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Letters About Literature National Winners 2011

National Honor Winner, Level 3: Daeun (Donna) Kim, NJ

Dear Khaled Hosseini,

Much as Amir spent the bulk of his childhood with Hassan in your book, The Kite Runner, I spent seven years of mine at Sun Joo's side. Our story started in the first grade, when she rescued me from a rowdy group of boys who teased me for being, in their eyes, the wrong gender. "Girls are stupid! they laughed, delighted by their cleverness. Sun Joo, who also happed to be a girl, overheard and took offense. She rushed over and screamed at them to go away. Put off my Sun Joo's daring, the boys lost interest and drifted away to find a more accommodating target. I approached her, this guardian angel, and we smiled at each other, sparking a friendship in which we would become the anchors in each other's lives. Despite the turbulent waters of middle school and adolescence, our friendship remained fairly stable, and we could always rely on the other for help. But when I turned fourteen, I had to pick up my anchor and drop it thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. Even with all the handy methods of quick communication, relationships can still break under the weight of physical separation. The move to America severely tested my friendship with Sun Joo, but The Kite Runner taught me about the true meaning of friendship.

Distance is never easy to overcome. Like California provided plenty of distractions for Amir, my life in America forced me to quickly speed along, keeping me busy with a new life and priorities. When school started, I crashed into a wall of undecipherable schoolwork, culture shock, and social pressures. Each time I replied to my friend's email or talked with Sun Joo over the phone, I felt precious time slipping away, time that I could have spent learning more vocabulary or finishing homework. Conversations and messages became shorter, and eventually, started disappearing entirely. Only Sun Joo kept regular contact with me, sending letters and emails even though I failed to reply. I stopped talking or writing to her for weeks at a time; with all sorts of deadlines coming up, I didn't have the time. My excuses always sounded the same. And Sun Joo, ever understanding, always said she didn't mind. At first, I felt grateful. Then I began taking her patience for granted.

Looking back, I cannot exactly pinpoint when it was that my life in America started outweighing the one I had led in Korea. My homesickness went away since I made many friends in America and immersed myself in this new culture. When Sun Joo's letters stopped arriving on a regular basis, I thought that it really was time to move on and forget. Reading your book, however, forced me to stop in my tracks and take a long, unflinching look at my friendship with Sun Joo. The Kite Runner acted as a mirror, allowing me to realize the ugly truth of how uncaringly I had acted toward a friend who truly loved me. Sun Joo, like Hassan, refused to forget about her best friend, but I had been so quick to leave her behind as nothing more than a quaint memory. I realized that, this time, I had to reach out to her and make amends. And I remembered Rahim Kahn's words to Amir: "There is a way to be good again."

After months of ignoring Sun Joo, I didn't quite know how to start paying attention to her again. I bought new stationery, pretty sheets of paper that remained blank: how to start? How to apologize? The words refused to come. Then suddenly, an opportunity struck. A large package, addressed to me, arrived at my house. "Happy Birthday!" Sun Joo had orchestrated the entire surprise. I had truly though that she would forgive me. But this show of love spurred me into action. Immediately, I wrote a letter thanking Sun Joo for the package and apologizing for not keeping in touch. It was a simple message, and writing it was much easier that I thought. Sun Joo called me after receiving the letter, and we chatted like old friends. I felt giddy with relief; I felt "healed".

Your book, The Kite Runner, taught me the real definition of friendship. Yes, there is loyalty, but when one friend forsakes the other, there can also be redemption. Through loyalty, Sun Joo defined herself as my friend, and through redemption, I was able to keep being her friend. It has now been four years since we last saw each other.

We are still the best of friends.

Daeun (Donna) Kim