Thank you, thank you, and thank you for The Sweet Far Thing. Your book has not only opened my eyes, showing me hope in a world of indifference, but it has al~o unfettered me from the bonds of societal expectations, showing me that I can still make my own decisions, no matter how encompassing social norms may seem.
For well over a year, I drifted through life without feeling, going through the motions of living without really living. I distanced myself emotionally from friends and tried to avoid forming new attachments in a desperate attempt to spare myself the hurt that would come with a crush's rejection, a friend's abandonment, or society's cruel indifference. My self-imposed isolation failed to protect me - it only added to my grief a feeling of emptiness, of loneliness. I felt pathetic, like the extra piece of a jigsaw puzzle with no place to fit. Every other person on the planet was able to overcome adversity and find peace and happiness. Why was I the only one who couldn't find my place in such a vast world?
This past summer, I discovered the Gemma Doyle trilogy. I read your books, searching for evidence to back my grim outlook on life - that people are selfish and uncaring, that true friendships and love don't exist, and that society dictates norms to which individuals must conform. And because I went in on a search mission, I found in these books what I wanted to find: the perfect exposition of my thinking.
I remember nodding at Gemma's depiction of her back-stabbing schoolmates at Spence Academy and of her two friends who abandoned her for the undead spirit of a deceased friend. I was touched by the selfless love between Kartik and Gemma, but I was wary, suspicious of an impending tragedy that would force the two apart. The end came when Kartik sacrificed himself in Gemma's place, and I cried my eyes dry that such a pure, true love would be destroyed. But what really resonated inside me was Felicity's despair of living in a gilded cage. "They've planned our entire lives ... whether you like it or not, and you'd best smile even if you're dying deep inside." Yes, I thought, we are so burdened by what is expected of us that we are unable to make any decisions for ourselves.
I was prey to the looking-glass phenomenon for much of my life, constantly worried about how others perceived me, constantly trying to improve my image. Reading The Sweet Far Thing convinced me that what others think or say about me can't harm me. "Let them talk! It's my life to live." If Felicity could dare to wear trousers in Victorian England, I too could loosen the stranglehold that norms held on me. By not conforming when I felt pain or displeasure, I have managed to break free of that gilded cage.
It took a second reading of The Sweet Far Thing for me to see the real meaning of the final installment, the powerful truth that it laid bare. "We're every one of us alone in this world. But you can have company, if you want it." What Gemma's brother told her perhaps outlines the biggest emotional choice you have in life. You can fear hurt and shy away from people, living as I did for eighteen months in emotional seclusion. Or, you can take a gamble and put some faith in people, making the most of what you are given.
An old Gypsy woman, Mother Elena, said to Gemma, "To those who will see, the world awaits." I have taken her timeless words to heart, and it has made all the difference. In the ultimate glass half empty or half full question, I realize that by choosing the half full view, the amount of water in the glass does not change. I can't wish the world into being a nicer place, but by being hopeful rather than grim, I can lead a nicer life.
This choice that I made recently to open up to people has led to greater revelations. I know now that I'm not the only one who can't find her place in the world. There are countless other people who are suffering the same problems. The despondency I used to feel for being a failure at life is gone, replaced by a new hope, a strange, burning feeling that there is something in this world for me, waiting to be found.
Mrs. Bray, your work gave me the strength to overcome my depression, and it has inspired me to continue the search for my place in the world. For this, I am forever indebted to you.