We continue our spotlight of letters from the Letters About Literature initiative, 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 in June.
Nearly 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, which aims to instill a lifelong love of reading in the nation’s youth and to engage and nurture their passion for literature
There was a tie for the national honor award for Level 3 (grades 9-12). Following is one of the winning letters written by Macoy Churchill of Wyoming, who wrote to Marie Lu, author of “Legend.”
Dear Marie Lu,
Being a criminal comes with a certain looming paranoia, even for the craftiest of criminals. You have to plan out your every move, never missing even the smallest of details, and if you slip up the law will not blink an eye at throwing you into a cell you worked so hard to avoid. Just like Day, my heart was the very thing that caused me to end up with undesirable metal cuffs around my wrists, and the foreign sound of a juvenile cell door clicking close behind me to become routine. My inability to let my brother take my possession charges for me made me feel like Day, bounding from the room of his childhood home, to his imminent capture. My actions metaphorically put my family, especially my mother, in the direct line of fire. I read “Legend” and realized that I was stuck, incarcerated, thinking of the harm my actions had on my family, just as Day in his cell.
An overwhelming interest started to overtake me when I started to make connections between my criminal actions and Day’s. I would remember sitting in my car overlooking my house envisioning my family’s actions while they resided comfortably inside the house. Overtaken by substance, I felt like someone else watching over my family, like I couldn’t go in because of the possible repercussions it would have on my family. Day knew exactly the same thing would happen if he entered his childhood home. Although our situations were different, they were the same. We watched over our family for comfort, but couldn’t be with them because we were different. The son we once had been was overtaken by a life of crime. Although we wanted the situation to change, we knew it would never be the same.
Day let his heart destroy his flawless criminal history to avoid a simple argument with Tess, and I did the same thing. I was a good criminal, and I knew every step to take to avoid being caught. When I asked my brother if we should have taken precautions to avoid being caught, he said it would take too much time. I knew what we had to do, but to avoid an argument with my brother, I decided to take my chances. Day did a very similar thing. He knew the trouble in saving a stranger, but to avoid the solemn eyes of Tess, he took his chances. We decided to roll the dice to avoid having to look in the eyes of our upset loved ones, and inevitably it was our downfall. Criminals cannot have hearts, or good intentions. In order to protect ourselves, we have to hurt our loved ones. When I gained this knowledge from your book, I felt better as I lay in my cell; I knew hurting my loved ones wasn’t worth a flawless criminal history and so did Day.
The connections I made to “Legend” caused me to lie stunned in my overly frigid cell, completely stunned. This book taught me lessons about my criminal life when I didn’t even take a step. It showed me exactly where my criminal conduct would take me when I refused to see the enclosed walls around me. “Legend” caused me to open my eyes to the inevitable capture of every criminal regardless of his/her wit, effort, and will to avoid incarceration. Unlike Day I don’t have an exquisite lover like June to ensure my freedom. My capture is only escaped through the time given by the judicial system. As I flipped the last page, I knew that letting my brother take my charges would be equivalent to John taking Day’s place on the firing line. I would have to allow my criminal consequences to fall on my family’s shoulders, then my loved ones and society would have to suffer.
Only through “Legend” was I able to see this fact. Before I dove into this book, I was blind to the cell I was in, the situation that only I put myself into, and the metaphorical massacre of my family’s emotions. Through “Legend” I became aware of my profound need to change. For that I could never thank you enough.
You can read all the winning letters here, including the winning letters from previous years.