Sunday, August 29, 2010

My "Ms Leone" Letter

So many incredible, wonderful, big things have happened to me this year, but there’s one seemingly little thing that I hold nearest and dearest. I got a “Ms. Leone” letter. For those of you who haven’t read Runaway, let me explain. Holly Janquell is almost thirteen, living a tortured life, moving from one foster care situation to another, withdrawing or acting out, and hating the world. In an effort to help her, her teacher, Ms. Leone, gives Holly a journal with the well-intentioned advice that writing in it might help her to “turn the page.” Well, Holly thinks Ms. Leone is completely out to lunch. What good is writing when she’s having to deal with people “sani-flushing” her head in a toilet? So at first Holly’s journal entries are just angry rants at Ms. Leone. But after Holly runs away, she starts “talking” to Ms. Leone through the journal, relating her near scrapes and scavenging adventures as she travels across the country toward the coast in her quest to become a “sea gypsy.” The journal becomes Holly’s lifeline and her therapy. She learns to express herself and sort through her emotions, and even tries her hand at poetry. And in the end (spoiler alert!) when she’s in a safe home and has learned to trust again, she decides to send the journal to Ms. Leone with a note saying that she wanted to thank her for helping her turn the page. I had the idea for Runaway for years before I hit on how I wanted to end it. And when I thought of the ending, I got all emotional and weepy and just…overwhelmed. I’m sure that’s partly because I’d been a classroom teacher for fifteen years and receiving a letter like that from a student like Holly would definitely be overwhelming. Teachers put so much into their students, so much into helping them through that year of growth and discovery. Then the kids move on, and that’s it. Off they go, like birds from the nest. My “Ms. Leone” letter didn’t come from one of the many students who’ve fluttered through my classroom. Oh, I’ve gotten really nice notes over the years, and compliments on the positive influence I had in their lives. But that’s not a Ms. Leone letter. It hasn’t traveled through the depths of despair to reach me. My Ms. Leone letter came via e-mail from college student who happened upon Runaway in the library. She finished it in a night, and the letter she wrote me afterwards explained that terrible things had happened in her life and that, like Holly, she uses writing as a form of coping, but that she still has times when she considers ending it all. Reading Runaway, she said, gave her a sense of hope that maybe a good life is out there for her as well, and she signed off by saying, “Know that your work not only inspires, but saves lives.” So yes, Rob Reiner’s made a wonderful film out of my book Flipped. Yes, I’ve got red-hot irons in the fire. But the thing that means the most to me is my “Ms. Leone” letter. None of the “glory” even compares.

11 comments:

Judy said...

I can't leave my office until I'm done crying...that's real "glory"!!

Jinnyd said...

That's amazing! You never know who your books will reach, or how they'll help. Keep on writing!

Optimistic4ever said...

Runaway is my facorite book ever! I checked it out from the school library last year, and it had your autograph on it! YAY! I moved to a different school though. :( I was thinking, maybe after you're done with the Sammy Keyes series, you could write one book explaining some parts from Casey's POV? Just a suggestion. Or maybe from Heather's POV? It would be nice to see ideas from 2 sides, kinda like in Flipped.

Optimistic4ever said...

I mean favorite

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Judy: Amen!

Jinnyd: Thank you!

Optimistic: I plan to structure the 18th (final) Sammy that way. I'm looking forward to it!

Wild About Words said...

Wendelin, what a moving blog post. Thanks for the reminder that what we do often goes far beyond the page.

AARxxATLxx3OH3 said...

I absolutely love this post because I absolutely love Runaway. My copy is falling apart because of all the people I've forced into borrowing it. Every single person gae it back telling me they cried through it while they read. I'm honestly not surprised that it helped that girl, at all, because with a book that good it's bound to happen sometime. :)
And the last SK will be in different point of views? That sounds e-p-i-c. I just wonder how it will be! These books seriously have a way to make me excited for the last one when even the 13th hasn't come out.
But my wait for WC is going perfectly fine now because I'm readig The Hunger Games series and I think I like it just as much as I like the SK series. Nawww, SK is still my favorite but The Hunger Games comes close. Peers reminds me f Casey so much, just the way they talk and act at times. And Katniss is indenial just like Sammy. :D Or, like Sammy WAS because she finally saw the light in CHC.
Haha and YES Runaway is truly amazing, I don't know where you get these ideas from but THEY ARE WORKING :D

AARxxATLxx3OH3 said...

*gave, *reading, *of ugh. If my stupid phone is going to autocorrect things, they might as well do it ALL THE WAY correct. :( Now I look like a fool, so I'll just say sorry for the misspellings altogether.

Optimistic4ever said...

OMG! YAY! This is like all I've ever dreamed of! Different POVs!

Elizabeth said...

Runaway deeply touched me as well, and I'm so glad that you received that 'Ms. Leone' letter. I don't think students often think to thank those people who helped them along, but they truly deserve thanks. YOU deserve thanks, for all your writing has done in the lives of those who've read it, mine included. So, thank you :).

Pooja Dimba said...

Wow, it must be great to get a letter like that.
One of my favorite posts so far!