Harvard-Westlake student presents debut novel at Barnes and Noble Encino

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San Fernando Valley resident and Harvard-Westlake student Melissa Gertler, 16, stood before a group of a people at Barnes and Noble Encino late last month, speaking about writing her first novel, The Champion of Valens.

Harvard-Westlake student, Melissa Gertler

Harvard-Westlake student, Melissa Gertler, 16.

The Champion of Valens is an adventure tale and an inspiring story layered with reoccurring themes such as family, friendship, and most of all perseverance. The story follows Nara who wants to be a warrior and fight on the battlefields in a time when women are restricted to household duties. Nara, much like young author, aspires for something more.

After a brief introduction, Gertler warmly thanked those around her who helped bring her project into fruition and dived right into an in-depth analysis of her title. “I’m always asked why I wrote the book, and I don’t have a very good answer for it. It’s more, I thought to myself – why not?” she simply stated.

From a very young age Gertler was fond of reading. “Ever since I first opened my first Nancy Drew book in the 3rd grade I could not put a book down for the life of me,” said the teen. At the age of 13, Melissa was inspired to write her own story. Creating her own world filled with her own characters, it became an ambitious project  that she worked on everyday for two years after school and after her homework, of course.

“I knew when I started I didn’t want the setting to be a real place. I wanted to create a whole new world. And a whole new world needs new names,” said Gertler. She decided to research the Latin roots of certain words – with the help of her brother –and incorporated them into her fictional kingdom. In fact, the word ‘Valens’ translates to “powerful” in Latin.

The Champions of Valens is Melissa Gertler's first tome.

The Champions of Valens is Melissa Gertler's first novel. Reviewing for Moments Magazine, founder Elie Wiesel said, “I think Melissa, like her heroine, Nara, is on a remarkable path and I look forward to see where her journey takes her.”

In the story, Nara is given a chance to realize her dreams when her brother, Herod, is unable to perform his military duties. Herod is blind and incapable of fulfilling his role in the military. Between brother and sister they decide that Nara will disguise her self and take Herod’s place. Herod chooses to allow his sister to take his place not because he’s a coward but because he recognizes it’s the right choice.

As soon as Nara enters the military training camp is quickly gains recognition for her talent and bravery. But the more she excels it becomes difficult for her to hide the fact that she’s not Herod, as everyone assumes.

In later readings of her novel, Gertler aptly identifies certain themes that run under the current of her story: themes that have also conjured astute insight from the young teen, one being the constant struggle to find a balance between conforming and individuality.

“Throughout the course of the novel, Nara realizes that as long as she remains true to herself its ok to do things that are expected of her. It doesn’t make you any more weak or less unique, its just makes you stronger in the end,” said Gertler.

Throughout the discussion of her title it was clear that Gertler –with the help of family and friends — was able to achieve and perhaps even exceed the goals she aspired for.

“I cannot say I am as bold and rebellious as Nara or self sacrificing as Herod but I find that, along with my readers I find a bit of myself in each other characters,” said Gertler.

The Champion of Valens has also been reviewed by Moment Magazine, for which founder Elie Wiesel said,  “I think Melissa, like her heroine, Nara, is on a remarkable path and I look forward to see where her journey takes her.”

Melissa Gertler is currently working on her second novel.

Atina Hartunian’s articles have appeared in the North Valley Community News, The Armenian Reporter, The Pasadena Weekly, as well as current urban development for Fourstory.org. She is also a website content manager and freelance writer: www.atinahartunian.blogspot.com.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Pam K.

    Shira and I went to the book signing. We got there late and missed the speech, however, it was so nice to support on old Heschel classmate. We got the book, but haven’t read it yet.

  • Atina Hartunian

    Let me know what you think of it =]

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