This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Anderson Bookshop’s YA Lit Conference on Saturday and Sunday. I have attended the conference before, but had never gone to their YA Fandom Frenzy day on Sunday, so I decided to check it out this year. My overall experience was great! I got to hear many amazing YA authors talk about their books, what led them down the path to becoming the author they are today, and getting a peek into some of their forthcoming projects.
Saturday- YA Lit Conference
While the idea of waking up at 5 AM on the weekend and driving an hour south on the interstate is not my idea of a stellar time, I found myself doing this very thing. I traveled down to Lisle/Naperville, IL with Dawn from Bang Bang Book Blog and we were SO lucky to find some seats available at Traci Chee’s table. Her YA debut, The Reader, just came out in September. We picked her brain a little about some of the secret messages that she’s carefully hidden in her book (apparently, there are over 10!) and discussed what it means to be a critical reader.
Our first keynote speaker was Jordan Sonnenblick. I am slightly ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of his books, but his speech made me want to check out his latest YA novel, Falling Over Sideways. Not only was his speech hilarious, but he talked very deeply about his relationship with his teen daughter who inspired the premise to this novel. It reminded me of the close relationship I have with my own dad and how the special relationship between fathers and daughters can get muddled when the father doesn’t always get where their daughter is coming from. Falling Over Sideways explores that relationship and how to bring perspective to your problems.
Jennifer Niven spoke next about her relationship with her mother, who was also an author. Niven shared many experiences from her youth as a quirky, book-obsessed child that like to play “teacher or librarian.” She shared that she would have probably been one or the other if she hadn’t started writing at an early age. I thought it was hilarious when she told the audience that she used to play pretend and make her friends write essays that she would then grade before they could all go play outside! Her new novel, Holding Up the Universe, came out October 4th.
The conference broke off into breakout sessions and I attended a Guys Write YA panel featuring Aaron Starmer, Jorden Sonnenblick, Brendan Kiely, Kenneth Oppel, and Jeff Zentner. By far, this was the best panel! It was really funny and it seemed like they all fed off of each others energy really well. Oppel’s dry sarcasm paired well with Jeff Zentner’s Southern charm and humor. As usual, Brendan Kiely is a live wire, while Sonnenblick and Starmer anchored the panel well. The guys discussed everything from the writing process to women’s rights and how to use YA lit to introduce teens to classic literature.
At the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Witches, Oh My! panel, we heard Adriana Mather, Traci Chee, Sharon Cameron, Frank Beddor, and Paula Stokes discuss their novels. Adriana Mather’s personality stood out in this panel, as she discussed her ancestral connection with Cotton Mather, the man who is largely responsible for the Salem Witch Trials; apparently her family are the real-life villains of history! Her new novel, How to Hang a Witch came out in July and is sitting towards the top of my TBR pile! Chee discussed her inspiration for The Reader, while Sharon Cameron (author of The Forgetting) talked about how memory plays a major role in our ability to tell stories and move society forward. Frank Beddor’s twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland really intrigued me, as I absolutely love anything Alice in Wonderland-related! Paula Stokes’s shyness was sweet which juxtaposed the intense action seen in the plot of her novel, Vicarious.
After lunch, Kenneth Oppel spoke to the conference about his brief experiences as a paleontologist in the mountains of Montana. He researched dig sites, archeology and paleontology work, and famous men who discovered the first dinosaur bones out West. His new novel, Every Hidden Thing, features rival paleontologists whose teen son and daughter fall in love. It’s a unique take on a Romeo and Juliet retelling. I related to Oppel’s desire to tell stories with a different twist; while children’s novel might predominately feature puppies and cats, he decided to write a book with bats as the main focus. Also, Oppel get’s the award for best visual aids! We saw everything from the close-up of a bat’s face to 80’s arcade game graphics, to the author himself “pretending” to be a paleontologist when he visited a dig.
Ellen Hopkins and Adam Silvera were our last keynote speakers on Saturday. Both authors shared their lives with the audience, including their happy moments and the difficult experiences that they have endured. Adam spoke extensively about his struggle with homosexuality growing up in the Bronx. While he is now accepting of himself and who he is, he was very honest with the fact that his depression has sometimes manifested into suicidal thoughts; this is something that he still battles today. Hopkins shared life experiences that have been the inspiration for her books. She noted that teens are drawn to her books because the reality and raw elements that she puts in her literature comes from a very real place. Her new novel, The You I’ve Never Known, due out in January 2017, is inspired by the time in her life when her ex-husband kidnapped her daughter and Hopkins was unable to see her for three years. It gets pretty real, guys! Silvera’s new book, History is All You Left Me, is also slated for January 2017.
Sunday- YA Fandom Frenzy
The YA Fandom Frenzy is more for fans than professionals (even though librarians and teachers are encouraged to attend!), and there were a significantly higher amount of teens present for this event. Authors are seated at tables and attendees are able to choose a table based on which author they want to meet. We were initially looking for Jeff Zentner’s table, but when we realized where it was, the table had filled up. So we chose to sit at Aaron Starmer’s table.
The day included multiple rounds of author speed dating, where each author is given the chance to briefly tell the audience about themselves and their book.
Then they played “Lightning Round” where the moderators posed a question and each author answered quickly (although many stopped to justify their answers or explain themselves). We soon learned that Adam Silvera has an intense love affair with Golden Oreo’s and attempted to convince his peers of their superiority. Things got even better when an audience member pulled a pack of Golden Oreo’s out of her bag and gave them over to Adam to passed them out to the authors. It was a lot of fun. Our day ended with an intense YA Quiz Bowl game. Working in teams (your table), we had to correctly answer the trivia questions. Our table won one round but ultimately, it was Adam Silvera’s table that emerged victorious. That man is competitive!!
Overall, the conference was a lot of fun. Who doesn’t love meeting YA authors and discussing books with other fans and readers? The AB YA Lit Conference really is a book-lover’s dream weekend, and if you haven’t gone in the past, I definitely recommend checking it out next year!