Book News :: Sync Free Audiobooks for Teens

This Book Betrays My Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope audiobook cover image

Every summer, SYNC gives participants two thematically paired audiobooks each week for sixteen weeks from May through August. Participants sign up for free and download the Sora student reading app. Anyone can actually sign up for the program, not just teens, but the titles are all geared toward teen readers 13+. The cool thing is that the books are “borrowed” and stay in the Sora app until you return them, with a loan time of 35,999 days. So, basically, the books are to keep unless someone purposefully returns them. The titles available each week are ONLY available to borrow for that week, so if you miss a week, then you miss out on those books. Right now, Week 6 is coming up, so there is still plenty of good audiobooking to be had. Visit SYNC via AudioFile and get started today – and spread the word to your teen readers and YA fans.

A Realistic Portrayal of Recovery

Guest Post by Lailey Robbins.

Good Enough, written by Jen Petro-Roy, is a piece of fiction that sits comfortably between middle reader and young adult. It is quite a realistic piece of fiction with a profoundly honest and vulnerable look into the life of Riley, who is hospitalized for her struggles with anorexia nervosa. Through the story, we see her heal, stumble, and navigate through a realistically and maturely portrayed journey of recovery.

This work is nothing short of phenomenal. With its accessible language and mature-yet-realistic handling of the sensitive topics that it delves into, it is a must have. Petro-Roy, being a survivor of an eating disorder herself, offers sensitive and helpful insight into the life of recovery and the many struggles that come with it. This, alongside her brilliant character development and the portrayal of relationships within the work, home in on her wonderful style. Not only does the audience watch Riley change, grow, and heal, they are also able to watch her juggle both the friendships that she has made within the facility while simultaneously trying to keep her pre-hospitalization friendships alive.

However, the downfall of this novel lies within its conclusion. The ending is unsatisfying, for lack of better words, as there is no definite answer for what comes next. As the novel draws nearer to Riley’s release from the facility, the book ends, leaving the reader with a sense of confusion as the character that they had been expecting to see make a full recovery is still struggling. Though it is realistic to not know what comes next, especially when in recovery, the ending of this novel seems to disregard its stakes entirely, leaving the reader completely lost.

However, if you are one for open endings, this novel has many redeeming qualities that allow it to be a wonderful read.


Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy. Feiwel & Friends, February 2019.

Reviewer bio: Lailey Robbins is a creative writing student from Salem College, North Carolina. Currently, she is working on a short story and a novel, with hopes to be published in the future.

A Journey of Self Discovery

Guest Post by Mille King.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls represents the term ‘tear-jerker’; it explores themes of pain, loss, and guilt in a real and relatable way. It is clear that Conor, the protagonist, sees himself as a monster for wanting the pain he is going through to be over, even if this means losing his mother. This guilt manifests in a physical monster who he believes visits him but no one else can see. The monster helps Conor through his pain and helps him discover emotions even Conor didn’t know he had.

Ness shows how guilt comes from deep down and we often can’t acknowledge it because we cover it with lies and believe what we want to believe, even when we don’t actually fully believe it. This is a beautiful journey of self discovery and I loved every moment of it.


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Walker Books / Candlewick Press, May 2011.

Reviewer bio: My name is Millie King, I am an English literature major and read not only for school, but for fun too! I always struggled with dyslexia so reading was hard for me but I have overcome those obstacles and am an avid book reader!

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YA Representation from Chloe Gong

Guest Post by Skylar Edwards.

Shakespeare meets Shanghai in this Romeo and Juliet retelling with a monstrous twist. Chloe Gong modernizes a familiar, yet different, plot sequence, with relevant characters and battles against colonialism, while honoring classical themes: love, hate, and loyalty. Roma and Juliette align to fight a monster, while navigating the dangers of a blood feud, gangster-run Shanghai, and foreign powers. As heirs to the competing gangs, Roma and Juliette have the most to lose and the stakes have never been higher.

Juliette returns from America to find that the life she once knew has changed and she struggles to redefine herself within Shanghai. Her loyalty to the Scarlet Gang is tested against the disputing territories quickly rising to power: rival gangs, communists, and colonizers. Tensions rise as she is forced to collaborate with her former lover, Roma of the White Flowers.

Gong paves the way for YA representation and creates authenticity by normalizing diverse characters, each with a unique perspective. In the story’s web, intertwined with queer and cultural identities, readers discover the Scarlet Gang are Chinese, while The White Flowers are primarily Russian. Sparks emerge between same-sex characters and readers discover that one gang member identifies as transgender.

Readers assume the antagonist is the monster who has released a plague of madness on Shanghai. However, Gong uses the monster-hunt trope to highlight who the real enemy is: each other. Two lovers and liars must put aside their differences, and convince others to do the same, before it is too late. Readers are left with a disastrous ending, where competing territories turn on each other and release the real monsters into Shanghai.

“Men are sometimes masters of their own fates.” —Shakespeare


These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. Margaret K. McElderry Books, November 2020.

Reviewer bio: Primarily a bookish fanatic working with nonprofits, Skylar is also a micro-influencer on BookTok; follow TwiceReadTales for more!

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‘The Cousins’

Guest Post by Jiya Ahuja.

This novel revolves around the Story family residing in gull cove island: a grandmother who owns the entire island, and parents who were disinherited by a mysterious “You know what you did” letter.

Jonah, Aubrey, and Milly are cousins who hardly know each other and have never met their grandmother. So when they receive a letter from their long-lost grandmother inviting them to the island, they aren’t particularly thrilled to go but, their parents see this as a golden opportunity to get back in their mother’s good graces. When they arrive on the island, the cousins realize their grandmother has different plans for them. Here they uncover secrets that lead them to their family’s dark and mysterious past. The entire family has secrets that they wish remained buried.

The story is told from three main points of view and is filled with a lot of twists and turns that keep readers hooked until the very last line. Although some parts felt a little slow-paced, this is still satisfying and entertaining enough. The Cousins is a highly recommended young adult mystery to readers of age 13 and above.


The Cousins by Karen M. McManus. Delacorte Press, December 2020..

Reviewer bio: Reach Jiya Ahuja here.

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An Original & Gripping Tale

Guest Post by Megan Riann.

The Scorpio Races pulls the reader into an immersive, sharp-edged world where our main characters have everything at stake. Puck and Sean, both teens on a fictional island off the American west coast, are competing on unlikely steeds in a deadly race across an unforgiving beach.

The premise and the ensuing story are original and gripping. Keltic-inspired water horses, red sea cliffs, and a deadly race to change your life? A perfect mix of familiar and fresh.

Additionally, the language in this book is phenomenal. Maggie Stiefvater’s prose is incredible and indulgent. Similarly, all the dialogue was purposeful, in-character, and clever. Not a single line was wasted.

This author absolutely nails character and development. All the motivations are clear and intense. The dual first-person perspectives allow the reader to get lost in the mind of the characters. As we root for Puck and Sean, the supporting casts’ contrasting goals add to the tension and stakes.

I would recommend this book to those who appreciate strong prose and powerful stories. With light magical realism, this story includes characters to root for, antagonists to hate, and stakes that will have you holding your breath.


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Inc., 2013.

Reviewer bio: Megan Riann is a Creative Writing major from West Michigan. When not writing, she’s watching superhero movies with her cat and hanging out on #writestagram.

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‘The Enemy’

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

Charlie Higson’s The Enemy is the first of an eight-book series, and it really starts off with a bang! It follows a group of children who have worked together to try to survive after a disease has either completely wiped out all adults, or turned them into bloodthirsty creatures content on eating the kids. There is a very large cast of characters, but they’re surprisingly easy to keep track of despite this. They have very distinct personalities and are quite loveable for the most part.

That being said, the end result for a lot of them is heartbreaking to read, and the struggles and hardships they all must face forces the reader to sympathize with even the most unlikeable of them. There are a lot of strange, scary, and bewildering things sprung upon these children that left me gasping. This story was very well told and I cannot wait to see what book two has in store!


The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Disney-Hyperion, May 2014.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Solid Conclusion to a Trilogy

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

Fox Forever is the conclusion to the Jenna Fox Chronicles. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this given that I really enjoyed the first book, and didn’t care much for the second, but this was a solid conclusion to the trilogy.

The story follows Locke as he tries to fulfill a favor he owes in Boston, which involves Miesha’s long lost husband, and a girl Locke accidentally falls for who is tied to the favor in a way that she doesn’t even know. As in the other two books, the characters are the best part of this story by far, but the plot is really good as well. There are reveals and plot twists around every corner, and they are quite unpredictable for the most part. Pearson constantly adds pieces to the puzzle and it grows more complicated as the situation reveals itself.

If you enjoyed the first book, and even if you didn’t enjoy the second book, I definitely think this is a series worth continuing!


Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson. Square Fish, February 2014.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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The End of a Breathtaking Duology

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

This sequel to Strange the Dreamer was absolutely phenomenal. It picks up right where the first book leaves off as Minya tries to force Lazlo to do her bidding, with the threat of releasing Sarai’s soul and letting her evanesce if he does not comply.

There are so many twists and turns throughout all 500 pages of this masterpiece. There are high stakes. There is whimsy. There is Laini Taylor’s gorgeous writing. There are the extremely lovable characters. And most of all, there is an amazing conclusion to this duology.

Throughout the entire story it seems as if there is no way to solve all of the major problems, even as more are being introduced, but somehow it all comes together for a spectacular ending that leaves the reader with so much emotion. I would highly recommend this duology to everyone, because it is absolutely breathtaking.


Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. Little, Brown and Company, October 2018.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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‘The Rotten Beast’

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

This is the short story in the Jenna Fox Chronicles that comes after The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I absolutely loved this! The story follows Allys, Jenna’s friend, who is trying to cope with the fact that she is made mostly of bio gel which is a sort of replicating technology that can be used to replace vital organs, and therefore save lives. The problem, though, is that Allys has an extremely large amount of this inside her, making her illegal.

I can’t say that very much happened in this story, considering it was only 12 pages long, but it was still extremely enjoyable. The way that Mary E. Pearson writes is really beautiful and makes something that could be very boring and insignificant into something gorgeous and impactful, and it very much has to do with the events in the rest of the series. I would highly recommend this series, and this short story, especially to people who really enjoy sci-fi.


The Rotten Beast” by Mary E. Pearson. Tor Books, November 2011.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

Heartbreaking & Exhilarating Depiction of Real Life

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

The emotional impact that Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower had on me from the very beginning was incredible. This story is told through letters to an anonymous friend, and it depicts the life of Charlie, a teenage boy, who is simply growing up. Everything about this novel is so real.

Chbosky does not try to sugarcoat the hardships of life and what it’s like to discover those hardships and have to live with them. Charlie experiences everything from the death of a loved one, drugs and alcohol, and sexual assault, to building different kinds of relationships with people and learning to trust and be there for them. Charlie (as well as many side characters) go through so much, and it’s similar to what so many real people experience all the time, which makes this read heartbreaking and exhilarating and confusing and amazing and miserable all at once. But it’s life. And this book did such a good job of depicting real life that I would highly recommend it, especially for those of us who still have some growing up to do.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Pocket Books, February 1999.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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RYPA 2021

I am delighted each time the annual Rattle Young Poets Anthology appears wrapped in the package with the companion issue of Rattle. Over twenty poets ranging from age five to fifteen are featured in this year’s publication. It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying, “These are great poems for writers so young,” when the truth is quite simply: These are great poems. The opening work by Maria Arrango, “¿Identity?” which begins “El president Donald Trump said / they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. // My brown sugar skin delicately / compresses me with warmth / as I try to understand / the anatomy of my body.” is the immediate indicator that these young poets hold their own among their elder peers. Age is indeed just a number.

There are poems that disrupt the idea of idyllic youth, such as Matthew Burk’s “The Roller Coaster” and Maria Gil Harris’s “Like Magic,” as well as those that confront reality, like Adrianna Ho’s “Pasta Sandwiches in Quarantine” and Ivy Hoffman’s “Only Days Before Leaving for College, I Note the Existence of My Brother.” Some poems reach deep to connect imagery and emotion: Ha Trang Tran’s “A Love Letter for Home,” imagining a “grand return” to Hà Nộ, and Hannah Straub’s “Cadillac Mountain” with haunting lines like, “Though I was not falling / I was stumbling, in the way I clung to people / I could not reach, memories as useless / As the wire guardrails.” And there are plenty of works that raised a smile through their intellectual rhetoric, like “The Weight of Heavens” by Emma Hoff, which begins with the barb, “Was the minotaur / Really / A monster?” Kakul Gupta’s “Ten Haiku” are each effective meditations, and Mackenzie Munoz’s “Catching Dreams” reaches the metaphysic, while other works were just plain fun, like Paul Ghatak’s “Counting to One,” Grant’s “Lions Roar,” and Melissa A. Di Martino’s “Saive Me By Thes Wendrous.” Shreya Vikram’s “DIY Project” is the kind of poem that can only be experienced, and with good reason, as, in response to the Contributor’s Note question, “Why do you like writing poetry?” Vikram’s answer begins, “Without poetry, I’d waste language.”

For any readers out there with young writers in your circle, please introduce them to Rattle and this annual collection. It’s essential for young writers to connect with other young writers and find encouragement for their own reading, writing, and submissions. For more resources, check out the NewPages Young Writers Guide to Publications and NewPages Young Writers Guide to Contests.

[It is challenging to include mention of every work in a review, but I want to acknowledge the remaining poets from this collection and commend them for their contributions, all of which brought me immense pleasure to read: Natalia Chepel, Natalie Friis, Kevin Gu, Jessie Johnson, Dahee Joy Kang, Chloe Lin, Naomi Ling, Joseph Miner, and Perry Sloan.]

‘Scavenge the Stars’

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

Tara Sim’s Scavenge the Stars is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, which follows a girl named Amaya who was sold to a shipowner when she was a small child in order to pay off a debt. She escapes from the ship and is helped out by a rich man who also appears to be landless. He helps her disguise herself and go back into the city she grew up in so she can get revenge on whoever sold her. I was a bit disappointed because I really loved The Count of Monte Cristo, but this novel was still quite entertaining.

There are plot twists I didn’t see coming, and there are some exciting action scenes, with romance that didn’t take over the whole story. It was particularly interesting to find out how some of the characters were acquainted with one another at the end of the story, and that was an unexpected and enjoyable aspect. This was a fairly average book though, and I gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim. Little, Brown and Company, January 2020.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Dreamy Adventure

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

What an incredible novel. Laini Taylor’s writing is so beautiful and dreamy and adventurous, which makes this book so much fun. All a reader needs to know about the plot going into it is that it follows a boy named Lazlo Strange who has an obsession for this city referred to as Weep, the real name of which has been lost. Someone from Weep comes to find people who can help the city out of trouble, and Lazlo finally gets to visit this city of his dreams and discover what it truly means to be a dreamer.

Readers make discoveries alongside Lazlo; see the beauty of Weep and what it could be, as well as the horrible things that have happened there; and learn about the past of all the characters. We truly get to know these characters and care for all of them, even the “bad guys,” creating such a roller coaster of emotion and wonder and longing for all of it to be real. Every single aspect of this book was mind blowing and I absolutely cannot wait to read the sequel!


Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Little, Brown and Company, March 2017.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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Inside the Night Circus

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

All I can say is wow. The amount of whimsy and magic in this book blew my mind. It follows a girl named Celia and a boy named Marco who are forced to fight each other in a magical competition which they are bound to until someone wins. Here’s the catch: neither of them are told any rules or boundaries and this competition takes place in a circus which travels all around the world, and is only open at night. This circus is so magical and mysterious that it captures the attention of all who are introduced to it, making them want to revisit it as much as possible, including the reader.

The way Morgenstern describes every little detail brings this world to life so much, and I couldn’t help but wish it were real. Even the simplest things are described as so mysterious and fascinating that this book is impossible to put down. And the relationships between some of these characters are very eye-opening and make you question the morals and intentions of those around you, while others are just flat out wholesome and amazing. Everything about this book was beautiful, stunning, captivating, and I fell in love with it. Definitely a 5-star read, and every fantasy-lover should pick it up.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Anchor Books, 2021.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Mystery that Only the Dead Can Solve

Guest Post by Heather McCardell.

Elatsoe (pronounced el-at-so-ay) by Darcie Little Badger follows Ellie Bride, a Lipan Apache teenager, as she, her ghost dog Kirby, mom, and best friend Jay seek to uncover the truth about the night her cousin was found in a single car crash. This hunt takes them to the little town of Willowbee, where Ellie discovers a town secret that haunts her more than the dead she can wake. In this riveting debut novel, Little Badger crafts a world where magic is the norm and passed down through family lines – Ellie can wake the dead, passed down through her Great-Six Grandmother, and Jay is a direct descendent from the fairy king Oberon – and weaves a tale about family, allies and advocacy, and the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples. Little Badger handles the topic of colonization with delicacy, approaching it through character dialogue and entwining it with the ending revelation.

One thing I adored about this book was the oral storytelling culture that appears throughout, especially in the tales of Great-Six. These act as teaching moments for both Ellie and the reader, and provide readers a deeper look into Ellie’s family history and relations. At the heart of this novel is a story about a young girl who will do what she can to get justice, and allies who believe and support her and her family when they rightfully claim that her cousin’s death was no accident. In between the detective work, Ellie continues to work on her skill of waking the dead, much to the concern of her mom, but there is one rule passed down with this magic that Ellie plans to abide by: never wake a human ghost. With Dr. Abe Allerton as a suspect, Ellie senses a conspiracy that involves her cousin’s murder, and this is one secret she won’t let stay buried.


Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger. Levine Querido, August 2020.

Reviewer bio: Heather McCardell is a graduate student at the University of Windsor, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. When not writing essays, she enjoys writing poetry and hiking.

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Explorations of Identity

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

This was a really weird book, but in a good way. It follows a girl named Jenna Fox who was in a car accident and woke up from a coma with no memories at all. She has to build a new life for herself while also trying to find out about her past.

There are some sci-fi elements in the medical parts of this story as well which made for some really shocking plot twists, and the way that Jenna’s new life is shaped because of those things is so much different than normal people’s lives.

This book also brings up identity and what it means to be yourself and have your own personality and I really enjoyed that part of it. I also liked the whimsical way the story was told. There were parts where I felt like I was reading poetry because the writing is so pretty, but it was really easy to understand, even the more scientific parts.

If you really enjoy stories about medical miracles, or utopian stories, this is a great book to pick up.


The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. Square Fish. 2009.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Departure from the Everyday Love Story

Guest Post by Aramide Salako.

Love it. I reckon this to be the best Romance/Young Adult fiction ever. All love stories, fiction and nonfiction, are each unique manifestations unlike none other. But here, the story of love takes a clear departure from your everyday love story. What makes this book a brilliant read is the simple presentation of the power and shortcoming of love in the face of mortality.

Humans have a life to live, and the love to share wholeheartedly with another is the blessedness of being human. That humans will ultimately die, leaving the one bereaved of such felt assurance and aliveness that only the other half could provide, is the nemesis of being human.

Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, bound with the affliction of cancer and then again bound by the Cupid arrow, grapple with the reality of their fate stoically, braving the odds stacked against them. They experience, enjoy, and embrace love, but death, that Grim Reaper, of course, has the final say.

The Fault In Our Stars is a fictitious narration of a story of our lives. Life is transient—a mere finite number within infinity.

We shall not have all the time in the world to experience the profundity of companionship, mirth, eros, and all of the fine attributes accompanied by love. But in that brief expanse of time—cancer-ridden, poverty-ridden, crisis-ridden, virus-ridden—love endures and triumphs over all human vagaries and the finitude of time.


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Penguin Group, April 2014.

Reviewer bio: My name is Aramide Salako from Nigeria. I enjoy reading classics and bestsellers. I’ve read some classics that linger in memory, both fiction and nonfiction. I self-published my first book this year: Thoughts in Traffic; 243 Quick-fire Notes to Aid Your Outlook on Self, Life and the Afterlife.

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Chaos Walking Conclusion

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness is the conclusion to the Chaos Walking trilogy. Like the second book, this story follows Todd and Viola as they fight to be together, only this time, there is a war between the people and the spackle. We also get to read about the thoughts of a spackle and see their motives and their lives which adds a lot to the story.

The Ask and Answer are still not exactly in agreement, but their fight was put on pause to focus on the spackle. This was quite a bit different from the other two books because most people seemed to actually want peace, instead of just wanting to rule over everyone else. It’s wild how every single character is so trustworthy and suspicious at the same time, and just when you start to actually believe someone’s intentions, they do some significantly bad thing out of nowhere.

Like the other books, there were some parts that were confusing and sections where I just didn’t care what was happening, but there were also parts that were really good and I had to know how things turned out. Ness did a good job of tying up all of the loose ends and giving everyone the ending that suited them in one way or another. If you liked the other books, you’ll like this one too.


Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press, 2014.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Gripping YA Sequel

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

This sequel to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi was quite gripping as we learned what happened after Zélie brought magic back to the people of Orïsha.

When two groups of people have been fighting for decades, it seems nothing can unite them, even if peace is ultimately what they both claim to want. It is so easy to see how these characters can become so confused by their morals and so easily fooled because of their trust, but it’s very frustrating at the same time. As the reader I just wanted the best for all of these characters at all times but it seemed that something bad awaited them at every corner.

I cannot wait to see how the author ties up these loose ends in the conclusion when it comes out.


Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi. Pan Macmillan, March 2020.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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A Portrait of Perspective

Guest Post by Padmaja Reddy.

Safia Elhillo’s Home is Not a Country is a novel in verse with beautiful poems about Nima, her mama, her baba she has never seen, and the better and beautiful version of herself.

She opens with talking about the photographs in a lifetime before her and when her parents were not yet parents. She knows about her father through the photographs everywhere in their house including the one in her mama’s wallet.


Her verse captivates in narrating her life in suburban America, the land still foreign to her mama, her only friend Haitham, her school, Arabic classes.

Her name is supposed to be ‘Yasmeen’ not ‘Nima’ which means grace. And she believes she is not a graceful girl quite contrary to her name.

She echoes her mama’s grief over the loss of her father and a lost world where she would be happier.

I miss him too          my father            though we never met

I miss the country that I’ve never seen the cousins

& aunts & grandparents I miss the help

They could have offered

When she is bullied and called a terrorist, she questions mama: ‘why did you bring us here? they hate us’ and spills the desire to have her baba or someone to protect her, a common notion shared by all immigrant children about their parent’s decision to migrate leaving homeland.

Elhillo’s poetry elegantly captures how the questions about where we come from can take over our life. It’s a portrait of perspective, which holds up a mirror to show that ultimately, we are telling our own stories, and we can choose to see them differently.


Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo. Make Me a World, March 2021.

Reviewer bio: Padmaja Reddy, originally from India, lives in Connecticut. She received an MA in English Literature from SK University. Former journalist and she published poetry and book reviews in various publications like Yale Review of Books, NewPages.

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“The Wide, Wide Sea” by Patrick Ness

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

Patrick Ness’s “The Wide, Wide Sea” is a short story from the Chaos Walking series that takes place before the start of the first book, but is meant to be read between the second and third.

I am a sucker for a good forbidden love story and this one did not disappoint. The main character is a human who has fallen in love with a spackle, and they have such a wholesome story in such a gruesome place. Realistically, I don’t think any of the plot twists were super unpredictable, but I personally did not see any of them coming and that was such a roller coaster of events coming out of nowhere. Not to mention how loveable the characters were despite the fact that the story was less than 40 pages long.

This was an extremely enjoyable story and I gave it 4.75 out of 5 stars.


The Wide, Wide Sea” by Patrick Ness. Walker Books, 2018.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

Ness’s “The New World”

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

“The New World” is a short story and prequel to the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. It follows Viola as she first travels from her beloved home ship in space to the new planet where her people are trying to find a new place to call home as their old planet is being slowly destroyed.

It was definitely very strange to read about this being described as such a big opportunity for all of these people, but for Viola to be so against the idea of being the first one to go to this place because of the risks it involved. Her negative attitude throughout the whole story was very obnoxious but relatable at the same time, and the ending made me question my judgement of her throughout the story even more.

This was quite a fun read, and I enjoyed learning about some of Viola’s background. I gave this one 3.75 out of 5 stars.


The New World” by Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press, September 2010.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

A Grade-A Sequel

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

This sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go literally made me gasp and have to pause the audiobook to process all of my life decisions on multiple occasions. At the start of this book Viola and Todd have just made it to Haven, and based on the recent events that occurred at the end of the previous book, they are expecting a war, but that is not what happens at all. The town doesn’t try to fight at all, and they are overtaken by Mayor Prentiss as he tries to completely change the ways that all of these people live.

It was really cool that we got to read from both Viola’s and Todd’s perspectives as we watched them be repeatedly separated and reunited. Their romance is their main motivation for all of their actions without completely taking over the story and it’s such a great balance.

The concept of corrupt leaders and having to choose sides is so interesting to read in this book because both options seem terrible and everyone seems to be hurting people and only trying to make the situation even worse than it already is. This gave me major Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and The Maze Runner by James Dashner vibes so if you enjoyed either of those, I think you’ll definitely like this. Like the first book, I also gave this one 4 stars.


The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press, July 2014.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

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‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’

Guest Post by Natalie Hess.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is a dystopian story told in quite a strange way. It follows the main character Todd Hewitt as he lives in a place called Prentisstown where all women have been wiped out by a disease which has caused all the men and boys to hear each other’s thoughts. This portrays a very chaotic life for all of these people because there is never a time when they have the luxury of hearing silence, until Todd comes across a girl. That’s all I’m going say about the plot of the story because I don’t want to give anything away, but the way the story was written was really cool.

Patrick Ness did a really good job of giving Todd a lot of personality with his thoughts. It’s also surprisingly easy to differentiate between Todd’s thoughts and the thoughts of others, despite how chaotic and messy the combination of all of those seem. Throughout the story, I really loved seeing Todd having to decide who to trust and transition from always being told what to do to having to make major decisions on his own without much help at all.

I listened to this novel as an audiobook and I did get a tiny bit lost in a couple places, but I think that was more my fault for not being able to focus than the book’s fault for being confusing. Overall, I gave this book four stars and if you’re on the fence about whether or not to pick it up, you should totally go for it!


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press, May 2008.

Reviewer bio: I’m Natalie Hess and I’m simply a high school student who LOVES reading everything from scifi to romance to nonfiction and everything in between. I also love sharing my thoughts and I hope you enjoy!

Buy this book from our affiliate Bookshop.org.

Explore the Unbreakable Bonds of Family with Hastings

Guest Post by Ella Ieva.

The Victorian era was without a doubt one of the most influential periods of literature to date. Samantha Hasting’s The Invention of Sophie Carter brings a fresh YA perspective of the Victorian London scene through the eyes of two identical orphaned sisters: Sophie and Mariah. But when only one of them gets a chance of a lifetime, Sophie hatches a plan that allows them to both go—they masquerade as one person.

This book made me fall in love with the Victorian era, and the independent female characters’ relatable, humorous, and genuine personalities left me experiencing a whirlwind of emotions that I absolutely adored. This book brings out the best and the worst between two undeniably different people with the strongest bond there is, and sheds light on similar economic inequalities explored by Dickens in his renowned novels. This novel bears a resemblance to the sharp-witted and warm-hearted Bennet sisters from Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Pride and Prejudice while also exploring the bond of sisterhood, unexpected romance, and the hardships of pursuing your dreams instead of others’ expectations. Witty and enticing, this book will pull on your heartstrings, make you fall in love with the Carter sisters, and leave you wishing you could go back in time and experience this adventure right along with them.


The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings. Swoon Reads, July 2020.

Reviewer bio: Ella is an avid reader of all books, a lover of poetry, and an aspiring author whose favorite pastime is exploring new books with a strong cup of earl grey on rainy days.

Buy this book from our affiliate Bookshop.org.

 

 

Diverse YA Fiction

Guest Post by Karah M. Garcia.

More than anything, Felix Love wants to know what it feels like to be in love, to create meaningful art, and to secure a scholarship to Brown University. When someone puts up old photographs of Felix labeled with his deadname at school and begins sending him transphobic messages, Felix gains a new goal—uncovering the culprit and getting even. This journey of revenge sends Felix down a path that leads him to a better understanding of who he is, what he wants in life, greater self-love, and maybe even his first love.

I am absolutely in love with the piece of literary art. One of the greatest strengths of this book is that Felix actually sounds like a teenager and not an adult attempting to use a teen’s voice. Felix is an intricate individual and not free from fault, sometimes making the wrong choices and constantly questioning things. He is not perfect but is willing to apologize and learn from his mistakes, and I love that Callender allows for the characters within this book to be beautifully messy. This book is also one of tremendous value in that it is representative of #OwnVoices, being written about a Black, queer, trans teen written by a Black, queer, trans individual.

This book is great for any reader looking for diverse YA fiction. Trigger warning: there are instances of transphobia, cyber-bullying, deadnaming, misgendering, homophobia, and racism.  Read it before it becomes an Amazon series!


Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. Balzer + Bray, May 2020.

Reviewer bio: Karah M. Garcia is a Certified Educator, Teen Services Librarian, and Co-Founder of the Antiracism Activation Kit. https://www.antiracismactivation.com/

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Inside Out & Back Again

Guest Post by Chang Shih Yen

Inside Out and Back Again is a novel in verse by Thanhhà Lai. This book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2011 and a Newbery Honor in 2012.

Through a series of poems, 10-year-old Hà takes the readers through one year of her life in 1975. It was a life-changing year, beginning with her life in Saigon, then fleeing South Vietnam on a ship as Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. Hà and her family were in a refugee camp before resettling in Alabama, and the family struggled to start a new life there. Hà struggled with the language and fitting in at school.

Many details of this book were inspired by Thanhhà Lai’s own life. She also fled Vietnam at the age of 10 at the end of the Vietnam War, and moved to Alabama. The poems in this book will make you laugh and they will also make you cry. They will make you want to read this book all in one sitting, and when you get to the end, immediately want to read it again, but slowly this time to savor all the words. This book is powerful, poignant, and moving, worthy of all its awards.


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai. HarperCollins, 2011.

Reviewer bio: Chang Shih Yen is a writer from Malaysia, seeing through the pandemic in New Zealand. She writes a blog at https://shihyenshoes.wordpress.com/.

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An A+ YA Novel

Guest Post by Manasi Patil

Celeste by Ann Evans is a real page-turner! The main character, Megan Miller, is a teen and is facing sensations of Deja vu.  Along with her are two more side characters who play a really important role in the novel.

The story is written in between time-slips, which many authors fail to manage. But Ann Evans has successfully completed and managed the time-slip writing very well!

This is the first book I‘ve read from this author and I’ll certainly be reading more. The story is exciting and scary, breath-taking in many places as it moves seamlessly between present day and a time in the distant past. The characters are all believable. I particularly liked Jamie. He’s very friendly and helpful. Megan at first, suspects him of—sorry, not going to tell you that; no spoilers!—but eventually their friendship blooms. The writing style is also very clear and I can vote it as an A+. The author’s narrative blends well, and the story is all believable and seems true.

What I would like Evans to improve is the story length. The book is a quick read, and I would have really loved it if the story would have lasted a while longer. Maybe the author could have added scenes about Megan’s prior residence, her description, her sister Ruth’s description, the new residence and school’s description, and a few more scenes. But I highly recommend Celeste to all the readers who are looking out to read in this genre.


Celeste by Ann Evans. Createspace, June 2014.

Reviewer bio: Manasi Patil is a young author with a passion for writing.

New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press

“Having a safe space to share your art/writing and the power of publication to galvanize aspiring young artists and writers to share their voice” is a motivating factor behind Binsey Poplar Press according to Founder and Editor Sophia Smith. Featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and art by contributors ages 13-26, Binsey Poplar Press publishes an online literary magazine every two months as well as publishing pieces on their website. “Our website will be continuously updated with new art and writing pieces and issues,” said Jessica Gao, Web Designer and Co-Editor for Art. “We hope to make it even more visually appealing and be one of your favorite reading spots.” Continue reading “New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press”

A Wonderful Read

Guest Post by Brooke Carpenter

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard or cried so much as in the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. That’s saying something; I am one of the editors of the poetry section of the online journal Route 7 Review, which features the creativity of worldwide authors and artists. And Wonder is a stunning work of art. It is beautifully woven with introspect and paradigm-shifting opportunities. Palacio masterfully creates a soothing undertone of love and acceptance in a cruel world, while at the same time maintaining a lighthearted, hilarious overtone that digs at the very human essence. Palacio carefully crafts the perfect tones and perspectives for each character she delves into, creating a quick-paced, engaging read.

Wonder discusses the topics of kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance as it plunges headfirst into the world of August, a 5th grader going to public school for the first time. With 27 surgeries to his name and a severe facial deformity, August is highly aware that he attracts unwanted attention. Needless to say, he is terrified to become a public display as he starts school. The book not only follows August through the school year, through the ups and downs and fears and successes, but Palacio also cleverly weaves in the voices of the surrounding characters, adding a deeper level of interest to the novel.

As August’s story unfolds, it is impossible not to love the marvelous characters pushing and pulling against each other. Palacio’s beautiful writing delves into the far reaches of the soul to expose the hidden pieces. There is probably nothing more accurate to say than that Wonder is simply wonderful.


Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012.

Reviewer bio: I am a Senior at Dixie State University and am an editor for the poetry section of DSU’s online journal, Route 7 Review. Submissions are open now until November 6.

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Timely Critique & Uncluttered Horizons

Guest Post by Christine Wambui

Bird Song weaves mythology into our present reality, juxtaposing waves of mythic cerulean sea with a snowy winter’s day in the Windy City, where Thelsie lives with an alcoholic uncle. The fluency of her exit strategy in this opening scene carefully lands us on an Ali-Smith-esque beach, possibly in Heaven. But this novel satisfyingly dives into the other world, replete with untouched olive trees, cypress, oaks, alien looking plants and wildflowers.

Hearing a voice that reminds Thelsie of her mama’s choir singing, she wanders inland to meet the locals. An appreciation for the natural world pervades the island of past and future, rich in prickly grass, ferns, and ancient Greek speaking characters. If looks can kill, you can imagine what sounds can do. Sirens struggle to protect the environment from man, tied to the mast, and ship, dashed about on the rocks.

But that’s the joy of it, to see the metaphor of industry undone by its own gluttony and cursed pretension. This book gives me hope that humans can overcome their greed and protect the environment. Bird Song’s timely critique and uncluttered horizons liberate the mind: truly a pleasure to read.


Bird Song: A Novella by Clara Hume. Dragonfly Pub, November 2020.

Reviewer bio: Christine Wambui is a passionate freelance writer from Kenya, who covers socio-economic, environmental, fashion related, and women’s issues. Her writing draws on a wide variety of work and life experiences.

New Lit on the Block :: The Milking Cat

What happens when you repeatedly tell a teen they can’t do something? Of course, they will find a way to do it, which, in the case of Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins, resulted in The Milking Cat, an online publication of comedy in all forms, from written works to movies to comics and more.

The name itself has a comedic referent, as Benji explains, “’The Milking Cat’ is a reference to the 2000 film Meet The Parents where Ben Stiller’s character lies about milking a cat on a farm that has no cows.” Benji found the scene especially humorous and decided to name the website as a testament to it. “Also,” he adds, “it rolls off the tongue once you get used to it.”

Behind the name, the mission of The Milking Cat is to provide an outlet for aspiring teen comedians, but the initial motivation stemmed from an experience Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins faced. “It goes something like this: In ninth grade, there was a stairwell that consistently had pencils stuck in its ceiling. When I returned to school in the tenth grade, the pencils were completely gone! All that remained was the scarred terrain of pencils that once were. As a result, I wrote a comedic piece featuring the pencils’ removal entitled ‘COLLECTIVE STUDENT BODY ART PIECE DESTROYED BY SCHOOL.’ However, when the school newspaper refused to publish it, I asked that they create a humor column. When they refused that, I asked his school’s activities director if I could start a humor paper. When they refused that as well, I decided I would simply have to do it myself.”

Putting together a humor publication editorial staff is a delicate balance between skill sets. Benji Elkins [pictured] says he has always enjoyed both writing and making jokes at the dinner table. “I’ve been involved in other (and much more serious) teen literary magazines through the submission of my own work,” Benji quips, “and therefore like to believe I ‘know the industry.’ But I’ve also been an active member in my school’s literary magazine. Currently, I’m the co-Editor-in-Chief. Otherwise, I’m simply a fan of writing and comedy and a huge fan of trying to put the two together.”

Alongside his efforts is friend and colleague Dan Soslowsky, who, “after coming down from the high of winning his third-grade art contest,  needed something to keep his cartooning skills sharp.” As Dan tells it, “I originally turned down my offer to be the Senior Editor and Head of Illustration and Design for The Milking Cat, but ultimately gave in after receiving a box of chocolates, flowers, and a 2018 Mercedes-AMG® GT C Coupe on my doorstep with a note signed ‘With love, Benji.’” In addition to his role with The Milking Cat, Dan is the Head Editor of the Humor Section in his school’s newspaper as well and is involved in numerous other art-related extracurriculars.

The final editorial staffer is Noah Stern, who “has been an avid fan of comedy since his parents let him watch their DVD box set of the Family Guy Star Wars parody episodes.” Noah is the head of the satire section at his school paper as well.

Additionally, “in case anyone was wondering,” Benji included, “all of the Editors’ favorite apparatus on the Bop-It machine is Twist-It.”

The learning curve for running their own publication was steep, as Noah shares the greatest hurdle they have faced was “bringing The Milking Cat to the level it is at today. Originally, The Milking Cat submissions were open to anyone of any age, but in retrospect, we cast the net too wide. We would rarely get submissions or viewers and as a result, the main people submitting were mostly us three editors. We pushed ourselves to write something every week, and it was increasingly stressful. However, when COVID-19 hit, we decided to kick it up a notch and grow our team – specifically around teens like us. We rebranded as a ‘by teens, for teens’ comedy website and began receiving many staff applications and comedy submissions. As a result, the greatest joy we’ve all experienced probably comes out of our greatest hurdle; the thing we love most about the site is giving teens around the world the opportunity to not only to read comedy, but also to provide them the opportunity to create it themselves as well.”

Readers of the publication, which posts new content every Monday evening, can expect to find content related to sports, politics, riffs on classic literature – “all sorts of readers can find a comedic piece that fits their specific interests,” Noah assures. “We triple-dog-dare you to pick any piece at random, and no matter which you stumble upon, you will find something thoughtful, well-written, and (hopefully) funny.”

In addition to the editors’ contributions, recent content includes:

Julianna Reidell – Hamlex Commercial: A commercial screenplay for the new prescription drug inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Asher Hancock – I Tried 5 Dark Web Dating Sites and was Pleasantly Surprised: A lonely romantic reviews various shady dating sites such as SatanMate.com and WeHaveCandy.com.
Sascha Nastasi-Feinburg – Pad+ Casting Calls: A mock casting call asking for actors to fill roles in the next big WattPad novel adaptations, including “I Fell in Love with a Cannibal because I Thought He Was a Vampire.”

And a sampling of humor by title alone:

Man Plays Air Guitar With All The Wrong Notes
The Life of an Undercover Dental Student
High School Student Shocked To See Chemistry Teacher Peeing In Middle Urinal

Teenaged contributors who are not a part of The Milking Cat Staff are welcome to submit works. Submissions are collectively reviewed by the Editors on its publication status. If accepted, the work is uploaded verbatim to the site. Pieces written by staff members are reviewed by Staff Curators who make edits and suggestions that the author can accept or reject before publication.

Looking to the future, Benji says, “Our plans for this summer include The Milking Cat Comedy Competition, where teens around the world can submit humorous pieces of any kind for the chance to win special prizes from 4 Ivy League Humor Magazine and the satirical site The Hard Times, such as up to $350, merch from the various humor magazines, workshop sessions, and much more! We also hope to establish ourselves more among teens as a regular place to read comedy from their peers. As for long term plans for the publication, we will keep doing it as long as it keeps bringing us joy (and it is).”

Here’s to a lifetime of joy for The Milking Cat!

Revisiting Childhood Favorites

Guest Post by Chang Shih Yen

Lockdown gives you more free time to reread classics and revisit things you love as a child. The Little Prince is a book by French writer and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was originally written in French and first published in 1943. Since then, it has been translated into hundreds of languages and has sold many millions of copies.

In The Little Prince, the narrator is a pilot who has crash landed in the Sahara Desert. In the middle of the desert, the pilot meets a little prince who comes from a different planet. The little prince has decided to travel and visit different planets, including Earth. The little prince asks the pilot many questions about the world. In this book, readers meet many characters like the little prince, his rose, his lamb in a box, and the fox. The book is also illustrated with charming illustrations by the author.

The Little Prince may be a children’s book, but it should be recommended reading for all ages. This book reveals the truths about life and the essential secret to understanding life. This book can be read at any stage in life, and each time that you read it, you will discover new truths and connect with your inner child.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943.

Reviewer bio: Chang Shih Yen is a writer from Malaysia, seeing through the pandemic in New Zealand. She writes a blog at https://shihyenshoes.wordpress.com/

New Lit on the Block: The Weight Journal

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

― William Shakespeare, King Lear

Editor in Chief of The Weight Journal Matthew E. Henry shared, “At the beginning of my state’s COVID-19 Stay at Home order, it was widely circulated on social media that Shakespeare likely composed some of his greatest works in the midst of the Black Death. This was being shared as an encouragement for writers to continue producing work in the midst of the pandemic. The Weight took its name, in part, from the ending of Lear. But it is a general call for teens to take up writing as a tool to lay down the various things ‘weighing’ on their lives.”

The Weight Journal, publishing online poetry, slam poetry, flash fiction, fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid works by writers ages 9-12 grade, “endeavors to showcase the best in teen literature, including works that are not deemed school appropriate.” Matthew adds: “whatever that means.”

“We want work that is honest and says something profound about the human experience as can only be captured by this age group,” he explains. “We want to provide a common, public space, for those who have dared to undertake the challenge of objectifying their experience and imagination in writing.”

Matthew E. Henry knows this challenging experience, having been nominated twice for Pushcart and a Best of the Net for his poetry. He has been publishing poetry and fiction since 2003, and his first collection, Teaching While Black was published by Main Street Rag in February. Joining Matthew are six editors, current or former high school English/creative writing teachers, each with at least one MFA or MA. They are all writers themselves with a varied background of interests and publications.

Given this level of expertise and experience, writers who submit to The Weight Journal can expect their writing will undergo a rigorous process. “All submissions receive a first pass from the editor in chief,” Matthew explains, “to see if they are a potential fit for the general vibe of The Weight. After this, submissions are sent to the content editors, who pass their acceptance (sometimes with suggested changes), recommendation for resubmission, or rejection back to the editor. The editor then makes the final decision. Submitters are welcome (and encouraged!) to send in revised pieces or new ones in the future. Sometimes we’ve been able to provide one-on-one support through the revision process. We’re teachers and can’t help ourselves.”

The caliber of reading content available for the public is a standard Matthew defines clearly: “We aren’t publishing writers who are ‘good for their age.’ We’re publishing ‘good writing,’ period. So readers will find honesty and maturity from a diverse set of voices and experiences. Some works may be triggering for readers. Others will fill them with joy. All of them will make readers think, and rethink, and come back for more.”

Recent content published in The Weight includes “a conversation between what is alive, and what only pretends to be” hybrid by Anne Fu; “Broken Sanctuary” poetry by Sarah Street; “The Stages of Falling in Love with Her” poetry by Charlotte Edwards; “The Met” creative nonfiction by Alexandra Carpenter; and “Colors” creative nonfiction by Emma Kilbride.

Creating a new publication comes with joys and frustrations. Matthew focuses on what has worked well for The Weight: “Thus far, the greatest joy has been encouraging some amazing young writers. In some cases, we’ve been able to send the first acceptance letter to someone with a bright career ahead of them. We have already published pieces that I am jealous of and hope this will continue long into the future.”

In terms of the future for The Weight, “I want to see how this naturally evolves,” Henry muses. “The old man in me is thinking about a print publication or at least a ‘best of’ anthology in the future. But who knows? At this stage I am content to help usher these young authors into the literary scene.”

The Weight accepts submissions on a rolling basis, with a goal to publish new work every other Friday depending on the number of submissions. Matthew adds, “In light of our current realities, while submissions are still open for all students and on all topics, we are interested in works that are focused on matters of racial identity, especially from students of color. These works do not have to be centered on our current racial tensions, but they very well can be.”

While at times it absolutely feels like the weight of the world is upon us, how wonderful to have such a supportive and encouraging venue for young writers and readers of all ages to come together and share in the experience.

A Time of Hope: Hatchet

Guest Post by Zizheng William Liu

Hatchet is the depiction of a world gone wrong. The book details the life of Brian Robeson, the son of divorced parents, and victim of a horrific plane crash. Left alone in the midst of the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a windbreaker and hatchet, Brian must tame himself to survive.

The story begins in the city, where 13-year-old Brian boards a bush plane to see his father for the summer. Miles up into the air, the plane pilot suffer from a heart attack, rendering the plane flying aimlessly above the Canadian landscape. But Brian had always been under tough situations. Ever since he had witnessed the dreaded secret that led to his parent’s divorce, Brian’s life had spiraled out of control. No, literally. The Cessna 406 bush plane that Brian was riding to see his father crashes, and Brian is forced to live his life in the wild. All the luxuries from the city are gone. Food needs to be hunted, shelter needs to be built, and the pesky mosquitoes need to be repelled. Over a month passes since the initial plane crash, and Brian finally finds a solution. He scavenges a transmitter from the plane ruins and that ultimately leads to his rescue. A fur buyer had been alerted to Brian, but the 54 days that Brian spent in the wilderness had still taken its toll.

A thrilling and powerful piece, Hatchet shows that any problem can be solved, even when life is on the line. In a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has swept through our nation, this book is an insight into the true potential that we all have. When utilized, no problem is too big to be solved.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Scholastic Press, 1986.

Reviewer bio: Zizheng William Liu is an avid writer. His works have been published in multiple literary journals and he is an editor for Polyphony Lit Magazines.

A Thought-Changing Read

Guest Post by Mia Willardson 

On May 19th, 2020, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins released the novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This dystopian piece is a prequel to Collins’s bestselling series. The Ballad Of Songbirds and Snakes takes place during the tenth annual Hunger Games and centers around young Coriolanus Snow. Snow is chosen to mentor in the Hunger Games and feels mortified when he is assigned the tribute from district twelve, Lucy Gray Baird. In the capital, district citizens were inferiors—less than people. Coriolanus felt disgraced to be assigned a girl from district twelve. However, Snow begins to learn that Lucy Gray isn’t just a girl from district twelve. She’s a very smart young woman who likes to wear rainbow dresses, sing, dance, and make a scene. She begins to become a hit in the capitol and Snow begins to see her in a new light. He begins to believe that she has a shot at winning the Hunger Games.

This story helps Hunger Games fans understand how Katniss and Peeta’s world came to be. The reader is taught the history of the dystopian country, and the hardships Snow and his family faced.

The reader learns how certain events and traditions came to place in the Hunger Games universe. Readers will fall in love with the bold characters in the novel, and will definitely find themselves audibly gasping and laughing along with the story. Collins’s use of striking imagery will make the reader feel as though they are apart of the journey. Collins shocks readers with how much the story can compare to our world and our real-world issues. The story revolves around power, control, and how people will react to it on larger scales. You’d be surprised how children fighting for their lives in an arena would compare to what is happening now. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a must-read and is the thought-changing tale of the year.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, May 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mia is a fifteen-year-old upcoming high school sophomore who adores creative writing and dystopian literary pieces.

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Sync Audio YA for Summer

Once again, Sync Audiobooks is offering a free summer audiobook program for teens (13+) – and perhaps some adults too! SYNC 2020 is utilizing Sora, a student reading app available for free download from OverDrive. Each week Sync shares two YA titles that can be downloaded with no expiration. After the week, the titles are no longer available to download, but previous titles with descriptions remain available on the site.

It’s already Week 5 of the program, but there are seven more weeks remaining. Previous titles include Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Secret Soldiers by Paul B. Janeczko, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (stupendously performed!), Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Sisters Matsumoto by Philip Kan Gotanda, and Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork.

All you have to do to access the titles is register your email address. I’ve done so for the past two years and never receive any related junk mail or other solicitations, so this is an great program for teens and adults alike!