San Leandro High takes a lot of hits, .
So I perked up when high school science teacher Victor Doan called in this tip: Carolina Navarro-Gutierrez, a 15-year-old sophomore, had won a national gold medal for the novel she entered in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
I recently caught up with Navarro-Gutierrez while she and some other students where hanging out after school with math teacher Phil Myers.
She brought along a copy of her novella, "A String of Happy Memories."
It's about teenaged girl who falls into a deep depression when her oldest brother dies in a car accident.
While she is recovering in a mental health facility, her other sibling, a brother older than her but younger than the one who was killed, breaks her out for a night and takes her to a party.
There, the female protagonist meets a guy who seems like a kindred spirit.
They leave the party together, ostensibly to return with some ice, but end up going off on an overnight adventure.
"There's a twist in the story that shows we're all connected in some way," Navarro-Gutierrez said. "The ending is a little bittersweet. It's realistic."
Playing with a strand of hair, she said she's been writing for a while, mostly for her own pleasure.
"I like to put depression into my books because it makes them seem real," she said.
Not that school or home life is depressing, she hastened to add.
She has friends at school who share her interests. Her older sister, Victoria, will graduate soon and attend UC San Diego. Her mother, Guillermina Gutierrez, is the principal at Santee Elementary School in San Jose.
She has her goals and dreams. For instance, she would like to get more literate in Spanish and try writing in that tongue. Beyond that it gets hazy but who had a road map at 15?
Her gold medal carried no prize beyond recognition, but that's enough.
"Down the road I would like to get something published but right now it's just a hobby and I like it that way," she said.