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Letters About Literature National Winners 2017

National Honor Winner, Level 1: Mark Leschinsky

Dear Lisa Genova,

I can remember everything. I don’t struggle to recall my friends’ names. I know where everything is in my house. I never felt the horror of forgetting words or feeling lost. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about my grandmother. She is a very nice woman, but she has one big problem—Alzheimer’s disease.

“Mark, how was your day at school?” she asks me. I answer her. A few minutes later I hear the same question again, and again, and again. I’m starting to lose my patience. I’m almost ready to explode. What is it? Is she doing this on purpose or is it a terrible disease that takes away her memory? My grandmother has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. She read me so many books when I was little. How is it possible that she can’t remember the question she just asked me? I’m ashamed to say it, but I started to avoid her. It seemed much easier to run away from all these annoying questions.

This was until I read your book, Still Alice. My librarian was hesitant to give me your book. She thought I was too young to read it. I’m very glad that I insisted. I can honestly say that your book not only touched me very deeply, but it also completely changed the way I look at people with disabilities, particularly at people with Alzheimer’s disease. Still Alice is about a very successful woman, a mother, and a wife whose life fell apart after she started to lose her memory and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I found a lot of similarities between Alice, who was a Harvard University professor, and my grandma. Both of them were very educated and independent. I watched through Alice’s eyes the horror of losing her memory, her job, her independence and her true self. Many times I wanted to cry. Your book is so true! I’m just so happy that my grandma didn’t develop Alzheimer’s disease until late in her life, while Alice was very unfortunate to be diagnosed very early at age 50.

Your book helped me understand what is happening with my grandma. I realized that it’s not her fault at all that she can’t remember things. There would be nothing that Alice or my grandma could have done to prevent their memory loss. It’s a tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. I understand now my grandma’s every day struggles and try to help her as much as I can. Your book taught me to be patient and enjoy every day with my grandma. I try to spend as much time with her as I can now. I praise her for things that she can still do and remember. I also feel lucky that my grandma can still remember my name and some things we did together when I was just a little kid. I know she is very happy to be with me and this also makes me very happy. Thanks to your book, I understand now that despite the Alzheimer’s disease, my grandma is still the same grandma who used to read me books and tell stories when I was little. This really helps me and gives me strength.

Still Alice helped me appreciate “little things” that we take for granted like our memory and our health. It also made me realize that life is very fragile. We have to live it to the fullest and enjoy every single day because it’s impossible to predict what can happen tomorrow. It also got me thinking how often we are impatient with our grandparents, we don’t want to spend time with them, we are bored, we have things to do that are more interesting. We think that we will visit them tomorrow, call them tomorrow, another time, just not today. It struck me: there may be no tomorrow. Call them now, visit them, tell them how much you love them, don’t postpone these things! Your book also made me feel very sorry for being so selfish and avoiding my grandma.

I hope one day there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Although it may be too late for my grandma, it will help others struggling with this devastating condition. Your book, Still Alice, was the only book I found that talks about how people with Alzheimer’s disease feel. I remember that Alice wished that she could have any other disease, but not Alzheimer’s. She was ashamed to tell others that she had it because this disease makes a person become completely dependent on others. I wish for more books like Still Alice so that everyone will understand the struggles of people with Alzheimer’s disease. They desperately need more support and understanding!

Most importantly, your book, Still Alice, gave me the best gift that I could ever wish for, the gift that no money can buy—it brought me very close to my grandmother, closer than I ever was before. Thank you, Lisa Genova, for that! Thank you!

Mark Leschinsky