Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

The love of French and reading can take you on a journey, in every sense of the word. After devouring 16 books in record time, nine CEGEP students and their two teachers stayed in France to participate in the deliberations which led to the crowning of the winner of the Goncourt des lycéens.

A Québé cois at the Goncourt des lycéens

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The CEGEP student Anna Molins, 18 years old, reading one of the books which were in the running for the Goncourt des lycéens.

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For a 28th year in a row, young French-speaking people have crowned a novel other than the one chosen by the Académie Goncourt. The high school students gave their favorite to Sad tiger, written by Neige Sinno, while the members of the Academy preferred Watch over her, by author Jean-Baptiste Andrea.

And there is a bit of Quebec in this choice. Indeed, a group of students from John Abbott College, on the West Island of Montreal, took part in this historic event this year. Story of a very unusual literary adventure.

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First meeting of the group to discuss the books of the week.

The adventure began in September. In a classroom of an English-speaking college with an elegant, Victorian look, the students meet for the first time. You can feel it in the air: they are aware that they are diving into an extraordinary experience together.

Armed with their tablet or e-reader, they will tackle a major challenge: in eight weeks devour the 16 books that were in the running for the prestigious Goncourt literary prize. And they will be guided in this endeavor by French teachers Daniel Rondeau and Ariane Bessette. It’s a completely crazy adventure, an incredible literary challenge! says the teacher.

These are the same books in the running for the Goncourt Prize which must be read for the Goncourt for high school students. But the difference is that it is young people aged 15 to 18 who will decide the winner.

A quote from Ariane Bessette, professor of French literature at John Abbott College

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Ariane Bessette has been teaching French literature at John Abbott College for eight years.

It's not gray heads who choose the winner, it's really young people with their eyes, adds Daniel Rondeau. In previous years, the books which [received] the Goncourt from high school students were distinguished either by an anchoring in a social theme, or by a great charge of emotions, adds his colleague.

All members of the group have already read the first two novels on the list in preparation for their first meeting. Among them, Let our joy remain,by Quebec author Kevin Lambert. The exchanges flow and the reflections are of high quality. Everyone has their point of view to make known.

I think it's a story [not only] about humanity that we sometimes takes away from the rich, but also on the privileges that they do not always want to have themselves, argues Kamila Michelle Contreras Zarate. Jeremy Plante, the only boy in the group, adds his two cents: If we were trying to demonize high class, it didn't really work for me.

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Nahid Nowrozi, Kamila Michelle Contreras Zarate and Magali Shimotakahara participate in the discussions during the first group meeting for the Goncourt high school students.

Nahid Nowrozi, she, focuses on the form of writing. They were long sentences that never stopped, with little punctuation. But it gave an idea of ​​a person's thoughts. It took me a little while to get used to that.

This is an extremely open-minded generation. We hear it in the comments they make, points out teacher Ariane Bessette. And at the age they are, their emotions are so intense! When they like something, they love it. When they don't like something, they hate it.

It moves me to see these students impose themselves, allow themselves, I should say, to read all these books, for pleasure, not for a grade. And they put all their heart into it, said his colleague Daniel Rondeau.

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French literature professor Daniel Rondeau listens attentively to his students discussing the books they read this week.

John Abbott College, an English-speaking establishment on the West Island of Montreal, is the only establishment in North America to have been selected to be part of the jury of the Goncourt of high school students this year.

The group is incredibly diverse. If the teachers Ariane and Daniel expected to find mainly French speakers in the group, they had the pleasant surprise to discover that many participants do not have French as their mother tongue.

I find this interest, this curiosity, which motivates them for students who identify as English speakers or, sometimes, for whom French is their third or fourth language, wonderful!

This is the case of Anna Molins, who lives in an English-speaking family… but Francophile and steeped in a love of reading. When we travel, we are always reading. When we are at home, we read. We lend each other books and, afterwards, we can discuss them. It’s really a great family pastime, explains the young woman, who lives with her two sisters and her parents.

She has a very personal motivation for embarking on this adventure.

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Anna Molins has been a lover of words since her childhood.

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I would really like to be more bilingual, closer to the French language, to be closer to other Quebecers, because after all, it’s my home!

A quote from Anna Molins, humanities student at John Abbott College

Nahid Nowrozi constantly navigates between Persian, inherited from her parents from Central Asia, French and English. She maintains a very special link with the language of Molière, which has never put her off. It’s truly a beautiful language that is unique. French allows you to express certain things that you cannot express in English or Persian.

As for Jeremy Plante, after a hiatus from reading in French, he felt the need to get back into it. I thought it would be a good shock treatment, reading 16 books in eight weeks! I know the effort will be worth it, he continues. I jumped at the chance to participate in this competition because I know very well that such an opportunity will not come again!

He says he is impressed by the seriousness of the novels' content. They are almost all socially engaged books, with a message. We talk about politics, the drama of migrants, rape. There are really all kinds of heavy topics.

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Nahid Nowrozi was determined to take on the challenge while maintaining a good life balance .

Being disoriented by quickly switching from one book to another is one of the things that Nahid finds fascinating about this challenge.

Sometimes, in two days, we go from a unique narrative universe to a completely different one. It's as if we were escaping from reality to go from one universe to another.

It's obviously not a session like the others that the participants must manage. The key is consensus: organize your time well.

I already have to juggle work, school, the tutoring I give, nursing internships… So that leaves less time for reading, Jeremy summarizes. Basically, when I arrive home, my moments of relaxation become moments of reading. He admits that he is more tired than usual since the start of the challenge.

Despite everything, he maintains the pace of reading, assures he.

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Jeremy Plante is happy to immerse himself again in French literature, having put it aside for a while.

Mondays and Tuesdays, I finish a first book. And then, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, I read the second one.

A quote from Jeremy Plante, nursing student at John Abbott College

Personally, I have no difficulty managing my time. But it sure has become a busy schedule. I try to maintain balance through it all! explains the very rigorous Nahid, who studied speed reading techniques during the summer in preparation for this challenge. I'm very good. I read between 80 and 100 pages every evening. She also takes advantage of the breaks between her classes to advance her reading.

My friends, let's just say I haven't seen too much of them lately. If I'm not at school, I'm at home reading. And if I'm not at home reading, I'm at school!

A quote from Anna Molins, humanities student at John Abbott College

Anna is also holding on, at least for the moment. For now, things are going well. But if you ask me again in a month, the answer might be different! she said, laughing.

Mid-November, the first snows arrived, the thousands of pages and their characters now live in the imagination of young people.

This is the final meeting. That of the pat on the back. Because the accomplishment is great. The results of the experience too.

We are exhausted, to be frank, but we are happy, says Daniel Rondeau. We feel the fatigue in quite a few young people, but the smile is still there!

They are extremely lit. This reassures the new generation. These nine young people will go far in life, I am convinced!

A quote from Daniel Rondeau, professor of French literature at John Abbott College

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Stefaniya Pillcheva and Alexa Bowers during the last Goncourt preparation meeting of high school students before the final trip to France.

We didn't have to motivate them! They are the ones who motivated us! adds Ariane Bessette, admiring her students. The sparkle in their eyes when they talk about reading with so much life, it's beautiful to see!

I'm done to read the latest novel yesterday during the night! I almost woke up my whole family to tell them I was so happy and relieved, adds Anna.

Kamila admits that the experience was difficult at times. But it was surmountable! And I would do it a thousand times, she assures us.

Me, I I am most proud of myself. I have gained confidence: I am able to read as much in French while taking my classes and working. I feel amazing!

A quote from Alexa Bowers, student at John Abbott College

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Andrea Sanchez Benitez is proud of her achievement.

I never thought I would read 16 books in two months! Oh my god, we did it! launches Andrea Sanchez Benitez.

It's also an opportunity to choose a common favorite together.

My favorite book has to be Sad Tiger,confides Magali. It's an incredible story. Three other students agree.

Watching over herwas my favorite, really, confides another. It's a super beautiful fiction.

It's finally Sad Tiger, by author Neige Sinno, a harsh story that deals with rape, which will win the favor of the majority of the group. Kamila will have the role of delegate of the group and will defend the choice of her comrades during the regional deliberations which will take place in Paris the following week.

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Anna Molins can't wait to fly to Paris, the highlight of her fall adventure.

The trip to Paris, the big reward at end of a breathless marathon, this is the subject that is on everyone's lips. Many have not yet visited France or have not traveled since the pandemic, so the stay is greatly anticipated.

I'm really looking forward! We've been thinking about it for months! Anna says while packing her bags. I think we deserve this trip. We really worked hard. We did something incredible!

Goncourt prize for high school students 2023.BROADCAST HERE FIRST.It's our business.

Prix du Goncourt des lycéens 2023


Listen to the audio (Prix du Goncourt des lycéens 2023. 8 minutes 14 seconds)

The group is having fun while remaining tight-knit, writes Daniel Rondeau, who keeps in touch with our team remotely.

Since not all members of the group can participate in the deliberations, they took the opportunity to transform the stay into a cultural journey with a literary flavor. On the menu: visit to Victor Hugo's house and the National Library of France, no less.

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The group of CEGEP students from John Abbott College visiting Paris, in front of the Hotel des Invalides.

At the end of the regional deliberations, the group's representative, Kamila, had the joy of being selected as spokesperson for foreign high school students for the national and final deliberations which took place on Thursday in Rennes.

After discussions held behind closed doors, it was ultimately the choice of the John Abbott College group, Sad Tiger, which attracted the favor of the high school students of the French-speaking world and won the Goncourt des lycéens 2023.

It was also one of Kamila’s personal favorites, which made the debates particularly interesting and rich for her. For me, this book is simply perfect! she explains. We made our choice mainly by thinking about the writing of Neige Sinno. Much has been said about the quality of his language, his thoughts, in addition to the message and the important social impact that the book has.

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Kamila Michelle Contreras Zarate will travel to Europe for the first time.

It was an incredible experience. I really enjoyed sharing our culture with other high school students and having them share theirs with me. It was a beautiful environment of sharing, friendship and at the same time very interesting debates on books. I loved that.

A quote from Kamila Michelle Contreras Zarate, humanities student at John Abbott College

This stay was all the more memorable because she was able to share it with her classmates from John Abbott.

We almost had everything done together this week! We are really very united. I think we created friendships that will last. It was worth it! I'm going to remember this experience all my life, that's for sure! she concludes with emotion, grateful for what her love of reading has given her in recent months.

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