Washington State Champion Letter - Level III

Letters About Literature 2007-2008

Alayna Chamberland
Olympia, WA


Dear Wally Lamb,

Technically, I am writing you because I was assigned by my English teacher to write a letter to an author whose book spoke to me personally or influenced my life. Under normal circumstances I would have picked some interesting story (though it would hold no emotional attachments for me) and written an interesting letter (which would also hold no emotional attachments or sentiments.) I would have simply written it and gone on with my high school career. But something about this assignment couldn’t be categorized under “normal circumstances.” Something about it kept me up at night, visualizing what I was going to say, how I was going to get my message across. It was the fact that your book, She’s Come Undone, honestly altered my life.

I first tried to read your novel after receiving it as a Christmas present my freshmen year. By chapter four, I put the book down and refused to even look at it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the story. You create wonderfully diverse characters and a plot line that zips along quickly and never leaves you bored. I enjoyed the story…but it hit too close to home.

In my 8th grade year my father was diagnosed with Thymic Carcinoma (Carcinoma being a fancy word doctor’s use for cancer) and my safe little world was rudely turned on its head and shook violently. In 25 years only 700 cases of this type of cancer were reported worldwide. This is a staggeringly small number and not much research has been done to find the cure. Consequently, the doctors had no idea how to handle it. I am sure that you are wondering where the connection between my father’s cancer and your book lies. Dolores’ father didn’t have cancer. But he did desert her and her mother, and that was exactly what I felt like my father was doing. Her father was drawn away by marital problems, mine by needles and medicine.

Granted, it wasn’t my father’s fault that he caught the big “C.” He didn’t make a choice like Dolores’ father did. But he was leaving all the same. For me to watch someone that I love, grow paler, and weaker and sicker was like Dolores watching her father move out of the house and out of her life. Say goodbye to dad’s hair. Say goodbye to dad’s strength. Say good bye to dad. Dolores and I seem to share the same pain. How dare our fathers think that they could leave us? We aren’t done with them yet. How dare they possibly think that we could get on fine without them?

Dolores dealt with her pain through eating. I dealt with mine through pain attacks in the girl’s bathroom and developing an eating disorder.

My bulimia wasn’t all caused by the stress of my father’s disease. I was horrified by the way that I looked and wanted to be a completely different person. I researched eating disorders one day and a particular statistic stuck with me. The website said that one in every five girls will struggle with an eating disorder during her life time. I don’t know if this website was entirely reliable (you can put anything on the internet), but the statistic surprised me. Dolores hurt so badly that she crammed herself with all the food she could get her mother to supply her with. I hurt so badly that I threw up whenever I thought that I wouldn’t get caught. Dolores’ over eating was just another eating disorder that could damage someone’s body just as terribly as bulimia or anorexia.

I don’t remember whether it was determination or simply forgetting what the book was about that made me pick it up again the summer between freshmen and sophomore year. But I did pick it up, and I did read it through to the end. I can’t tell you how many times I cried while your novel was in my hands. Many of the pages are thin and crinkly caused by my tears having dried on the paper.

I underlined one sentence in pen on page 153, “when you deserve it, even the mail could rape you.” This really vocalized many of my feelings. There is a certain point that you get to when you feel as depressed as I did, where everything bad that happens to you is justified because think that you, yourself, are a bad person.

Now, I don’t want you to think that your book just brought me pain. It also relieved massive amounts of tension. To know that someone (even a fictional “someone”) felt a similar anguish was relaxing. To witness Dolores become a better and healthier person within the pages of your riveting story helped me along the path to becoming a better and healthier person myself.

I just wanted to write to you and thank you for creating Dolores’ story. She’s Come Undone will always hold a bit of my love and pain between the pages. Thank you again.


Alayna Joelle Chamberland