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Letters About Literature National Winners 2008

Honorable Mentions, Level 1: Anne Le

Dear Mr. Rafe Martin,

You may encounter a book at some point in your lifetime that serves as your special companion, even remaining as a permanent part of your soul. I experienced this while reading your most recent work of fiction, Birdwing. Throughout my school years, others' attitudes toward me made me feel that some part of me wasn't acceptable and would not allow me to fit in with everyone else. Therefore it was practically impossible that someone would be interested in my friendship. I was not "popular" like the majority of the students at the schools I attended. Although my teachers always praised me for my exceptional schoolwork and conscientiousness, everyone else behaved as if it was something to be disgraced about. I was regarded, according to the socialites' guidelines, as a social misfit. I wouldn't be spotted at a party hosted by a popular girl. Even when I had those occasional buddies, I could only gaze at the other girls wistfully while they gathered together, engrossed in a conversation I could never partake in, and only long for that to happen to me someday.

I have always been reserved and independent -- a recluse. I had an unusual interest in reading while others preferred math or physical activity. I usually went to the local library after school hours and borrowed books from higher grade levels. Most of the books I read were depressing and contained numerous gloomy parts. Eventually I began reading different books with uplifting spirits -- mainly fairytales. And one day I noticed Birdwing. As soon as I finished skimming the summary on the back cover, I thought, Wow. This Ardwin and I are very similar people. He won't be accepted in his kingdom as I'm not accepted by my schoolmates. I shut myself up in my bedroom and read for hours until I completed the entire book. I pondered over the parts when Ardwin was criticized because of the swan's wing in the place of his left arm, and I could barely tear myself away from the intriguing journey he undertook to find acceptance. I also discovered many resemblances between me and Ardwin. We are two people with different ages living in different eras, but our personalities and life experiences were alike. As I'm struggling to find a place in my school, he's excluded from his kingdom because of his wing. He can't even fulfill his aspirations of becoming an archer or even be respected by the swans. Life seems to be unbearable for both of us.

I then realized at the end of the book that being different was nothing to be shameful about. The term "being different" is also synonymous with being unique. I learned throughout your book that you should not conform and be like everyone else -- if you are innovative and original in your own distinctive way, it makes you stand out from others. My perspective on myself before I read Birdwing completely changed once I had finished it. Your story has helped me to feel more confident and believe in myself. It has restored my love and faith for the true human being inside me. That is how I finally gained sincere friendships. Thank you, Mr. Martin, but most importantly, dedicate my gratitude to the character of Ardwin that you have invented. Although he only thrives on paper, I know him as a long-lost friend. Continue to write about Ardwin -- it is truly he who has made all the difference in my world.

Anne Le