While the main character of the recently released YA novel, A Hero’s Essence, has the superpower of shapeshifting, author Taylor Andrews’ appears to be writing.
A rising freshman at Wheeling Park High School, 14-year-old Andrews’ novel is now available on Amazon Books as an e-book or paperback. With sequels in the series underway, this is the first of 25 finished novel-length works written by Andrews that she has independently published.
What makes a hero? The concept of extraordinary powers and “superheroes” who possess and utilize them to protect others has been part of storytelling culture for thousands of years. From the legends of Hercules to modern-day tales of Batman or Superman, interest and demand for the sensational stories of heroes have created one of the most popular fiction genres in books, movies and TV shows for all ages.
Fourteen-year-old author Taylor Andrews’ new novel, A Hero’s Essence, details the experiences of a teenage shapeshifter attending an academy for future superheroes. Gwen Jacklyn is the spunky protagonist in Andrews’ fantastical world, where superpowers are commonplace, and the emergence of supervillains has prompted a demand for many heroes to rise up as vigilant protectors of society.
Gwen has the power to change her body and appearance in any way, whether it’s altering her hair and eye color, turning into an animal or even shifting into an inanimate object. Gwen undergoes many adventures and trials in this first part of her journey to becoming a hero, her lifelong aspiration.
The novel covers Gwen and her friends’ freshman year at the elite Helt Academy — including passing the extensive entrance trials, getting used to life in dorms, attending hero-in-training classes, and fighting and withstanding attacks from villains.
In addition to the intriguing fantasy concepts of heroes and villains, Andrews’ story also showcases the realistic struggles of friendships, school and romance faced by teenagers everywhere.
Gwen’s life is riveting, and the book was very difficult to put down; I found myself reading from start to finish in one sitting. The novel is fresh and exciting in a market that is saturated with superhero-related media.
Andrews, daughter of Brett and Chrissy Andrews, has been writing novels for around three years. After spending those years finishing dozens of books, she decided to begin exploring options for publishing one of her works.
A Hero’s Essence took Andrews around four months to write, followed by periods of proofreading and editing afterward. After receiving an offer to publish her book and contacting literary agents, she eventually made the decision to self-publish.
She is pleased with her experiences with self-publishing so far, saying, “I’m so thrilled to have my work out in the world and to know that it can be entertaining people.”
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A Hero’s Essence has a five-star review from readers on Amazon, where it has been available since a few weeks before the beginning of quarantine.
The teen has been inspired since an early age with ideas of scenes and characters for her various works, and has a strong passion for writing, setting time aside every day to do so.
For this novel, Andrews’ interest in superheroes was inspirational. “After looking at multiple works that were hero-based, I just started to get ideas of cool things I could do.”
She hopes to express a moral in her novel, saying, “One of the messages that I tried to convey a lot — that I even felt I needed to learn sometimes — is that it’s OK to ask for help when it’s needed.” Her main character, Gwen, struggles with this concept in many points throughout the novel, putting her pride before her safety in her attempts to protect her friends.
Writing is not the only form of art that Andrews has interest in. She has held enthusiasm for theater since an early age as well. An avid participant in Wheeling’s Oglebay Institute Towngate Theater, she has played roles such as Anne Frank when she was 12.
As West Virginia went into COVID-19 lockdown, she participated in multiple virtual play-reads during the closure of local theaters. When she arrives at Wheeling Park and whenever extracurricular activities resume for students, she plans on becoming a part of the Park Players, which she has wanted to join since third grade after seeing one of their productions.
For the long run, Andrews currently dreams of being an actress in musicals and plans on having some aspects of writing and acting in her future career. However, realizing the difficulty getting and being paid well in these positions, she additionally says, “…I also know that I need to pursue my education to have a fallback plan in case acting and writing don’t work out as well as I hope they will.”
Andrews utilizes her acting expertise to aid and influence her writing. “Acting influences my writing because it helps me easily step into the shoes of my characters. It helps me to develop them more smoothly and make them feel more realistic,” she said.
This is evident in A Hero’s Essence. The heroes and villains in Andrews’ novel exhibit a much wider range of emotions and actions than many books that are widely circulated in the world of YA literature already. Andrews’ characters undergo stress, love, anger, joy and sadness very realistically, making it quite easy to sympathize and empathize with even the villains of her story.
Overall, A Hero’s Essence is a wonderful debut for one of Wheeling’s youngest authors. A great read for middle and high schoolers, along with anyone else with an interest in superheroes, the novel has well-written and interesting characters, an action-packed plot and a harrowing cliffhanger. Full of intricate friendships and the trials of high school, it is relatable for young adult readers.
Andrews has already finished the sequel to A Hero’s Essence and a few other books in the series. I look forward to reading Taylor Andrews’ future works and the release of the sequels to A Hero’s Essence.
• Erica Edinger, 16, will be a high school junior this fall. Her quarantine activities include reading, fishing, working part-time and fostering a guinea pig named Jelly.