Category Archives: Young Adult Book Reviews

January Black by Wendy S. Russo

by Andrew Palmer

When I started the book reviews here on Conservative Teachers of America, there was a specific type of book that I had hoped to be able to find and promote. It is a book that takes the ideas of freedom and liberty and packages it in such a way that a young adult would not realize that they are being taught those values. I am happy to report that I have found such a book with January Black.

This book started off with something extremely rare in young adult literature. Russo states on the dedication page, “Finally, I would like to thank the US military (and their families) for their service and sacrifice to defend our Constitution. Without you, I wouldn’t have had a story to tell, or a voice to tell it.” Rarely do you find young adult authors that could even tell you what the constitution is, let alone actually understand that it matters.

JanuaryBlackJanuary Black is Wendy S. Russo‘s first novel and it is published by the boutique fantasy/science-fiction publisher Crescent Moon Press. Russo is not a professional author and according to her website, she “works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.”

January Black is a dystopian future science-fiction novel that centers around the main character Matty Ducayn. Matty is expelled from school early in the book. He is given a chance by King Hadrian to answer a question and earn a master’s diploma. The problem for Matty is that the answer to this one question (What was January Black?) will affect everything he believes about the society he lives in and his own family history.

Russo does a lot right with this book. One of the things that I love about her writing is how she slowly reveals the plot to the reader. Every time you uncover something new, the story develops a new layer of mystery. I especially enjoyed how the constitution and the ideas of liberty that founded our nation exist in the background as Matty unravels the mystery behind the question he must answer. There is just enough here to get a high school aged reader curious and asking questions of his/her own about our country’s history.

I would recommend this book for mature high school readers and above. The main characters are around 18, and there is a little bit of sexuality in the story. I have no problem with this, and I was actually quite impressed with how it was handled. We live in a society that teaches young adults that the only purpose of sex is physical pleasure. They are told through multiple mediums that there is no greater meaning attached to the act. The message that rages throughout popular culture today is that there is little value in a committed monogamous relationship. Not so in this book. Teens are presented with a completely different message about the topic. It is a message that I would want my son to be exposed to when he is old enough.

Russo really impressed me with this novel. I was left hoping that this would be turned into a series because I want to know what happens next. We need more author’s like Ms. Russo in young adult literature. Ms. Russo…less sleep, more writing, please!

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BOOK REVIEW: Bomb: The Race to Build-And Steal-The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin


by Andrew Palmer

While I do enjoy reading a great fiction book, I would much rather curl up with non-fiction book and learn something. I realize that not all readers are like that, and young adult readers are often very reluctant to read non-fiction texts. If more writers wrote non-fiction books like this one, more of you would want to join me, and more of our teens would be interested in history.

In the biography in the back of this book, it says that Steve Sheinkin “has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.” On the surface this is a humorous quip, the reality is this is a sad truth about American history textbooks. Frankly, most of them suck. They do not engage students in any meaningful way, and they never inspire kids to investigate more. Add in an uninspiring history teacher, and it is no wonder you have a society that is apathetic and knows very little about its own history. Sheinkin has another book out that has been fairly popular with some of my students, it is called The Notorious Benedict ArnoldBenedictArnold

In Bomb, Sheinkin takes three different story lines surrounding the development and building of the world’s most dangerous weapon and weaves them together. The first is the Americans trying to build the atomic bomb. The second is the Soviets and their attempts to steal the bomb through spies. I was fascinated with this part of the book. I was excited to see this written into a book for young adults. Sheinkin also includes a little information on the reality of who Stalin was. Young adults need to hear the truth on who the Soviets really were. Finally, the third story line was the Allies attempts to sabotage the German bomb program. This was really interesting, too. The details of these missions are sure to impress any reader.

Bomb is written in narrative non-fiction. For those that don’t know what this is, it is a genre that takes a historical event and tells it like a narrative story. It is such a valuable genre for getting readers to be interested in history. Those of us that are passionate about history know that it is best told in a story format. I wish more authors would write books in this manner for the young adult book market.

Bomb was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book for 2013, a winner of the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award from YALSA-ALA, and it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal for best informational text. Sheinkin should be applauded for his work in this text.

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BOOK REVIEW: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

EndersGameI read several of the Ender’s series in high school. I was excited to find out that Ender’s Game will come out as a movie on November 1, so I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this book. Ender’s Game is a book that will satisfy many young adult readers. For the young reader that likes science fiction, this is a book that cannot be missed.

Ender’s Game is set in a dystopian future on earth. The world has already had one fierce battle with a race of aliens referred to as “buggers.” The world is scared. The International Fleet is created to draft and train the next generation of military leaders to fight the “buggers.”

Ender’s Game is a unique story because the new military leaders in this futuristic world are actually childhood geniuses. To an adult reader, this has an odd feel at times. The characters in this book, especially Ender, have knowledge and wisdom way beyond their years. I found myself trying to remember that this book was written for a young adult audience. The fact that this book was written for young adults is why it matters so much. For a teenager, a challenging part of adolescence is feeling like you don’t have a voice or are not respected by adults. Having a voice requires demonstrating that you actually deserve it. Ender is an intelligent, character-driven leader who shows teens what is required of them to be listened to by adults.

I love the themes in Ender’s Game! Much of this book is about leadership and Ender learning to be a leader. Ender is an advanced kid who is years beyond his peers. Because of this, he has to learn how to deal with bullying from those that are intimidated by his abilities. The discussions that Ender has with himself as he deals with his situations are very valuable to a young adult, especially a student that is “gifted”.

Another theme in the book is the development of the individual. As Ender grows he has to come to terms with the fact that he is a unique individual. Out of the struggles with the other students at battle school, Ender forms an identity that carries him through to his decisions during the climax and the resolution of the story.

Another positive of Ender’s Game is the political themes that run through the book. A reader will think about the relationship between the state, families, and individuals. Ender is a “third.” There are population laws in place. Only the first two children are provided an education. Parents are taxed as they have more children. Religion has been squelched by the international government. People that still practice religion are termed “non-compliant.”

Finally, a lot of the book deals with good versus evil. Ender and his brother, Peter, both walk a fine line between the two throughout the story. The plot events encourage the reader to think a lot about these two concepts and what they mean.

While the book has nothing to do with the topic, Orson Scott Card is an author religious conservatives should be aware of. He has taken much heat for being a defender of traditional marriage and the family. He is also a devout mormon. OrsonScottCard

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Book Review: Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude

by Andrew Palmer 

ThinWoodWallsSadly, kids and young adults rarely get excited about history. Part of the reason is because history is often not taught to them in a way that engages them. It often comes off as a collection of meaningless dates and facts. As many of us know, history is usually filled with fascinating, engaging stories that illustrate the reality of human nature. I have often found that historical fiction is a way to get a kid to read something on history. David Patneaude should be applauded for his effort with this bookIt is an example of what historical fiction can and should be.

Thin Wood Walls tells the story of a Japanese-American family before and during America’s involvement in World War II. The story is told in the first-person narrative of Joe Hanada, the youngest of two sons in the Hanada family. Joe starts out the story as a normal eleven-year-old kid living in a town near Seattle, Washington. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and suddenly his family is at the center of scorn of an entire nation.

A couple things stood out to me in this book. First, I loved the fact that it tells the truth about this ugly period of American history. The fact is, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the beloved progressive Democrat, through Executive Order and no congressional approval, tossed 120,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in the Mountain West. The first-person narrative really drives the point home of how cruel this was. You really get angry reading this as this young person tells his perspective of what is happening to him and to his family. Not only does this family get put in a camp, but the father is sent to another camp away from his family for three years!

Second, whether intentional or not*, I love the theme of being fearful of your government. Joe’s Grandmother has no love for governments. She left Japan because of the government, and as events unfold, she has no faith that the American government can or should be trusted either. It seems to me that many young adults in America are being conditioned to have way too much trust in their government. This book shows just how dangerous governments can be. They are ran by human beings, and human beings can be quite fallible. Our constitution was designed to actually protect us from the government. FDR and other progressives violated the constitution and trampled the civil liberties of these American citizens during this period of American history.

Thin Wood Walls is appropriate for kids as young as upper elementary. The younger reader may need a little background on the subject matter of the text, but I think they could handle the book quite well.


Buy a copy of Thin Wood Walls in our Amazon Store!

*By all appearances, the author of this book is not a conservative. You can check out his blog on the second amendment where he demonstrates he has absolutely no clue what he is talking about. Guns are a plague, and our founding fathers had many inappropriate ideas, and the second amendment has something to do with muskets. Oh, brother…. He also gave Rachel Maddow’s book 4-stars on Goodreads. I debated not putting this review up, but I decided against it. This book is a good read. It has its place in the young adult library. Unlike many on the left, we know our history.

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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

bookthiefby Andrew Palmer

Every so often you read a book that you know will always stick with you. This is one of those books. The Book Thief  had been on the New York Times Children Bestsellers list for over 5 years (The Times finally figured out a several months ago that there is a difference between young adult, middle school and children’s books. As of right now, it’s still on the young adult list.) Having now read the book, I think I understand why.

One of the most unique features about this book is the narrative voice. It is actually told from the perspective of the Grim Reaper as he tells the story of the book thief, Liesel Meminger. As he tells us in the end of the book, “There’s a multitude of stories that I allow to distract me as I work…” We usually conceive of the Reaper as this evil, hate filled creature. Instead, the Reaper in the book really just has a job to do. When we die he comes to harvest our souls. Sometimes we humans like to create a lot of work for him. It makes him a little cranky. The voice is brilliant, and it really makes this story work in ways that are not possible with a normal first or third person narration.

A good example of this voice comes from the chapter “Death’s Diary: 1942” that begins part six of the book. “A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH: I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold. And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.”

The structure of this book is unique. There are ten parts, a prologue, and an epilogue. Each section of the book is split out into small chapters. Most of the chapters of this book are quite small. Each chapter is then split into numerous smaller sections. There is an insane amount of page breaks in this book. In addition, there are these weird bold sections in each. The only way I know to describe them is to call them important announcements from the Grim Reaper as he tells the story.

Markus Zusak’s writing is amazing! He uses words in ways that sometimes just makes you stop and want to reread because the usage is so appropriate to what is happening in the book. The word choice is very impressive. It is writing that carries you effortlessly to the end of this 552 page text. Once at the end, you want to pick it up and do it all over again.

The title of the book comes from the main character, Liesel. She is, as death names her, a book thief. At the beginning of the book, she is not very literate. With the help of her foster father, she begins to read the first book she ever stole. So begins her love of words and books. As the story goes on, her book thievery plays a prominent role in the story to the backdrop of the events of Nazi Germany and World War II. Over the course of the story, Liesel’s foster parents take in and hide a Jew. This subplot takes a very prominent role in the middle of the book and has a large effect on the character development of Liesel.

I was struck by one of the things that Zusak did in the middle of this book. All of a sudden at the start of part five the Reaper just up and tells you the end of the story. It’s an interesting exercise in something good readers know, we don’t just read for the end of the book. As death states: “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it….I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.”

The main theme of this book can be summed up as the importance and the power of words. It also is a brilliant commentary on the confusion that can be humanity. We are capable of such great beauty, but at the same time we can be capable of such evil. History is full of stories that demonstrate both. I hate to give the end of this book away, but the closing passage demonstrates the point quite well.

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant….All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know…A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR: I am haunted by humans.

There is a little mature language in this book.
Lexile: 730

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Book Review: Michael Vey 2: Rise of the Elgen


This is the exciting follow-up to Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 from Glenn Beck‘s Mercury Ink. As I mentioned in my review of that book, I was disappointed with parts of it. With this follow-up I set my expectations low. I am happy to report that this book is everything I expected the first book to be!

When we left Michael in the first book, his mother had been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Hatch and the Elgen. This book is focused on Michael and the other members of the Electroclan going to free Michael’s mother.

One of the best parts of this book is the main character, Michael Vey. Michael is not your typical hero. He struggles with Tourette’s syndrome which often flairs up when he is under stress. At the end of the book, Michael is faced with a dilemma of certain death, or sell out his friends and values to save himself. Michael makes the right choice and faces certain death.

Some will say that Vey is not a believable character because he does not act like a real high school aged student. Maybe, but I tend to find that many teenagers would never make the character driven decisions that Vey makes in this book. We live in a society that seems to view immaturity as a positive. We are led to believe that kids like Michael never exist, or if they do, there is something wrong with them. So, maybe it is a good thing that Vey doesn’t exactly resemble the average high school teenager in America.

One of the things the first book struggled with was that it was poorly edited. Personally, I thought it was poorly written at times, too. This led to plot holes and a story that seemed choppy and forced. The dialogue in this book is still flat at points, but overall this book is a marked improvement from the first one.

I was interested in the science that Evans included in the book. Michael and his fellow Electroclan members all have special electric powers that were the result of a medical device that did not work properly. In this book Evans adds in even more science. The Elgen have figured out how to create genetically modified rats that create energy. It is definitely a unique form of renewable energy, and oddly, it seems to work quite well. The Elgen have these power plants where they put millions of these modified rats into this bowl that acts as a conductor. The feeding of the rats is, well, a little gross, especially when the evil Dr. Hatch tosses in a human.

Speaking of Hatch, Evans has done an excellent job of creating a very evil villain. Hatch seems very real, spooky real at times, and Evans has developed him nicely from the first book. In this one he is even more evil and dangerous than the first one.

I rated this book a five because it kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next. The action sequences towards the end of the book are very engaging and entertaining. I enjoy good science fiction that seems believable. I also love a story that has a character that demonstrates integrity and leadership. Michael Vey should be in every middle school library in this country.

Lexile 610

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Book Review: Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25


Before I get into my review (it is a little critical), I want to explain why I think this book series is so important. Michael Vey is published by Mercury Ink. For those of you that don’t know what Mercury Ink is, it is the book imprint of Glenn Beck‘s Mercury Radio Arts. Beck is one of the few conservatives that seem to grasp the connection between culture and politics. The exciting thing about this series is it is expected to be seven books long, and it’s not political at all. This means there is no reason that this book should not be in every middle school library in the country.

Because of the above, I had really high hopes for this book, but I ended up being a little disappointed by it. My biggest complaint would have to be the writing, it’s careless at times.

Michael Vey is a freshman who lives in Idaho with his single mother. Yes, Idaho, the state with the potatoes, and, well, not much else. Trust me, he is there for a good reason. Michael is not quite like the other kids, he has Tourette’s, and there is that peculiar issue of him being able to shock another person with about 1000 volts of electricity if he chooses to. Michael is one of 17 children that have special powers. You are probably wondering why Michael has these powers. Well, you’re going to have to read it to find out, but let’s just say it involves an evil corporation and a plan to take over the world. We’ll leave it at that.

There are some really good aspects of this text. To begin with, it is a really easy read. It has a Lexile level of 500. This makes it accessible to almost every reader at the middle school level and up. The text of the book is very dialogue rich, and that seems to advance the story quickly. Second, it is a new young adult series, and it is not vampires or fantasy!

The main conflict of the story presents the reader with a clear choice between good and evil, and you find yourself rooting for Michael and the other characters involved in the story. It’s about character, Michael is a great kid that lives in a loving single-family home. Finally, the science fiction part of the story is good science fiction, in other words, it seems plausible. It is not some weird alien story that is off-putting to readers that do not like science fiction.

As I said above, the text is sloppy at times. Plot events seem to advance at inappropriate speeds. There are a couple of specific events in the story that make no sense. The final conflict in the story did not add up to me either. It seemed too easy for the characters’ situation. It struck me as a book that was rushed to deadline, or had an editor that just was not very good.

I also struggled with the characters. They appeared a little immature for their age. I have had several students in my classroom (7th grade English) read this, and that does not seem to bother them. So, it is probably just my perception as an adult reader reading a young adult book. Many of my kids have given this book a five-star review.

All in all, this is a good first attempt at a new young adult series, it’s different, and in today’s young adult marketplace different is good. The good news is the second book is outstanding! I will have a review up for that one in the coming weeks.


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Book Review: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow


by Andrew Palmer

This book examines the history of the “Hitler Youth” and how Hitler was able to take young people and turn them into monsters. The book is structured in chapters. There are 10 in all with a small introduction to kick it all off. Each chapter looks at the youth role in Nazi Germany in a little different way. Bartoletti also sticks to a loose sequential timeline as she moves through each chapter. The book includes some incredible pictures that are well matched to the text.

My favorite chapter, and arguably the most terrifying, was Chapter 7, “Serving a Mass Murderer: The Holocaust Begins.” I never knew that Hitler instituted a euthanasia program in Germany. Maybe the strangest and scariest part of all is how it started. In 1938 the parents of a five-month-old baby boy that was born developmentally disabled petitioned Hitler to allow their doctor to kill the child in a merciful manner. Hitler sent his own doctor to examine the child. The doctor agreed and the baby was “put to sleep.” As a result of this, Hitler thought that he could make the Aryan race better and at the same time save government money. So began a secret euthanasia program that eventually killed at least 100,000 Germans (it may have been up to 200,000). The program not only included deformed babies, it included adults who were deemed too physically or mentally unfit to live productive lives.

I was also surprised by how important the youth were to what Hitler did. How do you kill eleven million people? You lie to them and you brainwash their children. By 1939 there were 7,287,470 youth enrolled in the “Hitler Youth” program. The terror of Hitler was impossible without the help of teenagers and young adults.

As I read this book, I was reminded of American youth and their passion for President Obama. No, I don’t think that Obama is creating the new Hitler Youth program, and no, I don’t think Obama is equivalent to Hitler. There are some parallels to what is happening to many of our youth in this country. The left, especially the Hollywood, limousine-liberals, are brilliant propagandists. While our children aren’t enrolled in some massive Obama Youth program, I do think they are being brainwashed to accept liberalism and follow Obama.

I see this in my classroom. I teach middle school, and some of the kids are just enamored with Obama. It’s not because  they have an in depth understanding of the issues and where Obama stands. They like him because he is cool and has star power. Why do they feel this way? Because it has been presented to them through the media and entertainment they consume.

What is happening right now with regards to the gun control debate has nothing to do with banning guns right now. This is about the future, they are grooming this generation to accept gun control. They are moving the mob in America to accept their positions. They are using the media to scare them about the supposed risks of firearms. Hitler was patient, it took years, but he was able to program German teenagers to accept his insanity. Remember, progressives are patient, as well. It’s not about right now, its about how the ends justify the means. It is my only hope that conservatives wake-up to this sooner or later. We must focus on the youth through different mediums, especially pop culture.

I was struck by a couple passages in the book. The first came at the end of the body of the book. I love how the author talks right to the young reader that has just finished this book.

“In October 1932, when Adolf Hitler praised the Hitler Youth for their loyalty, bravery, and readiness to create a new Germany, he asked them, ‘What can happen to a people whose youth sacrifices everything in order to serve its great ideals?’

“On that day, no one could have predicted the answer to that question. No one could have predicted the extent and degree to which a person such as Adolf Hitler could exploit the idealism of children and teenagers.

“Sixty years have passed since the bloodiest war in history ended. Some people wonder: Could another despot like Hitler rise to power on the shoulders of young people?

“Only young people today can answer that question. What are you willing to do to prevent such a shadow from falling over you and others.”

And from the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. This is exactly why we read and write.

“By nature, human beings search for ways to make sense and meaning out of their lives and their world. One way that we make meaning is through the telling of our stories. Stories connect us, teach us, and warn us never to forget.

“This book is my attempt to understand the role of young people during a devastating twelve-year period of history that changed our world forever. It is my attempt to make sense out of the fact that adults taught young people to hate, to kill, and to feel superior over others. After all, the Hitler Youth weren’t born Nazis; they became Nazis.

“The stories in this book are complicated. They are riveting. But most of all, they turn the heart over.”

This is, by far, one of the greatest young-adult books ever written.

Lexile: 1050


Newberry Honor

Robert F. Sibert Honor Book



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Reaching Young Minds Through Literature: Yes We Can!

by Andrew Palmer

Conservatives often wonder how they can make an impact on the youth of America. When it comes to the youth and political ideology conservatives tend to believe that it is inappropriate to force political viewpoints onto children and teens. As educators, we acknowledge it is both unethical and unprofessional to push a political agenda in the classroom (of course, this never stopped many of our college professors and teachers growing up).

Admittedly, all educators have political biases. At a fundamental level, some of these ideas are tied to who we are as people. It is impossible for biases to not bleed through at one point or another in our classrooms, that is human nature. I don’t expect perfection of any teacher, liberal or conservative. I do expect them to operate out of a character ethic that respects the development of the students in their classroom.

The question becomes, how do you expose teens to ideas that we would classify as conservative while still being ethical and professional? I have always believed that if you truly teach a child to think critically, to question with boldness, and to use logic and reason instead of emotion they will arrive at some point on the right side of the American political spectrum. The reality is that many educators in our schools do not teach children to think critically, to question with boldness, and to use logic and reason instead of emotion.

So, we are left with a bit of a quandary.

I have a solution, and one I think we, as conservative teachers, can play a large role in. It is an area I would like to see this website focus on. And it is an area that I am going to need your help with.

I think our solution lies in young-adult literature.

The left is successful in this country often because they prey on both the illiterate and alliterate. If you are wondering, alliteracy is the concept that people can read, they just chose not to. I believe that alliterate people are just as dangerous as illiterate people. At least illiterate people know they aren’t educated. Alliterate people often are arrogant know-it-alls that think they have all the solutions for life although they do not have one piece of evidence to back it up.

If you have ever truly examined a liberal argument, on most issues you will find that it is based upon emotion and feeling. Rarely, are their arguments based on statistics and deep study of an issue.

I have read voraciously my entire life. I probably consume somewhere between fifty and seventy-five books a year. I tend to read a wide range of books. As a middle school English teacher, I require myself to read at least thirty books during the school year and many of these books are the same books my middle school readers read.

It is my hope to turn Conservative Teachers of America into a site for some of the best book reviews for young adult literature in the country. Who are the conservative authors for young adults? What books promote the principles of freedom? What are the young-adult books that tell the American story, both good and bad? What are the books that challenge young adults to think? What are the books that encourage students to develop moral principles? I know they are out there because I have read some of them myself. Once we start to identify these books, we can do our part in our local communities to get these books into young-adult hands.

I need your help to do this. Please consider sending me an email at with the subject line “YA Book Reviews” if you are interested in helping out with this project. It is my hope to get as many conservatives (teachers, homeschoolers, parents, high school students, etc.) out there to join in on this. The more reviews the better. You will start to see some of my reviews come up here over the next couple of weeks to get an idea of what I am looking for.


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