One of our proudest moments at the Nantucket Book Festival is when we recognize the winners of the Young Writer Award at our Opening Celebration on Friday night. We are pleased to present the 2016 winner of the Young Writer Award, Jenna Genther, and the four finalists!
Winner of the 2016 Nantucket Book Festival Young Writer Award
Remember by Jenna Genthner, 9th grade
When I was younger I would visit the nursing home where my great grandmother, Nana as I knew her by, was cared for. I would walk through the double doors, the fluorescent lights overhead, and would see her buoyant demeanor light up the dim room. Having been touched by Alzheimer's in her old years, she never seemed to recognize me, despite my face that rested in a frame atop her nightstand. My Nana always sang herself tunes of miscellaneous rhyming phrases, content and confined in her own realm consisting of complex puzzles and letter blocks. Her mind was in it’s very own reality, but her body was imprisoned here, in the nursing home, unable to escape.
Communicating with her as one would communicate with another was not effective, and eventually I found my own ways to interact with her. We would sit in the worn common room at a small, mahogany wood table, surrounded by bland colors and undone puzzles. I would listen to her hum in concentration over the filter of the fish tank as she placed the letter blocks into position. She always wore an outdated floralprinted shirt of some kind, and sat in a wheelchair, the transportation that her aged body had restricted her to. She would pick up the multicolored blocks with her worn, weathered hands, and construct simple words, such as ‘cat’. These one syllable words would generate rhyming songs that she would sing to herself, over and over again, as if she was a broken record. I would then respond to her in a rhyming verse of my own, as it seemed to be the only path to our communication. I may not have been able to speak the language of Alzheimer's, but that did not matter because we sang to our own language. One of her favorite songs that she had made up was one that consisted of her three sons names, whose faces she had long since forgotten. “Chippy, Charlie, and Jimmy,” went off continuously, the only remembrance that tied her to her past life.
Visiting her always took a toll on my family. I never truly noticed it at the time, but visits to the home would bring about an air of sadness and defeat. Backs would turn and tears would quickly be wiped away, a smile replacing them once more. Maybe it was because they had her past life to compare her to, but for me, I only had our letter blocks and our rhyming songs as souvenirs of our short but meaningful time together.
I never knew my great Nana before Alzheimer's took her, before her mind became a blank slate with mere glimpses of her past, erasing the lifetime of memories with her family and friends. I remember her now thanks to the exaggerated stories told at the dinner table, and the lingering memory of her every time I pass the nursing home. I remember her methodically smoothing out a piece of aluminum foil, making it new again, only to crumple it into a ball once more. I remember the familiar image of a firefighter red sailboat floating on a serene ocean appearing on the mahogany table as we slowly put the puzzle pieces into place. I remember my Nana by our only means of communication, through the letter blocks and the singing rhyming songs that brought us together and broke through the unattainable barrier of her Alzheimer's. I remember her heartwarming smile. I remember smiling back at her. If only she could remember.
Finalists for the 2016 Nantucket Book Festival Young Writer Award
First Day Jitters by Vaiva Utaraite, 9th grade
The first day of school is always nerve wracking. The anticipation to see your new teachers, mixed with the absolute gutwrenching feeling of meeting new people and making new friends is something that everyone has felt, even if they don’t admit it. But of course, once the person gets to school and starts to talk to people, they realize it is going to be okay. But now imagine, a little girl who had no idea what the people around her were saying nor even what they were trying to say. The amount of feelings that raced through me on my first day of preschool were enough to make even the strongest person have to sit down to take a breather.
When I was three and half years old I left my little country, Lithuania, and came to Nantucket with my parents and teenage brother to start a new life. None of us knew any English, but my parents kept reassuring us and saying that we were not the only ones in the situation and that everything would turn out to be okay. Considering I was only just a toddler, I didn’t have any worries at the time. I was happy, traveling across the world and had no idea why my brother was so irritated or why my parents were so jittery because everything seemed great to me. That was until I found out I had to go to preschool. Now, for most kids, preschool would sound like a blast. But for a little girl in a new place, with no friends and absolutely no knowledge of the language that everyone seemed to so naturally be speaking, it was nothing that I was looking forward to.
I started preschool almost as soon as we arrived due to the fact that my parents had to start work to support us all and our new life. My mother was the one that took me to my first day at my preschool, Small Friends. I had been in panic mode the whole morning and no matter how much i begged and pleaded her to let me go with her to work, she refused because she only had my best interest in mind. As soon as we walked in the building, I clinged to my mom as if she was the only thing keeping me afloat in an endless sea. She tried to get me off, but I only held on tighter. All the kids were watching me with fascination and confusion. Of course they didn’t understand how scared I was or what I was going through. All they saw was a little girl clinging to her mother for dear life with a gentle stream of tears trickling down her face. The process of trying to get me detached from my mom was long and great and once it was accomplished, I ran and sat in a cubby. This is was the routine that went on for a while.
Everyday, my teachers would come up to me in my cubby and try to comfort and help me in any way they could. Since none of them spoke any bit of Lithuanian, they translated words on the internet to Lithuanian. Even though they were simple words, such as cup and snack and water, they still helped me better understand everything that was going on around me. I also struggled with the fact that I could not connect to the the kids that were my age. It seemed to me that I was the same as them, but the language barrier kept me from interacting with them. But, the kids at my preschool eventually started to come up and talk to me. Although I had no idea what they were saying, it was still a comforting feeling to have somebody my age interact and show interest in me and not treat and look at me as if I was a circus animal. I started to catch on to some of the words and came out of my cubby and got involved with some of the activities and the more I was involved, the more I was learning. I ended up learning English in no time once I broke out of my shell of fear and insecurities and interacted with the people around me.
The journey from knowing no English and living in a constant state of fear of the unknown was long and strenuous. My fear not only blocked me from experiencing the good things of being in a new country, but it also made me weak and vulnerable, which in turn made the people around me feel the same. To a mother, seeing her own child in fear and constantly crying is the worst thing. It hurts any mother to see her child not smiling and being their usual bubbly self. However, when I started to get comfortable and accustomed to the surroundings around me, everyone benefited and felt at ease right away. A barrier in communication is always a difficult thing, but no matter what the situation is, you can always overcome it if you put away your insecurities and fears and try to approach the situation in a positive way.
My Small Friend by Anna Steadman, 9th grade
It was my first time being alone with the little girl. She sat quietly on my lap, sucking her fingers and staring off into her own imaginary world. Her circular glasses were strapped to her head with a thick blue band. Somehow, she would wiggle them off her head with her small two year-old hands and I would be left to pick them up and put them back on. It was as if it was a game to her. She would take them off and I would slip them back on. My mom stood outside hanging clothes on the thin rope that was tied from one pine tree to the other. There was an oppressive heat that lingered in the air, leading me and the child to stay inside. It amazed me how quiet she would sit and play. There was one thing that would always stick with me though. She never cried. Her parents would leave and she would be perched against the back of the sofa silent. She would drop her toy and just pick up a new thing near by. As selfish as it was, I liked that she never cried. I hated the piercing noise of a baby's cry. It seemed to echo in my ears long after the infant quieted down. I always wondered if the reason she never teared up was because of the down syndrome that held ground within her. I would always ask myself, is that why she doesn’t talk? Is that why she won’t eat her food? Is that why she sits and does nothing else? That was the morning I learned that I had got it all wrong. Down syndrome is a disorder but something to celebrate.
She was sitting at the counter. Her juvenile hands slapped up and down without pattern. I watched intrigued that something so small could spark an interest in her. I got lost in my thoughts as I usually do. I didn’t notice that she was starting to rock her stool back in forth. Crash! The stool had fallen and her with it. Then something unexpected occurred. She started with a whimper but it quickly cascaded into a sob. Soon, the little girl’s cry filled the room. This was an emotion I knew well. Countless times I had fallen out of trees or slipped on the pavement. It would always end in tears even if it was just because I was scared. Finally, I had opened my eyes to the truth. The reason for no tears or words or actions was because there was no need. She was stronger, mentally, than I was. She pushed through when times got hard for her to communicate. This was when I realized I was creating the barrier between us. There was no concrete, glass, or wood between us. We were both human and we both felt emotion. Her tears were both water and salt like mine. It showed me that down syndrome does not make you that different. It just challenges you in ways that others don't always understand but in that moment I did. Certain things connect certain people in certain ways. What we had in common was emotion. She laughed, played, loved, cried, and could get angry just like me but, in all honesty, she could control them better than I could. She helped me learn to control my anger and find peace in the midst of my life. Down syndrome at first glance may have seemed like a barrier but really it is a language of friendship.
Alone Together by Julia Fiske, 9th grade
Time of The Locust by Morowa Yejide illustrates beautifully how barriers of communication can affect people in a variety of different ways. Obviously being nonverbal is one of the harder variations of this particular problem, but other variations can be just as difficult. The communication barrier I face every day consists of many parts, but there is a name for it. Depression.
Depression affects 14.8 Million adults in the US alone, and is a problem on the rise. In my experience, it is one of the most difficult barriers life has to offer. Not just in communication, but in many other ways as well. It started when I was about 11, and has gotten progressively worse. No one seems to understand the struggle I go through to do simple, everyday things, such as getting out of bed, going to school, even smiling. People reach out to me, telling me that everything always gets better. They tell me the world has a way of fixing its problems, but they don’t understand that it’s not that simple to process for someone who suffers from this disorder. They ask me why I feel the way I do, which is a question that I do not know the answer to, myself. Trying to explain something you barely understand yourself proves impossible. Communicating the horrible feelings that cloud my head every day of my life is next to impossible, and I have learned that no one will ever understand. They will never get the concept of complete and utter exhaustion. I can’t even comprehend it myself.
The disorder does not only affect me, but everyone around me. My parents have been heartbroken about the whole ordeal since the beginning. To this day, they blame themselves, and get angry or sad. They tell me to get up and keep my head held high, to get out of the hole that I sink deeper and deeper into every day, and carry on. Yet going to school and doing so has only made it worse. I struggle to communicate with my fellow students, and some of them even take advantage of it. I have been a major victim of bullying thanks to depression and a few bad friend choices, which has made the transition to high school incredibly difficult. During most of my classes I often dream of going away and starting over somewhere new, but in reality, I know the same thing would happen there.
There is no medical cure for depression. They can try to dull the major effects with medicine, although none have worked entirely for me. Instead, I must face it with a strong outlook and use different mechanisms to help me get over it. Coping mechanisms can either be really good and beneficial, or they can do more damage than help. I went through a period of self harm, which was my coping mechanism at the time. The barriers between me and my loved ones rose even more, and the effects of it have not lifted yet. Eventually, however, I learned good coping strategies, such as confiding in friends and therapists, doing my best to communicate my feelings to professionals, or at least people who could understand. Although it is still a huge struggle for me years after it first begun, I am learning new ways of hope, just as the characters in Time of the Locust did.
Effective Communication by Ivan Schwieger, 9th grade
I have had trouble communicating during games of pickup soccer at the Meadowmount School of Music. Meadowmount is a summer camp for string players, in upstate New York. Since it is a serious music camp, many people don’t know much about sports. In free time, when there is no practicing, rehearsals, masterclasses, or concerts, there are usually activities organized by students. There is always pingpong and often pickup games of soccer and basketball. I find all these enjoyable, especially soccer, since I play it on a team away from camp. Because of that, I know a bit more than the average Meadowmount student. At the beginning of camp, there was little passing in the games. Everyone tended to clump up around the ball. People tried to get down the field with only footwork, unsuccessfully. Being a soccer player on a reasonably competitive team, this made me a bit crazy. Playing in position and using your teammates are some of the most important skills in soccer. Getting clumped around the ball and trying to beat every defender are typically extremely ineffective. I faced my difficulty communicating while trying to help people play better.
At first I tried telling people what to do. This was ineffective, as it just makes people think you are a jerk. I am not sure why I originally thought this would work, since people telling me what to do just makes me annoyed. I just assumed people should know how to play the game. However, many had not played soccer before, making that expectation unrealistic. After that, I tried to be more positive and refrain from telling people what they should and shouldn’t do. I followed my own suggestions more than I had previously, passing more often than I normally would in a game. This approach worked much better. Others passed more. People didn’t run collectively to where the ball was, and instead stayed more or less in position. In my opinion, this made the game much more fun to play and was certainly much better soccer. More goals were scored, and the play was very different than before.
When I told people how they should play, some of the people around me probably didn’t like me. The few people there who had experience playing soccer knew what I was talking about. They understood it, but many other people probably didn’t know where I was coming from. This didn’t turn out well, as a team that has conflict within it doesn’t perform well. However, once I started to present ideas and use the ideas I presented, people didn’t mind it and probably took a few suggestions. This created a better team and made everyone more able and willing to work together.
From this experience I learned that communication within a team must be in the form of suggestions. When someone makes a mistake, they are usually the first person to know. They don’t need another person telling them about it. Everyone can make suggestions and they don’t make anyone seem like they are telling others what to do. This creates a better atmosphere to work together and eventually helps score goals. I believe that this could help many teams, including the team I am playing on now. Leadership sometimes exists in the form of captains and other players telling each other what they did wrong, pointing out mistakes. It is never about improvement. Communication focused on improvement and the sharing of ideas is always more effective than ordering people around. Learning about communication at music camp seemed strange at first, but I realized that communication that gets through to someone is universal and needed everywhere.