Two local teenagers have lost themselves in a dystopian society that is a whirlwind of danger, lies and a government-backed drug, called Extium.

Fortunately, the teenagers, Katie Rha, 17, and Emery Gewirtz, 18, both of Linwood, have been able to withdraw from the fictional society that they've woven long enough to self-publish a novel they've written about the dystopian society.

The novel, titled "Extium," took the teens two-and-a-half years to complete, not including the time it took for the them to promote and self-publish the book.

Rha and Gewirtz, aside from being co-authors and neighbors, are also best friends.

The two grew up together, and although they now attend different high schools - Rha attends Mainland Regional High School and Gewirtz attends Holy Spirit High School - they were classmates up until the eighth grade.

Suzanne Manzini, an eighth-grade English teacher, taught the teenagers when they were at Belhaven Middle School in Linwood. Gewirtz remembers how Manzini would show the class a picture or poem and then have them write a story based on what they saw.

"That's when that creative writing really started for both of us," Gewirtz said.

Manzini said she

couldn't be more proud of her two former students.

"It's astounding. It's a remarkable accomplishment," Manzini said. "Needless to say, I am extremely proud of both of them."

The young women have been collaborating artistically since the eighth grade, said Manzini, who still has hanging in her classroom two paintings the girls worked on together. As an adult, she said, seeing that the young women still work well together is an inspiration.

Rha didn't sugarcoat why she and Gewirtz decided to write a novel at such a young age.

"We were pretty bored during the summer (before freshman year) and just sat down and wrote," Rha said. "We really loved the dystopian (genre)."

Rha described "dystopian" novels as ones that feature a "corrupt government in an ideal society gone wrong." "Extium" rotates around the viewpoints of five main characters as they flee their dystopian society called Laiden.

Rha named "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins and "Divergent," by Veronica Roth as examples of dystopian novels.

Although Rha and Gewirtz took the self-publishing route, they have attended two writing conferences hosted by the International Women's Writing Guild, where they were accepted, Gewirtz said, "with open arms."

"I think the first time we attended, back in August, we were slightly nervous or apprehensive because we wanted to be accepted into the writing to community as equals and on par as more experienced writers," Gewirtz said.

Although now, Gewirtz said, the group has proven to be extremely supportive of the young authors, and it has provided them with a wealth of opportunities.

As for those of who might contest that one day we will write a book, Manzini summed it up perfectly: "I'm jealous," she joked.

"I'm kidding," she continued, "but maybe somehow, in some small way, I was part of Emery and Katie's journey, and that's really cool."

Rha and Gewirtz appeared at the Linwood Public Library May 4 to talk about their novel. It was the young authors' first public appearance with their book.

"Extium" can be purchased online at

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