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Letters About Literature National Winners 2003

National Winner, Level 2: Anna Byers

Dear Davida Hurwin,

Reading is a strange thing if you think about it, and I suppose you have. I mean, why would anyone want to escape and live the life of another when they could be out there living their own lives? Taking this into consideration, perhaps it is the books we relate, the ones that involve our lives, the books and characters with which we have things in common that are the best. They change us and make us who we are. Your book, A Time for Dancing, was one of those books for me.

When I was ten years old my mother died from cancer. I was left with so many questions that it seemed sometimes that they would overpower me. There were question I tried desperately hard to forget because I knew no one alive could answer them except, that is, for you in A Time for Dancing. As soon as Juliana got cancer I knew it was going to be a tough book to read. I knew that it might be a book that I regretted reading because it might tell me of the pain my mother went though, which was always something I hid from. Yet, I couldn't put the book down and I'm glad I didn't. With Juliana, you brought me face to face with my mother's own long fight with cancer. I faced the desolate loneliness that Juliana woke up with every morning, as my mother must have. With Juliana I faced the endless chemotherapy sessions that plagued both Jules and my mom. I had no idea that chemo was so painful. The hardest thing to face though was actually hearing Juliana talk about what it felt like to know she was going to die. I know my mom went through that and it cuts me deeply to know how heart breaking it must have felt. Juliana brought me up close and personal with a part of my mother's life I never wanted to understand but at the same time a part I deeply needed to.

With the other main character, Samantha, my reading experience was entirely different. When I read about Samantha I was thrown against a wall of memories I tried very hard to forget. At the same time, your book brought a clarity and understanding to these foreign times. You see, I remember those years in spots, a time here, a time there. Nothing was very clear until I read the end of your book. I was nearly drowned under a flood of memories and at the same time a flood of tears. In your book Samantha was losing a vital part of her life her best friend just as I had lost a vital part of mine. The memories that returned to me and the horrible realization of my mother's pain made your book change me.

It is difficult to walk through life muddled by a puzzle you can't seem to solve. This was my life before I read your book. Afterwards, I was enlightened. I had unlocked both my own feelings and those of my mother. A Time for Dancing allowed me to walk in the shoes of a person struck down by cancer. It was a walk I needed to take to understand my mother's death and to be at peace with it. Thank you for the gift of a lifetime, the gift of understanding and remembering and the gift of tears. I hope your beautiful book reaches many more and enlightens them, too. Thank you.

Anna Byers

What the Judges Had to Say About Anna's Letter

Provided great example of learning about the suffering of a loved one by reading a well- written story. By reading about the plights of others, Anna's own imagination was free to associate with what her loved one had known in life. The ability of literature to invoke empathy has been powerfully demonstrated. (Brent Cantley, Reading Is Fundamental)

Anna introduces the theme of her letter "the books we relate to, the ones that involve our lives . . . are the best" in her first paragraph and neatly introduces the book about which she is going to write. From this general statement about books she goes on to present a well-developed narrative to explain her point, how this particular book related to her life. However sad her story is in losing a mother to a devastating disease, the real power of Anna's letter is her "writer's voice." She uses language in a comfortable, conversational way. Phrases like "cuts me deeply" and "muddled by a puzzle" reveal a thoughtful, careful writer. She writes to express, not to impress and that is very hard indeed for any writer of any age to accomplish. (Catherine Gourley, National Director, LAL Reading Promotion Program)