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Letters About Literature National Winners 2019

National Winner, Level 1 Honor: Ilaria Luna

Dear Ms. Marsha Skrypuch,

I will always remember the Winter of 2016, when I received your novel, Stolen Child, as my birthday present. I had already plunged into your previous book, Making Bombs for Hitler, and once again I immersed myself in the world you created. Of course, your novel strikes readers with the brutality of World War II, but the story spoke differently to me. It brought me past the extreme Nazi violence, and made me relive a more personal violence that overturned my life, just as the war overturned the childhood of Nadia, the young protagonist of Stolen Child. Never had I imagined to discover so much in common with her.

Nadia’s anxiety at school in Canada was, sadly, all too familiar to me. My own school days were beginning to become an unbearable emotional burden. The dreaded feeling of not knowing what pain would await me each new day weighed upon my chest as I woke up. Would it be a lunchbox slammed at my face, or a mocking: “Little Miss Perfect” after a correct answer? Maybe a sore back from schoolmates using me as a trampoline, or an outburst of laughter in celebration of my mistake? I was helpless for the bullying to end, the knifelike words to stop being thrown at me, and the weight of hostile bodies to stop crushing my lungs. I went from being a happy, cheerful, little girl to becoming a wounded creature. Images of terror haunted my nights, just as Nadia’s flashbacks became her nightmares.

As I seeked refuge within the pages of your book, it shocked and touched me to see the horrors that a child younger than me had to withstand. My own sorrows were nothing in comparison to what Nadia had to bear, being separated from her relatives, locked into rooms, squashed in wagons, and passed on from family to family, uncertain of whom to trust. Her spirit gave me the courage to keep pushing and fighting against hate with determination and compassion. Both her willpower and her sister’s inspired me to keep my head up even during the hardest times.

With this newly acquired determination, I decided to search for help. My efforts were hopeless, though, as those bullies were favored and protected. It meant another defeat for me and more despair. But when you touch rock bottom, the only place you can go is up. That was when I understood that Nadia was able to change her destiny by confronting and accepting the truth of her past, even when it was painful to face. It was this awareness that gave her the power to act and take the matter into her own hands. At last I discovered the strength that I had had all along, even if it was hidden deep inside of me. It was my chance to restart by transforming my anger and my suffering into empathy and support for other schoolmates who shared my own trauma but were unable to trust themselves and those fictional characters, like yours, who help us choose love and forgiveness even in the face of atrocity.

I have turned my back on the pain that I felt, but never tried to erase those experiences from my mind, because they are part of who I am: Ilaria; cheerful (as my name suggests), stronger (as your novel has taught me to be). If, after everything that Nadia had gone through, she could still believe that one should never lose hope, I will also cherish this invitation to believe that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and the chance for a new beginning.

Thank you Nadia and thank you Ms. Skrypuch for showing me the path to a happier me.


Ilaria Luna