What Do YA Readers WANT?!!

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Wouldn’t we authors like to know! Preferably, a good two years before YA readers actually want it, so we can write, edit, publish and market just in time to reach your ever changing moods, er needs. Just kidding. I read as much YA as the average teen, possibly more, so we’re in the same boat. I have wants of my own, and I also want to write a book that will resonate with readers.

Lucky for you, we have a little—just a little—insight into this very question. Recently Teens Can Write Too! ran a blog chain entitled What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? All of the respondents are teens who blog and write beyond their blogs. In fact, quite a few of them have some pretty amazing things to say, so when you’re finished reading this, check out their posts too.

While I was patiently—or not so patiently—waiting each day to read a new teen’s perspective on what they’d like to see published, I was also following a thread on Absolute Write entitled What would you like to see more or less of in YA? Between the two I was reading some great ideas about what books should be published in YA.

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Light bulb moment: I should compile the information and write a blog post about it!

Stress. Woman stressed

Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The sheer mass of data was daunting. It’s taken me hours to compile it into any sort of usable format. You can check the data here if you like. But I’ll try to make some kind of intelligent response, since I promised I would, and I always keep my promises!

Part of the problem is that I didn’t really know what I was doing while compiling the data. Now that I’m finished, I might have done it a little differently, but there is no way I’m doing it over again! It’s like having a term paper almost finished two days before it’s due, and realizing you should have taken a different approach. No ‘A’ is worth the work it would take to start over. Sorry, but I have a life. 🙂

And what everyone wants is as diverse as the respondents themselves. I saw everything from wanting fan fiction traditionally published to requesting a book from the POV of a toddler! Funnily enough, I did have the idea to write a novel about babies and toddlers who turn into teens when they fall asleep and wake up in a fantasy adventure. Yeah, I haven’t written that one yet.

But there were some clear winners, and losers, so if you want the nitty-gritty details, check out the data, but I’ll give you an overview of the most common responses in this post.

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22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums.

 

Dragon

Fantasy received the most votes for a genre with at least 34% of respondents requesting more in some form. I say at least because it was one of those cases where I would have tallied the votes differently in hind sight. I might have missed a few votes asking for a specific aspect of Fantasy without actually requesting Fantasy in and of itself. Anyway, you get the point.

There wasn’t any one type of Fantasy that was a stand-out winner, but many different kinds were mentioned. In fact, I got the impression that readers would like to see more pure, traditional fantasy, not other types of stories posing as Fantasy, i.e. Romance set in a Fantasy world, Dystopian set in a Fantasy world, etc. The one thing they did not want to see was more Fantasy worlds based on Medieval Europe or books based on Western (Greek/Roman) Mythology. Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and Celtic were mentioned (I know Celtic is Western, but at least it’s something other than Zeus and Poseidon!)

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On a similar note, Science Fiction, which 17% of respondents requested more of, also seemed to center on more pure forms of its original genre. Readers especially seemed to dislike Dystopian disguised as Science Fiction. They want to see robots, cyborgs, cool technology that’s not the bad guy, and fun adventures that explore new worlds and revel in the joy of future technology and uncharted worlds.

Dystopia was a mixed bag with 9 readers wanting more while 5 wanted less or none. One thing was fairly clear though. Readers want something different than the tried-and-true Dystopia we’ve been experiencing over the last few years. Diversity, LGBTQ+, new settings, and most importantly, move away from the cliched tropes. No big, bad, government that’s outlawed something as the end-all of society and the rebel character fighting against it.

Re-tellings as a category received 10 nods, with respondents asking for non-traditional and non-European fairy tales, classics, Shakespeare, mash-ups and even re-tellings of Anne of Green Gables. One interesting note: only 1 of the 10 votes for re-tellings came from the unidentified age group. Clearly, teens are more interested in re-tellings than their older counterparts who read YA books.

Other than specific genres, another winner was seeing more Families in YA. 26% wanted to see healthy family units in some form, whether it’s present parents, quirky families, complex sibling dynamics, big families and any of the aforementioned relationships being the main emotional stake of the story.

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One of the clear losers was Romance. Not so much the genre of Romance, but rather romance in YA books in whatever genre it happens to appear. 26% of readers said they are completely tired of or would like to see less romance in YA books. 18% said they’d like to see fewer or no love triangles and no “insta love” stories. 9 respondents asked for healthy teen love relationships with a wide variety of realistic relationship requests from LGBTQ+ to mutual breakups to relationships that end and the characters actually learn from them.

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While there were many other responses I could talk about, the last one I’m going to discuss is Diversity. This was another category with a broad scope that I wish I had compiled the data differently. For example, 12 respondents requested diversity in all forms, while 16 specifically said they want novels where the diversity is not the issue of the book. I could have tallied all respondents that called for diversity in any form and had a large number of people wanting something more from their YA, but I didn’t do it that way. And since some readers requested multiple kinds of diversity, I couldn’t just add up all the specific requests because the number would have been inflated.

Anyway, over and over again I heard YA readers saying they wanted to read more about people of color, characters of all sexual orientations, people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses, neuro-diversity and ethnic people living their culture in contemporary and futuristic settings. The one overriding theme to all of this was the diversity needed to be a part of a character’s life, and the readers want to see how it affects their lives, but it can’t be the point of the book. They want to see people of color in fantasy, a teen detective with Chron’s disease, a wheel chair bound action hero, and romance between characters of all sexual orientations. Those examples are made up based on some of the comments I read, but they’re pretty spot on from the types of diverse ideas they want to see written. They want to see a cross-section of America, and in some cases the world, that isn’t white, Christian and straight.

So, how do we use this information? Well, first of all it would be great to see agents and publishers take a look because my agent research has indicated that agents are looking for Contemporary right now. Yet that had extremely low response numbers from this completely unscientific poll. Unfortunately I don’t have any agents or publishers that follow my blog, so chances are slim for that. 😉

I guess, if you see your book in these results, then congratulations! Get working and get it published! If you see some inspiration in any or several of the requests made by these responses, then once again, get busy! You’ve got some writing to do! But, if you see your book in some of the requests for NO MORE!, well, don’t despair. Even these YA readers couldn’t all agree on what they wanted, so there are readers out there for all kinds of novels. Just keep writing what you love. It’s all any of us can do!

What Do YA Readers Want? – Data

22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums. This is the data.

The responses are organized and tallied as close as possible into pertinent categories with relevant subheadings. If a response has two numbers, the first is from the teen respondent group. If it has only one number, it could be from either group. If it has no number then it is either just a heading that no one specifically requested, or only one person requested it. Though I put things in my words for clarity, sometimes I used the respondents exact words. You should be able to tell!

Check out my post What Do YA Readers WANT?!! where I discuss the results.

22 Teen Respondents + 40 Unidentified Respondents

  • POV
    • Male (2) + (3) = 5
    • Multiple POVs (1) + (4) = 5Less first person POV (3)
      • Third person with multi POVs (4)
    • No series where each book is from a different person’s POV
  • ROMANCE – (Existence of, not genre)
    • Tired of Romance or less romance (7) + (9) = 16
      • More topics about things kids deal with
      • Sexual uncertainty and ambiguity
      • Characters embrace singularity
      • Tired of great stories being steamrolled by romance
    • LGBTQ+ Romance (4)
      • Not just 2 guys: explore other couple dynamics (2)
    • Less or no love triangles (5) + (6) = 11
      • Unless done well
      • At least change 2 boys after one girl formula
      • Don’t have girl end up with the guy who treated her like dirt
      • Make MC be the one who is chosen, not the chooser
    • Real love triangles with LGBTQ+ characters
      • a likes b, but b likes c, and c likes a
    • Clean Romance
    • Healthy teen love relationships (3) + (6) = 9
      • Romance done well w/ a slow build and deep commitment (2)
      • No abusive relationships with happy ending
    • Less “one true” or “insta” love (11)
      • See relationships fail
      • Be happy alone
      • Romances that don’t have happy ending
      • Relationships that end mutually
      • Stories where you learn from failed romance
      • Accepting flaws in partner and learning to live w/ problems
    • Books without romance, or at least where lack of romance isn’t central issue (2)
    • More romance
    • No more romances between “good girl” and paranormal “bad boy” (2)
      • At least reverse the cliché
    • Less glorified first kiss, first time having sex, etc.
    • YA satire of teens and their multiple forever-love affairs
  • DIVERSITY
    • Diversity in general (9) + (3) = 12
      • All forms
      • Not secondary characters
      • Asian or half-Asian
      • Help those of us who don’t care about seeing diversity have an opportunity to see it
      • Chronically ill
      • Physically disabled
    • LGBTQ+ Characters (4) + (5)
      • Romance
      • Explore all kinds of orientation
      • Question sexuality and don’t necessarily resolve by end of book
      • Gay older mentor characters shouldn’t be stereotypical
      • Friendships between LGBTQ+ characters and also straight characters
      • Asexual characters
      • Honest-to-God Lesbians
    • LGBTQ+ Series
    • No diversity issues (8) + (8) = 16
    • Characters w/ diverse hobbies
    • Diverse group of misfits
    • Ethnic Americans living their culture (5)
      • Contemporary stories
      • Futuristic stories (2)
      • Afrotruism (3)
    • Diverse authors writing about their own culture
    • Characters of color where color is not the issue (4)
    • Translations of international YA books
    • Characters with disabilities (2)
      • Disability not the issue
    • Neuro-diversity (2)
      • Important to character development but not the issue of the novel
      • Like Carrie in Homeland – bipolar, but not the story
  • CHARACTERS
    • Detailed character descriptions – paint a picture
    • Female
      • Smart nerdy girl who gets the hot guy
      • Diversity in female fantasy characters
      • Believable females – not always kick-ass, can be weak, intelligent, have to deal w/ emotions, solve problems w/ intelligence not brawn
      • Strong female characters (4)
        • Bad-ass girly girls like Buffy (2)
    • Well developed characters
    • White characters should get sunburned
    • More anti-heroes who carve their own way to hell (2) + (3) = 5
      • Morally ambiguous
      • POV of antagonist
      • Don Draper
      • Walter White
      • Also females
      • Use chessmaster skills to achieve their means
    • Homeless characters in a big city
    • Books from POV of toddler
    • Families (4) + (12) = 16
      • Big families (2)
      • Present parents (1) + (5) = 6
      • Healthy family units
      • Quirky/original family dynamics (3)
      • Rich, complicated sibling dynamics
      • Relationships focused on friends/siblings/parents not LI (4)
    • Characters who step out of their bubble
    • Large cast of characters with secondary characters we care about (7)
      • Quirky secondary characters
      • No more lame secondary characters who only exist to highlight MCs perfections/purity (2)
    • Fewer quirky characters who only like media from past generations
    • Quirky fun characters
    • Characters who learn from mistakes; especially communication
    • Complex adults – less stock or cardboard adult characters
    • Less sarcasm, snark and characters who try too hard to be funny
    • Less “chosen ones” in stories that don’t follow the structure
    • Less angst ridden orphans with black hair
    • Characters from the southern United States
    • Normal, likable religious characters who are not hypocritical
    • Kind-hearted/nice/benevolent rich/privileged protagonists
    • Characters who aren’t rich or privileged
  • PLOT
    • No books w/ open endings
    • Tired of MC has to change the world
    • Plot like National Treasure where unconnected clues lead to big finale
    • Less commercially viable formulas and more unexpected (3)
      • MG quirkiness
      • Unpredictable plot twists
    • Well researched and not cliched or stereotypical
    • Road trip stories
    • Realistic deaths
    • Less characters being confronted by overwhelming odds only to be saved by someone else at the last second
    • Deal with social topics (4)
      • Politics
      • Ethics
      • Religion
      • Real issues that aren’t afraid to be dark
      • Male POV
      • Characters who suffer from slut-shaming and bullying is actually addressed (2)
        • Victim responds by becoming successful and moving on
    • Less depressing books (4)
      • No grief/suicide as main issue (2)
    • Optimistic fun adventures (2)
    • Family as main emotional stake (2)
    • Plot driven books with twists and turns (2)
    • No megacorp/government bad guys and resistance good guys (6)
      • or reverse it, how about average citizen comes in conflict with more than one-note government
    • Unpredictable twists, especially in mysteries and thrillers
    • No more mean girls/bullies against MC (2)
  • SETTINGS
    • Unusual settings (2)
    • Locations other than U.S. (1) + (6) = 7Settings in the southern United States
      • Obscure countries
      • Coming of age stories in obscure countries
      • Stories about people of different cultures in those cultures
      • Scotland
      • Asian location with Asian characters
    • Vivid settings that pay close attention to details (2)
      • Not average American town with no distinguishing features
  • GENRE
    • Fantasy (9) + (12) = 21
      • LOTR
      • Dragons
      • LGBTQ+ (2)
      • Sea stories
      • Diversity (2) + (2) = 4
        • Non-white MC
      • High/epic (1) + (2) = 3
      • Mermaids (1) + (1) = 2
      • No vampires
      • Non-Greek/Roman mythology (2) + (1) = 3
      • Egyptian mythology
      • Celtic Mythology
      • Non-western mythologies
        • Japanese
        • Chinese
      • More books like SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series
      • More Arthurian legend books like Gerald Morris’
      • Second world fantasy with well-constructed world
      • Not medieval England-like setting (2)
      • Diverse Settings
      • Multiversal
      • Powerful female characters
      • Cool magic systems (3)
      • No more steampunk
      • Lady pirates (could be historical fiction too)
      • No more fantasy or speculative fiction
    • Magical Realism and Paranormal
      • Cool magic systems (3)
      • Less paranormal
      • New paranormal beings besides vampires, werewolves, angels, etc.
      • Less realism and more surrealism – cross-over contemporary with paranormal (2)
      • Less supernatural academies
      • Urban Fantasies (2)
        • Settings other than NY
        • Settings in Europe other than Victorian London
        • Everything but the kitchen sink – not just one supernatural being
    • Science Fiction (4) + (6) = 10
      • Pure sci-fi
      • Cyborgs & robots (1) + (1) = 2
        • Giant robots
      • LGBTQ+
      • Diversity of all kinds
      • Not dystopia (1) + (2) = 3
      • Space opera (2)
      • Diverse Settings
      • Multi-planet, plane or dimension
      • Fun adventures where science and technology are desirable, not the bad guy
      • High powered settings with flashy powerful magic or technology
    • Contemporary (2)
      • More books like John Green’s
      • More books like WONDER
      • Less issue books
      • Realistic summer camps
      • Less John Green clones
      • Less Eleanor & Park clones
      • No more contemporaries based on a big secret that’s revealed later in book
    • Dystopia (2) + (7) = 9
      • No or less dystopia (1) + (4) = 5
        • Especially post-apocalyptic cliche
      • LGBTQ+ especially w/ romance subplot
      • Well-constructed worlds that pass logic test
      • Outside U.S. Settings
      • Move away from tropes and cliches (2)
        • Controlling government
        • Ceremony signaling adulthood at beginning
        • One-not government tyranny (love outlawed or something)
        • Use other forms of dystopian
    • Re-tellings (10)
      • Fairy Tale (5) + (1) = 6
        • Non-typical fairy tales (2)
      • Shakespeare (2)
      • Classic literature
      • Mash ups (2)
      • Anne of Green Gables
    • Historical Fiction (7) + (1) = 8
      • Based on an event, not romance
      • French Revolution
      • Braveheart
      • Asia
      • LGBTQ+ (2)
      • Diversity of all kinds
      • Historical mixed with fantasy/immortality/time travel
      • Fiction books on The Monuments men and how they recovered the art
      • All kinds
      • Include 20th century
      • More 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and centered around music
    • Mysteries (6) + (4) = 10Post-apocalyptic
      • Agatha Christie (2)
      • Dorothy Sayers
      • Irene Hannon
      • Dee Henderson
      • Prolific
      • Teen detectives that aren’t Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys
    • Thriller/Suspense/Espionage (3)
      • YA books similar to Tom Clancy’s books
      • More Ian Fleming/John Gardner type James Bond (less girls, more guns)
      • Books like those written by Jill Patton Walsh (detective?)
    • Horror (2)
      • Contemporary
      • Psychological
    • Creative genres (1) + (1) = 2Alternate histories
      • mix it up with sub genres
      • Don’t just stick to establishment
      • Like Grasshopper Jungle
    • Classics (2)
      • Oscar Wilde
    • Literary
      • Books that focus on word craft like Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower
      • Not purple prose
  • RANDOM
    • Fan Fic/Books by friends/Books by me (4)
    • More series (2)
    • More humor (4) + (1) = 5The last of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books
      • Hitchhiker’s Guide
      • Clean
      • Subtle and intelligent
      • Absurdist but meaningful
      • Puns
    • Groundbreaking books
    • YA with illustrations like Miss Peregrine’s
    • Scrafy in the Middle
    • A YA novel/series akin to Welcome to Night Vale Podcast series
    • Stand alones
    • Stories influenced by anime/manga
    • No clones of anything already big
    • Unique format like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, or Lover’s Dictionary
    • Originality
    • Weirdness/ambiguity

Book Review – The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau


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Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Testing
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547959109
ISBN-13: 978-0547959108
Goodreads: 3.95/5 stars

***WARNING*** There is one spoiler, but I point it out just like this, so you should be able to skip over it if you wish. ***WARNING OVER***

I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble

Book blurb as seen on Goodreads.com:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust

*sigh* If you check out THE TESTING on B&N, you’ll scroll down into oblivion with all the positive critiques, publisher credits and accolades about this book. I know those are designed to sell books, and they aren’t going to give you the negative reviews, but still, it makes me wonder if I’ve been so spoiled by good writing (Rowling, Collins, Lowry, Stiefvater, Green and many more) that I’ve become too critical to enjoy anything that doesn’t measure up.

This here, started out as a rant on how teens need well-written books, but I backspaced it all. I’ll save it for a not-so-far-in-the-future post. Like maybe the next thing I write. Suffice it to say that Ms. Charbonneau could learn a lot from the many Show-Don’t-Tell articles I have pinned to my Pinterest board, The Business of Writing.

Characters:
The characters were interesting, though there were a lot of them. Too many to fully develop and the attention given to those who did receive character development consisted of things like the character(author) telling us things like I was raised to do this . . . or in my Colony we believe this . . . or in another place the character thinks something along the lines of Tomas is always helpful and kind. He’s never encountered anything else. I’m totally paraphrasing because I didn’t take the time to write things down as I read. I’ll work on that for next time. Point is, the author told us things about the character instead of letting us see their traits through their actions. She didn’t trust us to be smart enough or intuitive enough to see for ourselves. I bet you thought my rant was over. You’re probably in for some more.

I liked Cia and Tomas, the main characters, and there’s no love triangle so that should please those of you who are fed up with love-geometry. Cia is smart, driven and resourceful. I enjoy her going from a wide-eyed girl who sees her world as a good place and wants nothing more than to attend the University, to a young woman who trusts no one but a handful of people and who wants nothing more than to protect her family and friends. Tomas is more interesting in my opinion, because though he is pretty bland as a character, we don’t see the story through his view point and there is an unsolved mystery by the end of the book that brings his character into question. It leaves you wondering what happened, and wanting to know the story through Tomas so we can see what he sees.

As far as the other characters, I’m hoping Cia’s brother, Zeen, plays a bigger role later on, and I’m interested to see what happens with Will. I don’t want to give anything away, but Will has a story I care to hear. Okay, I can’t help it, here’s a spoiler, so don’t read if you don’t want me to give it away ***SPOILER*** Will seems like a really great guy, but turns out to have an evil streak. Still, he can be slightly redeeming and you can almost understand his motivation. Since his memory is wiped of everything he does, he still thinks he’s a good guy. It’ll be fun to see where Charbonneau takes that plot thread, ***SPOILER OVER***

Plot:
Plot is were this book is strong. Cia must pass The Testing in order to advance to the University. It means financial advantage for her family, though that’s not a drive for her. Mostly it’s about pride in herself, making others proud of her, and her quest for knowledge. Really, Cia is a bit selfish if you think about it. Not in a bad way, but her reasons are a bit more shallow than the kids whose families are starving back home. They’ve worked hard to get selected, not because of vanity, but because of the difference it can make for those they love. Unfortunately, getting selected means possibly never seeing your family again.

What Cia doesn’t know is that the tests are mentally brutal at first, and physically so later on. Failure can mean death or leaving the Testing, and Cia suspects those that leave are permanently disposed of. Not only does she have to do her best to survive, but she has to watch out for her fellow Testing candidates, including some who will do anything to succeed. Almost the entire last half of the book is a action-packed fight for survival that keeps you turning page after page. The stark, harsh world Cia must travel through, badly damaged by many years of war and ravage, presents many challenges in the form of mutated animals, lack of water, dangerous Testing candidates and encounters with mutated humans as well. It’s frightening and not at all unimaginable in the dystopian world Charbonneau creates.

Romance:
As I said before, there is no love triangle, and the romance aspect is pretty subdued. Cia and Tomas have known each other their whole lives, and they have had previous missed opportunities to explore their connection, but like true-to-life young people, they haven’t always taken the initiative. Their affection and relationship grows naturally and even though Tomas’s integrity is questioned in the end, you are still rooting for them. Though the emotional connection could have been better written, it was at least satisfying in leaving out insta-love, one-true-love and love triangle issues, giving us a couple whose relationship is built on years pf getting to know each other, mutual respect, and affection not rooted in lusting after physical appearances.

THE TESTING calls into question what people will do to survive and succeed, and whether the ends justifies the means. In this, it’s much like The Hunger Games, pitting teenagers against each other in a death-duel to the finish line. It demonstrates what an autocratic society can do to ensure it’s own survival, even at the expense of the lives of children, and makes you think about what is right or wrong when you’re trying to protect the world from the dangers inflicted by the mistakes of past leaders. Charbonneau examines what qualities make up a leader—the good and the bad—and how people think differently about each of those qualities.

Once I got past the C+ writing (I’m being generous), I really enjoyed this book. The story line is captivating and I’m already reading the second book INDEPENDENT STUDY. Doesn’t look like Charbonneau took any writing classes between the two books, so we’ll see if the story carries me through. There’s also a novella THE TESTING GUIDE, but I think Charbonneau and HMH Books already has enough of my money, so I’ll hold off on the e-prequel. I’ll be sure to let everyone know how I feel about the second book soon.

My Review: 3/5 stars

Note: I know I said I wouldn’t be buying the e-prequel, but when I went to link it to this page for others to see I discovered it was free, so naturally, I downloaded it on my Kindle! I’ll give a quick review in conjunction with INDEPENDENT STUDY when I’ve finished.


Buy Independent Study: The Testing, Book 2 on Amazon.com


Buy The Testing Guide on Amazon.com

Coming June 17th, 2014 . . .

Buy Graduation Day (The Testing) on Amazon.com