Honor Award for Level 2 in the Letters About Literature contest. The initiative is a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. Winners for 2016 were announced last month.

The second Level 2 National Honor Award-winning letter comes from Pippa Scroggins of Florida, who wrote to Gayle Forman, author of “If I Stay.”

Dear Gayle Forman,

People often ask young musicians what inspired them to work hard. Most respond by giving a name, or a recording, but I respond with the name of a book. It’s a novel called “If I Stay,” and without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

Since I was young, I have been told that I am extremely talented in music. I have been playing violin since I was 6, and now that I’m 13, it’s safe to say that I owe over half of my life to the thrill of it. Music is in my family; my grandmother was a touring opera singer, my mother was a violinist, and my father plays bass in a band called Drood. I grew up loving music, soaring, enjoying it…But when it came down to practicing, I always hit the ground. It was excruciating. I was gifted, but I felt like I was being pushed to do something I didn’t want to do. As a little kid, my mother would have to yell at me, as I grew older, I got punished. Nobody could truthfully say that I had any motivation.

In the summer before seventh grade, I bought a copy of your book, “If I Stay.” I was hooked immediately. I related tremendously to the main character; we both came from musical families, we both were normal adolescent girls who happened to have a passion for music, we both were somewhat shy, and we both felt deep love for everyone around us. The only thing different about us was that she, Mia, had dreams – she wanted to successfully audition and get into The Julliard School, she wanted to perform, she wanted to love – and I had no music related dreams whatsoever at the time.

After a heart-wrenching afternoon spent in my room reading the entire book, I came down, with tears dripping down my face, and told my dad that I needed to use his computer. I looked through the book and found every classical piece listed, and then, I listened to them. I felt the emotions. I was haunted by Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3, I felt glory with Yo-Yo Ma’s Le Grand Tango, and was exhilarated by Gershwin’s Andante Con Moto e Poco Rubato. And that was when I discovered how truly beautiful and personal music really is. From that moment forward, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Pippa Scroggins, the girl who plays the violin, with incentive as she practices, who pleases her teacher, who feels the music as she plays, who puts meaning behind the notes. I wanted to love music with all my heart.

That year was a great one. After a summer of passion, I came back to school full of fire. I pushed myself. I achieved more than I thought. This previous summer, I went on to study in New York, an accomplishment I am very proud of. Currently, I am having a struggle with tendonitis in my wrist, which has prevented me from practicing as much as I normally would, but I intend to overcome it. I believe that Mia Hall could do it; I believe that I can too.

Now, I have incentive. I plan what I want to accomplish, whether it be over the course of two hours or two years. I know that I truly have purpose. I know what I want to achieve. Thank you for shaping me, Gayle Forman.

Pippa Scroggins

You can read all the winning letters here, including the winning letters from previous years.

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