Battle of the Books
This year, I was honored that Loudoun County Public Schools chose my novel The Scarred Letter as one of its ten Battle of the Books selections. Battle of the Books is a competition in which students at all high schools across the county compete by reading all ten books and answering trivia-style questions in a series of five-person rounds.
The Battle is a great way for students to experience the thrills of competition without having to be involved in sports. It’s also a great way to foster reading and camaraderie. This year, I was invited to the County’s final battle and watched as the top six teams competed for the trophy. I’ll admit it was surreal hearing questions asked and answered about The Scarred Letter, but I enjoyed it.
I loved seeing the teams on stage sporting their colors and whispering excitedly to corroborate on the answer to each question. They competed with sportsmanship and positive attitudes. The hosting school, Briar Woods, also did an amazing job decorating the stage and library. (A copy of The Scarred Letter was set up on stage right next to—you may have guessed—The Scarlet Letter.)
The Chocolate Icing
After the competition, all the participants and volunteers were invited to eat lunch in the library, allowing time to socialize and celebrate. (Dessert was a chocolate cupcake—zero calories, I’m sure—with chocolate icing). As part of the reception, students were invited to chat with me about The Scarred Letter and writing in general.
I love meeting aspiring writers, and I enjoyed discussing all aspects of writing—from drafting to beta readers to finding a publisher. It was also amazing to hear feedback from young adult readers and witness how the ideas from my head made it onto the page and were able to resonate with readers. I was glad to hear that readers relate to Heather and Adam, their different strengths and struggles, and the issues they face.
My favorite comment about the book was, “Adam is so bae.” (I’ll admit, I had to look up what that one meant. Later, to further clarify, I asked several students. But that’s what I love about interacting with young adult readers: I keep up to speed on current language, trends, and issues!) My favorite question was about the future of Adam and Heather’s relationship. I won’t answer that question here, but I will say there are two clues that answer it within the novel—one in the middle of the book and one at the end.
I will have to say, however, that my absolute favorite fan interaction is pictured here. During the reception, this young woman came up to me with her face decorated in the letter T—just like the protagonist on the cover of the book. Yes, Heather Primm came to life, it seemed, in more ways than one. It was amazing chatting with this reader and her friends, seeing the excitement in their eyes as they talked about the characters and Heather’s strength and struggles in a world that seemed stacked against her.
Being part of this competition, and discussing the world of The Scarred Letter with these eager students, made me feel a strong connection with my readers and the struggles and triumphs of high school students in general. As a writer, I serve my readers; as an introvert, I have never been one to seek fame or attention. While I sometimes hesitate at being the center of attention, I felt completely at ease discussing my characters and books with readers.
Instead of being an author talking to readers, I felt like simply one human being talking to other human beings about collective truths—sharing in characters’ struggles and victories as we see their lives as mirrors of a little piece of the human condition we share. And really, that’s the purpose of literature. In the course of one (or a few) sittings, we can share the experiences tackled and wisdom gained by countless characters—without having aged ourselves. Each piece of literature resonates with a small part of us, bringing a crescendo of wisdom into the song in our souls, the song that transcends time and age and gender and race and creed.
I applaud the Battle of the Books for bringing together avid readers around common literature to foster discussion and teamwork, and I sincerely thank Loudoun County for inviting me to be a part of it. The students’ enthusiasm made it clear that the time and resources devoted to the program by sponsors, teachers, librarians, and volunteers was well spent. As I told the young readers I met, great readers make great thinkers—and for great thinkers, the sky is the limit.
I wanted to think of a special “prize” for the winning team of this year’s battle. I decided that the winning team would have their school’s mascot and colors featured in my upcoming young adult novel The Girl Who Flew Away (coming in 2016 from Barking Rain Press). Like The Scarred Letter, the book features a protagonist seeking to find her strength while the foundations of her world are falling apart.
So speaking of strength: A special congratulations to Tuscarora High School, home of the Huskies. Their black and blue school colors—and their Husky, of course—will be featured in The Girl Who Flew Away. I enjoyed watching the team during the competition. Their enthusiasm and knowledge certainly took them far, and I applaud such avid and engaged readers.
About The Scarred Letter
The Scarred Letter is the story of a high school student who adamantly sticks to the truth, even when the rest of the world wants to live a lie. It’s inspired by Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. To learn more, read a free preview of The Scarred Letter, and receive a 35% off coupon, visit Barking Rain Press.