The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

 

Image of novel ‘The Field Guide to the North American Teenager’

Yes, there’s a joke about a moose.

Being a Teen=Lack of Control Over Life

Smack in the middle of his junior year of high school, Norris Kaplan has to move from Montreal, Canada to Austin, Texas when his mom secures a professorship at the University of Texas. He is sad and angry, a truly depressed guy. He’d wanted to stay in Montreal with his dad, but dad is concentrating on his second wife and new baby boy. Norris isn’t great at making friends, and is leaving behind the one person who is close to him.

The second Norris’ plane lands, he believes all of his preconceived notions about Austin–and Texas and the states in general–are true. It’s 104 degrees and Norris has a problem with excess sweating. No one in the airport understands the hockey team logo on his shirt. Everything he can see as he and his mother drive away appears bland and supersized.

Norris Kaplan

Norris is the child of Haitian immigrant parents. He worries that being a Black, French Canadian will make him stick out and become an object of ridicule. The notion that he appears exotic to the Texans is immediately reinforced by the admissions officer at school who continues to try to speak French to him although he keeps telling her he speaks English.

Norris has two major coping mechanisms: he jots observations in a notebook he keeps in his pocket (thus the title of the novel), and he makes snarky, even nasty remarks to everyone he meets as a way of getting in the first punch. While this sort of behavior works well in the TV programs he’s seen about America schools, it isn’t earning him any friends in real life.

Each chapter begins with a few of Norris’ notebook observations. He covers jocks, cheerleaders, loners, part-time jobs, parties, flirting and more. His observations are wry and very funny. The thing is–while some ring true, many are unfair, and this will come back to bite him. Hard.

The Austin, Texas Social Hierarchy

When a group of cheerleaders accidentally slams a door into Norris, the alpha girl assumes he is spying on her. Another appears to sympathize with him and a third gets into a major argument, full of boyfriend drama, with the alpha girl. The one who argues–Aarti Puri, is the child of immigrants from India. She is nothing like the other cheerleaders and doesn’t like hanging out with them. She’s into the arts, particularly photography. Norris sees a kindred spirit in this Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a possible future girlfriend. In the sympathetic girl, Madison (Norris knew one of the girls had to be named Madison!) has a connection to Aarti as well as a possible part-time job. He views Madison as a beta cheerleader, one who is kind, meets everyone else’s needs, and doesn’t ask enough for herself.

Finally, Norris meets Liam, a loner who speaks in a monotone. They connect because Liam wants to learn how to play ice hockey and Norris is the only person he can go to. Liam is even more observant than Norris and has more patience with human error. He’s a great foil.

Read The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is full of laughs and wit. It’s great fun to eventually sympathize with all teens in the novel–who each has his or her own charms. I highly recommend this novel.

The author, Ben Philippe, had an interview with NPR that you might want to check out (it’s very short). He said something important about Black male characters, so I’ll add it here:

“I think when it comes to black male characters, there’s often the — I call it the Barack and Trayvon dichotomy, whereas either you’re given someone who’s perfect, who’s almost bigger than life, who’s going to end up becoming President, essentially, or you’re given the tragedy, you’re given all the potential that’s going to get snuffed out from the world. And people say that, you know, Norris doesn’t really have a thing — he’s not this amazing talent or political activist. And that’s exactly what I was aiming for.”

But Norris is witty, deeply-feeling, and he learns to correct his course. So–very much a teenager the reader relates to.

High School Housekeeping: I think readers at every level would enjoy this and come away the better for having read it as it will undoubtedly create empathy. There is a lot of colorful language and as Norris says, he’s the blasphemer in the group. Unless that is a problem, you will love this one.

Posted in Family Problems, Fiction, Humor, Multicultural, Romance, Sports, Young Adult Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teen Writers! Submit Your Work NOW!

Call for Submissions for a Special Teen Issue of Inlandia: A Literary Journey

Now accepting fiction, poetry, nonfiction, graphic novel excerpts, zine excerpts, book reviews, and art for a special issue of Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Inlandia Institute’s online literary journal. Submissions are open to anyone ages 13 – 19. We are also looking for guest editors for this issue. See past teen issues here and here to get a sense of the teen work that has been published. See the FAQs on the submissions page for more information.

Deadline is February 15, 2020

Deadline

Submissions open on December 15, 2019

Submissions close on February 15, 2020.

Guidelines for submission

  • You may submit work in more than one category, but please do not submit more than one entry for any category, except poetry and art (you may submit up to five poems or works of art).
  • For fiction–there is no minimum word count. Stories should not be longer than 5,000 words. Stories must be self-contained. If you are submitting an excerpt from a novel, it must stand alone. Any genre is okay. 
  • For nonfiction–there is no minimum word count. Essays and creative nonfiction should not be longer than 3,000 words. Any topic is okay.
  • For poetry–you may submit 1-5 poems in a single document. If the formatting might be altered in a Word document, please submit as a PDF. No poem should be longer than one page.
  • For graphic novels/zines and the like–this is new to us, and we are leaving it a bit more open to see what comes in. Please submit as a PDF so the formatting is not lost. Consider that work that is very long–like its own graphic novel–will be too long to publish in a journal. Shorter will be better.
  • For book reviews–you must write the review yourself. Other than that, we are looking for reviews of titles that will interest teens. Whether those titles are fiction, nonfiction, YA or adult lit is up to you.
  • Art–we are looking for work that complements the written pieces and pulls the journal together as a cohesive whole. We won’t know what that is until we receive submissions, but since art is fluid and can be interpreted in many ways, we encourage you to show us some of yours. Submit 1-5 pieces as individual jpgs.

FAQs

Where do I submit my work?

Submissions accepted only through our Submittable portal here. Mailed or emailed submissions will not be considered.

Is there a submission fee?

No, submissions are free.

How should I format my work?

Please use the following format:

  • Margins: one inch on all sides.
  • Font: something standard like Times New Roman. 
  • Spacing: double space your work, unless it is a poem and you want other spacing.
  • Header: Number the pages in the upper right. (You don’t need to number the first page, but if you can’t figure out how to make that go away, we won’t count it against you!)

Is there a type of work that you don’t want?

We will not accept pornographic material or work that degrades any gender, race, religion, ability level, etc. In other words, nothing demeaning of others.

I have a question that is not answered here. Who do I ask?Please email your question to Victoria Waddle at vwaddleido@gmail.com, and she will do her best to answer it.

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Focus on Teen Writers and Artists: Inlandia Launch

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Inlandia-Teen-2019-Cover-e1557118499842-967x1024.jpgThursday evening, the Inlandia Institute celebrated the launch of this spring’s

Image of woman.

Christina Guillen, Inlandia Institute Programs Coordinator, introducing teen readers.

teen issue of Inlandia: A Literary Journey at “Literature on the Lawn,” part of Riverside’s monthly Art Walk. Several of our teen writers and artists spoke as their family, friends, and Inland Empire community member listened. It was a delightful evening of focus on teen writers and artists.

Image of flyer advertising ‘Literature on the Lawn.’

 

Why Focus on Teens?

 

Image of teen reader.

Kiyani Carter, teen editor and writer

Last night I was at my writers’ workshop where I was having a nonfiction piece critiqued by other adults. In my essay, I had written a few paragraphs about something I’d learned in many years as a high school English teacher and a teacher-librarian. This small bit of my essay–it was about helping teens choose books to read–ended up being the most discussed section of my piece. Why?

The adults were fascinated that I have years consistently reading young adult books, things I could keep in the catalog of my mind for later book talks, to use for suggestions when a student would ask me if I had a book with someone just like him as protagonist and hero.

“I didn’t think of that–that every student wants a book with him or herself at the center.”

 

Write Your Own Story

Image of Victoria Waddle

Victoria discussing the process of creating the teen issue and congratulating the teens.

 

Well, of course they do. Sometimes they don’t find that book or that story or that poem, so they try to write it themselves. As Nobel winner Toni Morrison said,

  • “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

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Samantha Schmiedel

 

 

The reason I wanted to have a teen issue for the Inlandia Journal–and this is the second annual teen issue–is that it’s a good place for teens, particularly local Inland Empire teens, to write their experiences and have those experiences read. It’s as simple as that.

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Maihan Phan

 I love giving the teens the opportunity to be heard, I love having teen judges who are getting their first experience as being editors. And while I hope to give teens opportunities, many in this process faced their first rejection–in fact, 75% of the submissions didn’t make it to the journal. To each person whose work was not accepted, I sent notes about what did work in their pieces, encouraging them to keep writing. I want everyone to keep striving because the fact that the pieces weren’t ready doesn’t mean that they won’t be published with a bit more work. They are simply in progress.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 776FE33D-DF47-4A2F-8A20-9A7AC7D01A2C-e1557120928919-768x1024.jpeg

Aubrey Koyle

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Alissar Nahhas

 

 

 

Image of teacher and kids.

Loma Linda Academy teacher David Stone, with his kids, supporting the teen readers.

 

Thank You for Your Journey

Tonight, I want to thank all the teen editors for their work in reading the pieces. Their efforts are truly a sacrifice of time at a particularly busy point in the life of teens–the end of the school year. I want to thank all the teen writers for submitting. It’s a pleasure to feel the emotional resonance of your work, to see you writing yourself into your own story.

Image of students.

Creative Writing teacher Alejandro Cisneros (second from left) with Wren Levya, Alyssa Valenzuela, Violette Valencia and Vivyan Perez (left to right), all from Loma Vista Middle School.

Congratulations on your success!

Note: If you’re interested in submitting work for the next teen issue of Inlandia, subscribe to this blog, and you will receive notification of submission dates. (Right now, that appears to be October 15, 2019-Jan. 31, 2020.)

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Sync Audiobooks for Teens Free Now!

Image of AudioFiles Sync Program

I didn’t realize that AudioFiles summer Sync Program for teens has started this week! It’s a great program–free audiobooks for teens for ten weeks of the summer. Each week books are thematic pairs. Sometimes one is a classic and one is contemporary. Other times, they are books written within the same decade. Every time, they are excellent choices.

As someone who enjoys YA literature, and who has spent years making recommendations to teens, I’ve used the program often. I highly encourage all teens to sign up .

As you can see from the flyer, The first pair of books are Blink and Caution and Swing. I remember reading Blink and Caution when it came out, and loving it for so many reasons–the two desperate protagonists, the friendship they develop, the danger they face, the mystery. I reviewed it here. Now that the folks at AudioFile have chosen to pair it with Swing, I’m going to read that as my next YA fiction.

If you are a teacher or a librarian rather than a teen, please check out the program and encourage your students or patrons to sign up. Start immediately–the books are only available for free for one week ,and then they disappear!

 

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The Teen Issue of Inlandia will be Out Soon!

So excited about the second annual teen issue of Inlandia: A Literary Journey!

Submissions were open to all Inland Empire teens. Ten ten editors selected the pieces that will be in the journal–art, photos, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, microworks, and reviews. It was a very diverse group of submissions this year! As we did last year, we have some teens from outside the area featured as well. However, the majority are from the IE.

Come on by the Riverside Art Walk/Literature on the Lawn this coming Thursday and hear some of our local poets and authors read their work. Let’s welcome them into our arts community! Details below:

Flyer for the Literature on the Lawn event

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Absurd Science Questions and Answers: What If?

Image of book cover of What If?

For divergent thinking, read What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

I had a lot of fun listening to What If?: Serious Scientific Answers Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Randall Munroe is the author. He’s also the creator of xkcd. I told my sons I was listening to a crazy and fun book while I was walking and had gotten a copy from the library so that I could go over some of the questions and answers again as well as see the diagrams. When I told them the title of the book, they knew immediately who the author was. Munroe’s website is popular.

Absurd Science Questions=Thinking Outside the Box

I think any teen who likes thinking outside the box will love this book. You don’t need to be a science genius. Whether you understand all the science involved in the answer—to Munroe’s credit, he breaks it down for the average reader—you will sometimes be astonished at how weird or impossible events would affect the neighborhood, the state, the nation, the world, the universe.

Absurd Questions, Fun and Wacky Answers

What If? compiles all the best questions and answers from the xkcd webcomic. Four of these questions are listed inside the book jacket, so I’m guessing the publishers thought these were the best.

  • What if I took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?
  • Could you build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?
  • What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?
  • What would happen if someone’s DNA vanished?

These are great, and the answers are surprising. Vanished DNA is an otherworldly concept to me. I have a few more favorites of my own:

  • What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? (The answer was sooo far from anything I’d imagine.)
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?
  • What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element? (Boom! Boom!)
  • If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?

Weird and Worrying Interchapters

Also included in What If? are interchapters entitled “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox.” A few examples:

  • Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee? (Non-answer: “Thank you, Shelby, for my new recurring nightmare.”)
  • Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself? (Non-answer: “Karl, is everything OK?”)
  • What sort of logistic anomalies would you encounter in trying to raise an army of apes?

Ask Absurd Questions: Be a Divergent Thinker

I love all of this because of the divergent thinking. Just reading it lets you know that’s it’s OK to think up bizarre stuff and wonder about the answers. While the answers themselves are highly entertaining—and sometimes frightening—the fact that people ask such crazy questions in this wild, wide world is worth the read.

For other weird science reads, see my reviews of Gulp and Spook.

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Ontario Teen Book Fest // Submission Deadline

Image of Isabel Quintero giving one of three keynote speeches at the Ontario Teen Book Fest on March 9, 2019.

Isabel Quintero giving one of three keynote speeches at the Ontario Teen Book Fest on March 9, 2019.

Inlandia Submissions Deadline for Teen Issue is Days Away! March 15! Submit Now!

If you are a teen living in the Inland Empire, don’t miss your chance for publication in the online journal Inlandia: A Literary Journey. The deadline is day away—March 15. Artwork, fiction, nonfiction, poetry—we want to see it all! Go to the submission link for all the guidelines.

Ontario Teen Book Fest Inspires

Writers seek advice at teen book fests. Any writer–not just YA–will benefit as authors speak about craft, agents, and publishers. If you are a teen writer, make sure you attend! Great fun and info about the authors’ journeys at the Ontario Teen Book Fest. Over at VictoriaWaddle.com, I wrote about my take on the keynote speeches by Isabel Quintero, Suzanne Young and Stephanie Garber. Check it out here! 

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Submit Your Work to the Teen Issue of Inlandia Now!

Inland Empire Teens–Here’s Your Opportunity

The Inlandia Institute is happy to announce that in the spring of 2019, it will publish its second annual teen issue of its online creative writing journal Inlandia: A Literary Journey. All Inland Empire teens (13-19 years old) are encouraged to submit fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and artwork. So–if you live in Riverside County, San Bernardino County or the city of Claremont, we want to see your work!

 

Work will be judged by teens living in the IE. Those works selected will be published in the spring issue. Our goal is to highlight the creativity of our IE youth and to give them the opportunity to publish their work professionally. This speaks to our larger mission of recognizing, supporting, and expanding all forms of literary activity through community programs in Inland Southern California.

  • We are open for submissions NOW.
  • Submissions will close on March 15, 2019.
  • Teens wishing to be guest editors may submit their request on Submittable by March 1, 2019. (Note: teen judges may still submit their work, but they may not judge their own work.)

I’m hoping you will help get the word out about this exciting opportunity for IE teen writers and artists. I’d be deeply grateful if you forwarded the message to the English, journalism and art teachers at your schools. For more information about the nonprofit organization Inlandia Institute, please visit http://inlandiainstitute.org. To view the previous teen issue of the journal, please see https://inlandiajournal.com/volume-viii-spring-2018/. To read an article about the first teen issue in the Press Enterprise, see https://www.pe.com/2018/05/15/young-inland-writers-express-themselves-in-inlandias-first-all-teen-issue/ For the information including a FAQ page, submission guidelines, and a link to our submission manager, go to our Submittable page.

Sincerely,

Victoria Waddle

Inlandia Literary Journeys Managing Editor

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Memoir: Educated

7e95d46b-cb86-4141-b76b-9cc84eba3bf2Tara Westover, the author of Educated, grew up in the country, in view of Buck’s Peak, in Idaho. Previous books I’ve read about the ‘heartland’ and its ‘real American’ inhabitants—whatever that is supposed to mean to those that use the term to describe themselves while denigrating urban folks—idealize rural life. Westover has a very different story to tell.

Tara is the youngest of seven children, born into a fundamentalist Mormon family. As the book begins, her father, Gene, seems perhaps only quirky—he preaches against drinking milk. As we read on, we realize he must be mentally ill. He is so afraid of the outside world and so insistent on protecting his family from it that he has no birth certificates for many of the children (no records for the government to use to track them—and, in his mind, the feds are always working to track them down). He doesn’t allow visits to the doctor since those exhibit a lack of faith in God. He insists that his wife become an uncertified midwife to help birth children for other parents they know who also want nothing to do with doctors.

Most important of all, Tara and her siblings are kept out of public school so that the government will not teach them evil ways. Their parents are supposedly home teaching them, but, in reality, almost no teaching is going on. Tara and a few of her siblings who are interested in being educated work hard to have the opportunity to learn. Eventually, Tara, with the help of a brother, teaches herself enough to take the ACT test and get into Brigham Young University. But before she can use education as an escape route, she suffers severally at the hands of one of her brothers, Shawn, who exhibits traits of sociopathy. Though she tries to get her parents to stop the abuse, they shrug it off, insisting that it is not happening, or, when confronted with real evidence, that it was accidental or horseplay that had gone too far.

That Westover and her siblings survived their upbringing is, quite honestly, the most astonishing thing to me. They do not however, come through it unscathed. Not only were they psychologically abused and mentally damaged, but they were physically harmed in completely unnecessary accidents. Their parents have more than one collision in the family car through sheer stupidity and a refusal to accept that nature and weather are not under their control. Their father demands that they work in his junkyard in very dangerous conditions; he insists that they use heavy equipment without proper safety garments and without fail safe plans. He even hoists them into the air to work on an open platform, telling them that a bucket such as a donkey lift is for sissies. As you might guess, there are many falls, concussions, third-degree burns, open wounds, and, yes, near deaths. This never stops Gene from repeating the same mistakes, over and over.

Each time the parents risk the lives of their children, they put it in God’s hands. To them, this is a deep act of faith. To the reader, it is a criminal refusal of responsibility.

Once Tara is grown and off to university, the Westover parents, particularly her father, begin to have a cultish following of employees and extended family members. They make a good deal of money selling essential oils and natural cures. They reinvest much of it in preparations for surviving an apocalypse or a raid by the federal government.

Because Tara will not allow the lie that her brother Shawn didn’t really abuse her; because she refused to continue to bow to their soul-crushing religious fanaticism, as well as their fear of outsiders, the government, and formal education, her parents cut off all communication with her. While it’s hard to leave family behind—and thankfully, Westover has one brother who also separated himself from the tribe and backed her up in her bid to remove herself from Shawn—it is the only way for Tara to move forward.

High school housekeeping: While this is an adult memoir, I highly recommend it for teens as well. I know many students who loved The Glass Castle. (I reviewed here.) All of them will not be able to put Educated down. While The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is about wildly negligent parents, Educated is about wildly dangerous parents—a pair who physically, emotionally and mentally harm their children, all in the name of being free of government constraints and honoring God. Any teen going through difficult times might take heart at what Westover is able to do as she works all the way to Cambridge University and a doctorate in history.

Posted in Biography/Memoir, Faith-Based/Religious Element, Family Problems | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Magical Realism: The Buried Giant

Axl and Beatrice, ill-treated inhabitants of a rustic warren in medieval England, awaken on a fine spring day and realize that they have forgotten to do something important: they must take a few days journey to visit their long lost adult son in a nearby village. Why they haven’t seen their son in so long and exactly where he lives is not clear to them. In fact, Beatrice and Axl have a very difficult time remembering almost anything, even visitors to their warren that had stayed only a month before. The reader is immediately moved by their plight as they are both sweet, gentle, and particularly tender toward one another.  Sadly, life in the warren has been made more difficult for them as they are deprived of even the simplest creature comforts, such as a candle to light in the dark night, because of their advanced age.

Soon enough, the reader understands that everyone, not just in the warren, but in villages all over the country, is forgetting events both personal and political. Axl and Beatrice call this the ‘mist’ as it seems a fog that keeps the facts of their lives just out of viewing. There is a rumor that the mist is caused by the great dragon Querig. Added to the troubles of the old couple is a dawning understanding, culled from the tales of grieving widows, that they must cross a river with a boatman who tricks couples into journeying separately unless they can prove, by answering his questions, that their lifelong love has been perfect. With the mist over people’s memories, how can they satisfactorily answer the boatman’s questions?

The reader understands that the boatman is crossing over to the island beyond death. Add to this frightening prospect that the lonely, uncharted country is full of highwaymen as well as supernatural dangers from ogres, dragons, and pixies, and it is a very brave pair that takes a journey on a hunch.

As Axl and Beatrice proceed on their adventure, the relationship between the Britons and Saxons after the death of King Arthur is highlighted. Historically, then, this is probably seventh century England. “There were . . . miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland. Most of the roads left by the Romans would by then have become broken or overgrown, often fading into wilderness. Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land.”

The couple stop for the night in a Saxon village where Beatrice has traded goods in the past. She hopes to seek medical advice from a herbalist for a constant pain. The date of their arrival is, coincidentally, the same date when a Saxon hero is returning after saving a local boy from a group of ogres. By the description of the monster’s torn limbs, I thought he was Beowulf. But he is Wistan, on a secret mission from his king. Circumstances and the village’s superstitions combine to cause him to travel with the saved boy, Axl, and Beatrice.

Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Court whom the group meets along the way, also has a quest, and it seems that the two knights—Saxon and Briton—are in competition for glory. However, their purposes are even more secretive—and more dark—that it first appears.

While Axl and Beatrice’s journey involves a good deal of danger, death, and the witness of hand-to-hand combat, their constant concern for one another and their goal to stay together create a sweetly melancholic emotional atmosphere. I didn’t want to part from this couple. Yet, this is a book of reckoning, and there is no avoiding its end. Truthful, loving or not, the world is a difficult place and ultimately does not yield easily to human desire.

High school housekeeping: Don’t let the fact that Ishiguro is a Nobel Prize winner scare you off. The Buried Giant is brilliant and beautifully written, a book that will engage you without feeling ‘difficult.’ The medieval setting has popular appeal. Sir Gawain roams the countryside in a suit of armor, which was a later invention, apparently beginning in the thirteenth century. No matter though—with dragons, ogres and pixies dotting the otherwise realistically rough and rustic setting, the combination of realism and fantasy is a smooth one.

The novel is not particularly long (nor too short). I know that many English classes include ‘the hero’s journey’ in their curriculum. If a teacher should ask you to read a novel and discuss elements of the hero’s journey that you find there, you won’t find a better choice. Check this out.

 

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