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Letters About Literature National Winners 2013

National Winner, Level 3: Grace Mitchell

Dear Karen Kingsbury,

I have always enjoyed reading. Nothing sounds more appealing to me than snuggling under my blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and a new novel. But there was something different about your book Unlocked.  Even though this novel is fictitious, the more I read it, the more I saw myself, my classmates, and my school within the pages. Your novel was meaningful to me because of the real issues of Autism, bullying, and social status that you addressed. It was also very personal to me because you wrote about how music has the power to “unlock” an individual.

Although I had heard of Autism before reading Unlocked, I had never really stopped to think about the impact it has on an individual and their families. You explained the condition, not with long medical words, but through the eyes of Holden Harris. I learned more about Autism through a work of fiction than I could have ever learned from a medical dictionary. I had always thought that people with Autism didn’t have feelings like we do, but I was wrong!  Although people with Autism may have had a hard time communicating, they have feelings just the same as you and me. I really enjoyed the technique of writing from Holden’s perspective for some of the chapters. It helped me to relate to the character and really learn more about the thought process of an Autistic individual.

When Holden experienced bulling at his high school, my heart broke for him. It was then that I realized that the same thing happens every day at my own high school. Far too often, I witness people snickering about the “retard” or pretending to befriend an Autistic student when they really just want to get a laugh from their friends. Although I do not participate in bullying those with special needs, I also don’t take a stand against it. your book showed me that silence helps the oppressor, not the oppressed. That’s when I realized that I wanted to be like Holden’s friend Ella.

Ella Reynolds had it all. She was a cheerleader who had the lead role in the school play and a popular boyfriend. But she put her popularity at stake to befriend a socially “unacceptable” boy with Autism. I want to be like that. I don’t want to let what other people think of me prevent me from doing what is right. Your book taught me that if I stand on the sidelines, it’s the same thing as encouraging bullies or even going along with them. Whether it is sitting with someone who is alone at lunch or standing up for someone who is being bullied, I learned that doing what is right is always more important than social status. Besides, I would much rather be known for being kind to others than for being popular.

Unlocked not only encouraged me to stand up for anyone who is being bullied, it also related to my love of music. To me, music is a safe place, a rejuvenation of the soul. It touched me that Holden would only stop flapping his arms nervously when he heard Ella’s singing. It was as if music was the only thing that could make him completely at peace. I could really relate with that because music does the same thing for me. When mere words cannot express my feelings, I look to music. When I am furious at everyone and everything, I turn up the volume and let the words wash over me. When I am unspeakably sad, I play a piece on the piano that reflects those feelings. When my joy overflows, my lips bubble over with a song. Because the chapter was written from Holden’s point of view, I could tell that Ella’s singing did the same thing for him. it made me forget everything else for a moment and just enjoy the sweet song.

I have to admit, Mrs. Kingsbury, your book was not one that I could easily set down and forget about. It forced me to evaluate myself and the world around me. It taught me just how much a friend can mean. It touched me through the frequent mentioning of the impact that music can have. It spurred me to change my attitude and my actions. Unlocked moved me in a way only fiction can, but it also had a real challenge that I will forever strive to meet.

Grace Mitchell