Photos of Clara Howell and the cover of her book.

HS senior writes, publishes fantasy novel in writing class

All her life, Aila Vinn had been taught to fear the Exceptionals, a group of people who possessed otherworldly powers that made them a threat to others.

But on her 16th birthday, Aila wakes up to find an “X” on her hand, a mark that she, too, is an Exceptional.

Thus unfolds the plot of The Exceptionals, a 325-page novel written by Clara Howell, a Penn Manor senior, that was recently published.

The book came out in February after Clara worked with her English teacher, Scott Hertzog, to revise and complete the writing process during a semester-long independent study course.

This is the second year in a row that a Penn Manor student has published a novel under the guidance of Mr. Hertzog. Last year, Kaitlyn Roth published the 266-page novel Reset. Like Kaitlyn’s book, The Exceptionals is a fantasy novel aimed at young adult and teenage readers.

 “I got the idea for this book when I was in eighth grade,” said Clara, who began writing short stories when she was 7 years old.

The plot sprung from the idea, “What if people saw humans with exceptional powers as enemies instead of heroes?” Clara said. “Then this line popped into my head: ‘We had always been taught to fear the Exceptionals,’ and that became the start of the book.”

From late August through mid-January, she worked with Mr. Hertzog, completing three to four chapters per week. They spent about a month and a half revising the manuscript before working on the book layout and cover.

“Before I started the independent study, I didn’t have anyone to hold me accountable and I’d go weeks without writing,” Clara recalled. “I had to learn how to have self-discipline, but that makes the final product even more rewarding.”

The Exceptionals is now available for purchase online.

Seeing her book in print “is so surreal,” Clara said. “I’ve been writing for so long, and this is the first time my work is something tangible that I can actually hold and flip through. I’ve always loved writing and books, and now I have one that I made myself.”

Clara has written five other novels and about 40 novellas and short stories over the years. 

“Few students have the tenacity to pull off a project of this caliber during high school,” Mr. Hertzog said. “Not only did Clara write a 325-page novel, she created a world with compelling characters, with each chapter leaving the reader wanting to know what happens next.”

Clara is hoping The Exceptionals resonates with readers, especially her peers.

“I hope my readers are just able to enjoy the plot and the characters. My novel has been private for so long that I’m excited to talk to others about it and hear what they think,” she said.

After high school, Clara plans to continue writing while attending college to major in elementary education.

We wish her the best.

Clara Howell sitting and holding book.
Clara Howell with her novel, “The Exceptionals.”