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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write something in the YOUNG ADULT or TEEN genre (06/07/07)

TITLE: The 800-Pound Gorilla
By Joanne Sher


"Hey, look at this!" Daphne spotted a lime green envelope lying on the table. Emblazoned across the front, in hot pink lipstick, were the words: to the Junior class.

"So, who wants to read it?" Joe, the junior class president, sat at the table, brushing his wavy brown locks from his eyes. Soon, all eight chairs were taken, and another dozen teens, making up the rest of the junior class of the small high school, were standing around the table.

Daphne sighed. "I guess I will. Hand it here."

Taking the envelope from Joe, Daphne flipped it over and removed a folded up piece of paper, neatly torn from a spiral notebook. Glancing over the contents, she gulped, then placed the letter on the table in front of her. The room hushed.


Members of the class of 2009,

So, did I surprise you? Bet I did. I've gone to school with most of you since kindergarten, and some of you consider me a good friend. And I'll bet you all thought you knew me pretty well.

Pretty Jenna. Happy Jenna. Joker Jenna. Perky Jenna. No Troubles Jenna. I guess I put on quite a performance, because not a single one of you has asked how I was doing, or if I needed anything, for months.

Well, now's my chance to answer that question. I'm doing terrible - lousy. Have been for a year, ever since Billy died in Iraq. Do you really know what it is like to lose a brother? Your hero? Obviously not.

Sure, you guys were nice enough the first month or so. But after that, every time I brought it up, someone would change the subject, or go find something else to do. Guess I was too much of a downer for you and your plastic little lives.

So I went back to being the Jenna you wanted me to be. Sweet, fun, silly, fake Jenna. Jenna, who didn't care about anything that mattered. You all seemed to like her better anyway.

But, do you know what I really needed? I needed someone to let me cry on their shoulder. Someone who would ask how I was doing and actually want to know the real answer. Someone who cared about my heart and soul, not just my clothes, what I got on my last test, or what I thought of some stupid teen flick.

Did any of you even remember that yesterday was exactly a year since Billy was blown up by that IED? Not a single one of you said a thing to me all day. Guess I wasn't bubbly enough to be noticed.

Well, I can't take it anymore. I hope you all grow up and have your wonderful, perfect plastic lives just like you want. Just know that I won't be there.



Nothing could be heard in that room but the sounds of heavy breathing, sobbing, and wailing. The students hugged one another, patted each other's backs, and bawled.

"I can't believe we were so insensitive," Daphne said between sobs, lifting her head off another girl's shoulder.

The others nodded.

Joe stood on his chair. The others turned and looked up toward him, despair and hopelessness in their eyes.

"We cannot let this happen again. We need to stop brushing off the tough stuff, and be there for one another. You guys are important to me. We've been through too much to lose anyone else this way. So, who's with me?"

A chorus of "me" echoed through the room, and hugs were abundant, like the tears falling from their faces.

"Hey guys."

The entire group turned toward the door, where Mr. Zach, the junior class advisor, stood with half a smile on his face.

"She's gonna make it, guys. The paramedics got here just in time, it seems. Jenna's on the way to the hospital now. She'll be in the hospital for a couple of days, but she's going to be ok."

A collective sigh echoed across the room as they walked toward their teacher. On their way, they passed the spot where they'd found their classmate not half an hour earlier, sprawled on the floor seemingly dead from a drug overdose.

"Guess we'll be practicing what we preached sooner than we thought," Joe quipped.

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This article has been read 1235 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Howard06/14/07
Oh, WOW! Lump in the throat, tears in the eyes, and then a HUGH sigh of relief. Two very important lessons woven into one story. Perfect for teens. This has to be published in a teen magazine.
Leigh MacKelvey06/14/07
This is a "present day", up to date story. Teens will feel the emotion and will understand their own experiences with trying to avoid the "tough things".
Very realistic.
Kaylee Blake 06/14/07
Wowsers. This is definetly moving! This made me stop and puase and think, "Gee, do I know how my friend is really doning?" Great moral.

I'm a litte confused as to how the title comes into the picture. But I'm naive. Maybe it's some slang term for drugs? I'm gonna have to go back and read it again to see if I missed the clue. But other than that, great job! You really deserve to move up. Your staying here ain't fair to the rest of us!
Catrina Bradley 06/14/07
Wonderful - what an important piece of writing. This has to be shared. The topic is one that many people can relate to, and not just teens. I'm choked up again. What a great job you've done. :)
Betty Castleberry06/17/07
This has a good message for all. I don't think it's limited to teens. It's well written, with insight into the emotions of the kids. Well done!
dub W06/17/07
Very emotional, well written. Thanks.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/17/07
An excellent teen story, written in an interesting way to present an important message.
Dee Yoder 06/18/07
Great story! It held my interest from beginning to end. Teens and adults can learn from and relate to your entry. (I like your title; few people feel comfortable acknowledging grief.)
Jan Ackerson 06/18/07
Really good--the title is perfect, and would really draw in teen readers. Superb writing.
Trevas Walker06/18/07
This is amazing writing. Your message is clearly sent, and the story draws your reader in right from the beginning. Great job.
Benjamin Graber06/18/07
Wow this is really good, and very thought-provoking. I think you've got a good shot at EC two weeks in a row... :-)
Sharlyn Guthrie06/18/07
Very good story, and your message is so good, too. Well-written, and i'm so glad she is going to make it.
Myrna Noyes06/19/07
Excellently written piece with a powerful message--and not only for teens, but for all of us! It's so easy to skirt the tough issues and pretend everything is okay when it's not, but that can be dangerous, as your story clearly shows. Great job! :)
Loren T. Lowery06/19/07
This could have gone in so many directions, I'm glad you took it along the path you did. Your MC's emotions were so raw that they were real and I couldn't help but empathize with her. I'm glad she survived and that the "others" have some redeeming qualities that will eventually give hope and to them all.
Pam Carlson-Hetland06/19/07
This is an excellent story. Message is great and, as mentioned earlier, one for adults as well. Isn't it too bad that it takes something tragic to get our attention sometimes. Good writing, good job!
Rita Garcia06/20/07
Enjoyed the way you wove this great story, complete with an awesome message.
Kristen Hester06/20/07
Wow. Very good story with a very important message. Very convicting and moving!
Brenda Welc06/20/07
Kleenex please! This is a very motivational story. Teenagers seem to think that nothing affects them and those around them. So often they hide behind curtains, blocked from thier true feelings while they strive to fit into what others expect from them. Well done here and I heard God speaking this to all of us who were once teenagers. My 13 and 15 year olds will be reading this one for sure. Thanks for sharing what is in your heart.
Sara Harricharan 06/20/07
This is up-to-date and very realistic. I love Jenna's letter. There is so much emotion and truth packed into it. The only thing that was a little confusing, was the explanation that it was a drug overdose, maybe that should come up a little more? I almost missed it because I read back up twice looking for the explanation, then finally finished it and realized it was there all the time. Good job. ^_^
Julie Arduini06/20/07
Jenna's letter was so emotional and real I felt guilty as if I were part of the story and should have been a better friend! That's an earmark of one excellent story, one that I won't forget.
David Butler06/21/07
Very moving, very sobering. Very sensitively and skilfully presented. I felt glad and relieved that Jenna pulled through, it was that real. Not the kind of story you can look at with cold objectivity.
Well done.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/21/07
I am so happy to see more recogniton for my gifted writer friend.
Sara Harricharan 06/21/07
***Congrats on a highly commended!***
Debbie OConnor06/21/07
Great story, Joanne. Congrats on your win, it was well deserved.
Myrna Noyes06/21/07
CONGRATS on your "Highly Commended"! What a nice note on which to end your time in Advanced! :) I really liked this piece a lot!
Patty Wysong06/22/07
This is great, Joanne! A great message for all of us.
Brad Paulson08/12/07
Go back and read all the comments that people left and know that I echo all of them, well done
Corey Rutherford12/09/11
That was an awesome story and such a good leason no matter the age. Well done!