It’s amazing how many opportunities open up for you once you publish a novel. Such was the case for me this summer when I found out I’d be taking part as an author at three major book festivals this Fall to share my thoughts on YA literature and connections to my debut, NO SAD SONGS.
I’ve been a frequent visitor to book festivals over the years, and I’ve always sat there during panel presentations fantasizing about the day I’d finally be up there on the stage myself. Well, those days have mercifully come. I had a chance to moderate two different panels on young adult literature in the course of two days with some amazing and quite famous authors of the YA Lit world whom I deeply respect.
My first stop was right in my own backyard at the 14th Annual Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem, NC. The panel was titled “Crossover Books in YA and Adult Lit” and I felt the rush of sitting down with Maurene Goo (The Way You Make Me Feel), Tiffany D. Jackson (Monday’s Not Coming), and Michel Stone (Border Child). Not only did I get a chance to read some phenomenal books (see below), but I also learned a great deal about upmarket fiction and the real-life inspirations that culminated in some truly must-read novels.
My next stop was in Ann Arbor, MI at the 16th Annual Kerrytown Bookfest where I sat down with Caleb Roehrig (White Rabbit), Joelle Charbonneau (Eden Conquered), Cinda Williams Chima (Stormcaster), on a panel titled “Exploring the YA Novel”. We explored that and much more, including the most entertaining and wildly hilarious conversation on banned books I’ve heard to date. Again, I had the opportunity to read three more magnificent must-reads of the YA genre (below).
I’m so looking forward to rounding out my Fall book festival tour on October 10 at George Mason University for this year’s Fall for the Book Festival. Congressman John Lewis and Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) are headlining, and I’ll be in discussion with Brigid Kemmerer (Letters to the Lost) to explore YA novels that focus on teens facing overwhelming hardships in their lives. The panel is titled “Unhappy in Their Own Way” and I absolutely can’t wait to explore the topic with a talented author like Brigid Kemmerer.
Now for the most important part of this post: all of the (spoiler free) book recs that came out of my experiences at these popular festivals. Definitely pick up a copy of any (see: all) of these excellent, must-read YA titles!
by Maurene Goo
“Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?”
This book is laugh-out-loud funny and Goo is so adept at creating relatable narrators that I found myself locked in to Clara’s voice from the middle of the first page all the way through the back cover. It’s infectious and authentic and so, so relatable to both young adults and adult-adults. I absolutely love this book and, well, all of Maurene Goo’s books.
by Tiffany D. Jackson
“How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?”
I absolutely loved this book for soooo many reasons, but the one that sticks with me most is how easy Jackson made it look to weave such an essentially young adult story into a structure that is loaded with complexity, including a multitude of flashbacks and flash forwards. I think it really allowed her to succeed in showing the interconnectivity of all those small moments in our lives and how they inevitably add up to something at some point in our future.
by Michel Stone
“Young lovers Héctor and Lilia dreamed of a brighter future for their family in the United States. Héctor left Mexico first, to secure work and housing, but when Lilia, desperate to be with Héctor, impetuously crossed the border with their infant daughter, Alejandra, mother and child were separated. Alejandra disappeared. Now, four years later, the family has a chance to reunite, but the trauma of the past may well be permanent.”
This book was not originally billed as a young adult novel, but it’s so relatable to all age groups that it needs to be included in the canon. In a few words, I loved every word of this book which focuses on the struggles of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the US. The topic alone, especially now, is one that holds interest value for both children and adults, but what I really enjoy about Stone’s latest novel is how she uses shifting points of view so expertly to provide her readers with various windows into her very pressing story.
by Caleb Roehrig
“With no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to clear his sister’s name . . . or die trying.”
Roehrig’s latest is a mystery thriller and a standout LGBT novel. In it, there’s everything from bloody knives to murder to jilted romance to messy family dynamics. One reviewer on Goodreads had the guts to say, “This book is sort of dark.” I agree, but only in the most delicious of all possible ways. Young or old, you absolutely must read this book.
by Joelle Charbonneau
“The Kingdom of Eden is growing darker with each passing day. Brother and sister, former foes, must decide whether some betrayals cut too deep to be forgiven—and whether one will wear the crown or both will lose everything.”
This is the second and final book in the Dividing Eden series and it’s loaded with fast-paced action scenes, family drama, and the types of satisfying plot twists that make me enjoy reading Charbonneau so much. It’s not often that I read a series-ending novel and feel like the author made all the right choices in closing out a saga, but this is definitely one of those times. If you’re a fantasy book junkie, Charbonneau is required reading!
by Cinda Williams Chima
“If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall, and his last sanctuary will be destroyed. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled stronghold.”
In the third installment of the Shattered Realms series, Chima once again proves she’s the master of world building and character development. I love how dedicated Chima is in creating slices of character backstory at early stages in the novel that inevitably and so satisfyingly connect to events at all later stages in the epic. That, to me, is an essential ingredient to successful fantasy series. Straight up, this woman is a master of the fantasy genre.
by Frank Morelli
“Following a family tragedy, 18-year-old Gabe LoScuda suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of caregiver for his ailing grandfather. If there’s a chance of preserving the final shreds of Grandpa’s dignity, Gabe may have to make the most gut-wrenching decision of his life—and there’s no way out.”
Ok, so this may be a nice personal plug. That said, School Library Journal calls No Sad Songs “a must-have for any YA collection” and Booklist says the novel “will make young readers take stock of their own parents’ responsibilities, and what it means to make sacrifices for the ones you love.” I think you’ll enjoy my debut novel whether you’re a young adult or a slightly more experienced adult. There’s something in it for everyone, especially if Alzheimer’s disease has touched you or your family in some way.