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Letters About Literature National Winners 2012

National Honor Winner, Level 3: Ida Behreini - Bayonne, NJ

Dear Suzanne Collins and Katniss Everdeen,

I am far from a brave person. In fact, I'm the type of girl who is sometimes scared of her own shadow. Who, despite knowing better, is too terrified to check for monsters under the bed, because it means leaving the safety of the warm covers. I'm scared of any real competition, and I am the one who drops out because of nerves. It seems like sometimes, all I do is run and hide from things, from people, from my worries. I shut them out and bolt a big brass door, and close my eyes, screaming at the top of my lungs to drown out their sounds. Sinking to my knees, I'm the girl who is overcome with emotion and can't help but cry, can't help but rely on others for the simplest of things. But not anymore. Because the character in The Hunger Games, your character, changed me. That's right, Katniss Everdeen saw something in me that no one else has ever seen. She stripped me down and stared upon my naked body, my naked mind. I hid nothing from her, and in return she did the same. She let me peer into her deepest thoughts, and for a moment, for a brief flicker of time, I felt her warm breath on my neck. I ran my fingers through her tangled braid, smelled her sweet scent of pine and maple blended together with the hint of fruits, and dampness. Her pain was my pain, and when she was on the brink of death, I felt something tugging at the very core of my soul, ripping it from my being.

You know, I've gone on and on to my closest friends about your novel, called them up in a storm of tears and sobbed how Katniss got badly burned, or almost starved. I ask them what she should do, and pour my heart out, and you know what they do? They laugh and say something like, "It's only a fictional novel!" That's what they say. But I don't buy it. You know what else they spew out from those disgusting little mouths of theirs? They say that characters are just that, characters, and once you stop reading, once you close that book and put it on your shelf to collect dust, they disappear. They vanish to whatever place "figments of imagination" wander off to when you're not thinking about them. But you know what I think? I don't think they ever leave. If they're dear enough, if they've made you feel their pain, their joy, their curiosity, then they go somewhere that not even I can describe. It's like they become part of your heart. That's right, they get their little shovels out, and they dig and dig until they reach the center, then they snuggle up and get all comfy in there, and refuse to budge an inch no matter how many years go by.

That's exactly where Katniss is right now. She's snuggled right in the center of my being, making a little fire and warming her little fingers; and I know she's there. I know she's watching because every time I'm about to shut the doors to my mind or my heart, she sticks her soft leather hunting boots in the crack and doesn't budge an inch until I face what's scaring me so. And there's something scary in my life, so very terrifying. Every time I think about it, my joints stiffen up and my hair stands on end. You know, I've debated if should talk about this with you, because I don't talk about this much even to my closest friends, because I don't think anyone understands. That is, anyone but me. Sometimes I wish it was a monster because those can be defeated. They have a cute, "Just grab your bow and shoot their heart out," that's what Katniss would say. But what I have has no cure, and that's why it's uglier than anything the Capitol could conjure up, that's why I made the big brass door to begin with, but now, just for you, I'll open it a little ways, and we'll face it together, just this once.

So there's this whole fancy word for it, but I'm not even going to try and spell it for you. That politically correct name means less than nothing to me. Because all I know is that one day I won't be able to read your books anymore, or at least not in the traditional way. Why? I'll tell you. I'll say it out loud just this once and let the ugly sound echo around the room. It's because my eyesight is slowly fading away into black, and there is nothing, nothing I can do but wait. Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, I feel like Beetee, like a broken record, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, the time bomb is ticking like a clock, just like the arena and with every second I face a new challenge. Something as simple as spotting a friend, or counting my change is becoming increasingly difficult. Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, now I can't see my textbook as clearly. Tick-Tock, what does my mother look like again? Tick, Tick, the world disappeared before my very eyes, and now I'm left with only memories of what life looks like. And I'm left to wonder why Peeta thought the sunset was so beautiful. The clock strikes 12, and now I wonder what my favorite color might have been, or once was.

So now you know. Now you know why I sometimes hold my breath before I open my eyes in the morning, and why I'm so very scared of the dark. But also, more than that, now you know why I'm so attached to Katniss, because she taught me to suck it up and keep living. She helped me to realize that I should cherish my beating heart, and those of my loved ones, above some stupid pair of eyes.

Ms. Collins, you saved me. You, you and Katniss both, mended my broken bones and helped me stand up on my own two feet. You gave me an example to strive for. I want to be someone who is just as strong as she is beautiful, just like you all are. But no fancy words will help me on this perilous road. I am fully aware that I have a long way to go, and a lot of hard work ahead of me. But, thanks to you, I know I'm off to a great start. Why? Because now, I throw off the covers without hesitation, and thrust my head under the bed, no matter what might be staring back.

My greatest thanks,

Ida Behreini