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Could You Decide Your Fate…at Age 16 by Jenni Wiltz

Hello! I'm happy to be here at What Is This Book About to tell you about my new novel, The Red Road. It’s about the terrible choice 16-year-old Emma West has to make when gang violence touches her family. Her dad may never be the same after gang members attack him and nearly end his life, but everyone from her mom to the police just want to her to forget about the incident. They want her to focus on school instead. But the lessons she's learning in school aren't very useful in the real world. That's what gives her the idea to seek out revenge on her own. 

It's Your Life, as Bon Jovi Says

In a lot of ways, this book is about choosing what to do with your life. Em, my heroine, feels helpless because people expect her to do and be certain things. Her parents and teachers expect her to go to college. She's smart and gets good grades, but at what cost? She has no free time, feels an incredible amount of stress, and the next few years of her life are entirely mapped out for her. 

At one point in the book, she looks out the window and imagines herself with the free time to do something as simple as walk a dog. It seems like such a luxury to her in that moment. She calculates how long it will take her to finish high school and college, then get a job, and then finally be able to relax a bit. It's at least five years, and that’s if all goes well. Can you imagine not making a single selfless choice for five years? At the age of 16, no less? For Em, it feels like a death sentence. Experimenting and taking time to see what’s out there in the world are not part of the plan for an AP student. I know because I lived that life for four years in high school!

They Say Hindsight Is 20/20

I made this part of the story because although I have a college degree, lately I've started wondering if I should have just learned a trade (or learned to code) instead. I think it's a real choice today's high school kids have to consider. College is so expensive. Are you going to get enough out of it to make it worth the student loan debt? What kind of job can you get with your degree? What would happen if you just spent time learning coding and software, or a trade, instead? I don't think it used to be this way. I think we used to be more certain of the value of a college education.

I might also be influenced by the student loan debt I took on to get a Master’s degree. The first time through college, my wonderful family supported me. The second time through, I had to borrow money. Every month when that huge bill arrives in my inbox, I grimace…and I wonder. If I knew more about software or coding or plumbing, would I have been able to pay that bill off already?

Choose Your Own Adventure

So what did I do with this dilemma in the book? I took it and put a dark, dangerous spin on it. Most normal kids might just think about community college or getting a job right out of high school. But Em’s choices change when a gang member attacks her father. Instead of a career vs. college, Em’s choices are a miserable last year of high school as an AP student…or a student of revenge as she tries to find (and punish) the people who hurt her dad. It’s the same idea behind a Choose Your Own Adventure book! What choice would you make? I hope you’ll join Em as she makes her decision in The Red Road.

About the Author

Jenni Wiltz writes fiction and creative nonfiction.  She’s won national writing awards for romantic suspense and creative nonfiction.  Her short fiction has been published in literary journals including Gargoyle and The Portland Review, as well as several small-press anthologies.  When she's not writing, she enjoys sewing, running, and genealogical research. She lives in Pilot Hill, California. Visit her online at

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About the Book

Honor student Emma knows more about galvanic cell diagrams than guns. College is the only way out of her gang-ridden hometown, but her parents can't afford it.

When her unemployed dad lands a job as a census taker, things start looking up. But he's sent deep into East Malo Verde, where gang members rule the streets and fear anyone with a badge who knocks on doors. One night, a gang member mistakes him for a cop and beats him savagely, leaving him for dead.

Her best friends, her chem lab partner, her mom, and the detective assigned to the case all try to convince her to focus on school. But school won't prepare her for a world that ignores a crime against a good man. Emma must decide what's more important: doing what's expected, or doing what she feels is right…even if it leads her down a dark and dangerous path of revenge.

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