Letters about Literature: An 8th Grader’s Perspective on Art and Friendship
Editor’s Note: This post actually comes from Peaco Todd. Peaco’s experiencing some computer issues, so I’m simply posting on her behalf…
By Peaco Todd
My goddaughter, Leila, who will be graduating from the 8th grade in June, recently entered this year’s national Letters about Literature contest sponsored by the Center of the Book of the Library of Congress. Each of the more than 69,000 participants writes a letter to an author of a book that had a significant impact on his/her life. Leila wrote to Lisa See about her novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her letter won honorable mention, placing in the top 10 percent nationally. I’m proud of Leila and prouder still of what she wrote, of the lessons of friendship, suffering, betrayal and forgiveness that only art can impart. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Dear Lisa See,
I have never been the type to have many friends. When I have, they’ve been faithful, caring, and I could share everything with them. They’ve been like laotong (old sames), like Lily and Snow Flower from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. That book seemed to reflect my life. Sure, I’ve never had my feet bound, or had to go fetch water, and I’ve definitely never been married to date, but… it was the sort of story where I could really connect with the characters. I was mad that as lovely a girl as Snow Flower would get such a crude husband. It made me feel guilty when Lily shunned Snow Flower. I cried at all that Lily went through, and all the times she had to witness the deaths of her friends, her family, and everyone that mattered to her.
When Lily was growing up, I learned of the cruelty of footbinding, where one in ten girls dies just trying to get a chance at a good marriage and hence a good future. I learned of the strange concept of sworn sisters was — friends that would be linked until their marriages, and, seperately, friends linked until death. However, I rather liked the idea of laotong, and ever since, I have longed for a friend like that. Someone with whom I can share my life, my secrets, my dreams.
Snow Flower and Lily taught me a lot about friendship. When Lily received the letter which she misinterpreted and shunned Snow Flower, I felt for Snow Flower, and thought of all the times we think our friends have done some huge thing wrong, but actually haven’t, and we leave them, and they’re broken for it. That happens with friends, and it always leads to regret. Your book reminded me to be mindful of situations like that, in order to avoid that regret.
At the end, when Snow Flower was dying, Lily realized that, although Snow Flower said Lily was much better than she, it was Snow Flower who suffered many hardships for Lily’s sake until the day she died. It brought me to tears, and I then realized that Snow Flower was a quintessential friend, someone we should all strive to be like.
Your book taught me how friendship can prosper, how friends can be misjudged, and how to resolve these instances, which are, hopefully, rare. It taught me how friendship is not always just a thread, but can sometimes be like a steel rope, that doesn’t break even under the harshest circumstances. Even when Lily and Snow Flower were in the mountains, together, trying to survive until it was safe to return home, their friendship lasted. Most of all, I learned to take friendship as a precious gift, and to value it and never give it up. My life has been much better because of that, and I am deeply grateful.
Leila Rubina Fettig
photo credit: thanks to crimfants via flickr