The Winners of Our First-Ever Review Contest for Middle Schoolers

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The Winners of Our First-Ever Review Contest for Middle Schoolers

Contrary to the message of history never fading, Bodiam Castle might seem run-down to a modern-day civilian. Of course, apart from the moss and ruins, the windows dotted around the periphery seem more inviting to intruders than defensive, which makes one wonder why they’re placed the way they are. The moss-laden walls make the castle blend into its forested background so the majestic fortress becomes difficult to see. If a modern intruder were to try to get into the castle, they might have a hard time finding it.

The 50-meter length of Bodiam’s walls is small compared to newer castles, and the chemin de ronde — the top of the walls connecting the battlements — may seem redundant on that scale, but in the context of the 1300s, they were crucial for defense. However, the corridors were not constructed with precision, and time has taken its toll on them, leaving many in ruins. Similarly, the many rooms varying in size and shape could have undermined the stability of the castle.

The quadrangular shape of the castle fits the stereotype of all castles having four equidistant walls with a single tower in each corner, but in fact this design has proved itself by standing through the centuries.

It seems that Dalyngrigge was more interested in long-term functionality than aesthetics, which has kept Bodiam Castle standing to the present day. It piques my interest in the reasons for medieval castles being depicted as quadrangular in shape; in actuality, not many are. This building has given me more appreciation for simple design. It has shown that historic sites can remain in our memories forever.

“We Set the Dark on Fire: Fighting Reality in a Fictional World” by Luana Cimiotti

Imagine you can’t tell anyone where you’re from — getting arrested, tortured, even killed, if you do. Imagine isolating yourself, fearing to share too much of your identity. Having to give up yourself to be someone you know you’re not supposed to be. To live a life that, according to the law, you don’t deserve to live.

Daniela, the protagonist in Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first novel, “We Set the Dark on Fire,” goes through this every day. After graduating from the country’s most prestigious school, Daniela is sent off into a forced, polyamorous marriage with her worst enemy and a condescending husband. Her efforts to accept the state of affairs are reversed when a mysterious man comes into her life and makes Daniela realize that she can’t and doesn’t want to silently put up with her circumstances. For the first time, she stops striving to fulfill others’ expectations, but instead, fights for her own dream to live in a world “where we can survive without forgetting who we are” (252).

Being both fantasy and dystopian fiction, one wouldn’t dare to imagine how close to reality the story is. It seems truly miraculous how Mejia sheds new light on current topics, like walls, borders, same-sex love, and inequality by projecting these issues into a story that any teen interested in philosophy and politics would enjoy. Most of all, the author wants to raise awareness about the discrimination in society and the threat of its normalization. The readers find inspiration to stick up for their beliefs through the perspective of Daniela, a very powerful and resilient girl, who often struggles with her identity, but slowly finds a voice. During her process of self-discovery, the third-person narrative takes the reader along and paints vivid pictures in one’s mind throughout the whole story. Despite the detailed setting, the writing style does not involve redundant descriptions, leaving room for the reader’s own creativity. The characters are compelling, for their motives remain mysterious until the very end. Daniela isn’t sure who to trust, so oftentimes, I found myself sharing the thrill of discovering a character’s intentions along with her. Throughout the story, the lines between good and evil blur, keeping the reader under a spell as they follow the many twists of the novel.