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April 1, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Guest Speaker
All throughout 2017, we’re inviting star authors to contribute essays about YA, in whatever forms the authors choose,
along with a list of five books that influenced or inspired them.
Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Gary Larson walk into a bar. And I’m the bartender. And after listening to their strange banter in my imagination, while serving up red in three ways—wine, blood, and Kool-Aid—I stroll into my agent’s office, plop down in the chair in front of her desk, and say, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Gary Larson walk into a bar. Well, not really. But that was the tone, the style of the new book idea I had scheduled this meeting to pitch. It was 2006. J. K. Rowling owned the planet. Dan Brown was second in command. Gary Larson’s The Far Side had already been cemented as a cultural touchstone. And Twilight had just hit bookshelves.
“So what do you think?” I asked, folding my arms across my chest, way too self-assured. My agent sighed, leaned forward, and placed her hands on her desk, knitting her fingers together. It’s the same position principals assume before suspension, or bosses take before saying, “We’re letting you go.” The posture of disappointment.
“Well, it’s not a bad idea,” she started. “But I think we should stay away from all things of the occult. It’s just, the market’s not there.” The occult—relating to magic, or beyond the realm of ordinary understanding. Supernatural.
“But . . . Harry Potter—”
“Lightning struck with that one.”
“And The Da Vinci Code?”
“Struck twice. It happens,” she insisted, stone-faced and laser-eyed. “Plus, that’s for adults, so it’s different.”
Well, it happened a third time, because a year or so later, Twilight was well on its way to becoming an international phenomenon, splintering into other similar and successful books. Ironically—in the way of gobstopping cliché—our next conversation (and, suffice it to say, one of our last) was my agent suggesting I try writing a novel about a vampire. From the hood, of course.
Now, I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of the literary world, particularly the young adult category, before 2006. But what I do know is that 10 years after that cringeworthy conversation in my agent’s office—a decade consisting of the ups and downs of the e-book, the rise of the audiobook for young people, the advent of social media, and the delving into and dissecting of the gross lack of diversity in young people’s literature—now and hopefully even more so in the future, lightning doesn’t have to strike for electricity to run through the body of the industry. To make its hair stand up. To knock it off its feet.
Yes, there are still “lightning books” and the surefire trends that follow them, but for the stories that may not warrant pre-orders of caseloads of champagne by the publishing powers-that-be, there is still support galvanized by a network I like to refer to as the dark stacks. These are the educators, librarians, and independent booksellers, hand-to-handing in Kalamazoo, booktalking in Baton Rouge, round-tabling in Brooklyn, and teaching story arc in Oakland. These are the juvenile-detention counselors, and the curriculum builders, the keepers and curators of the tales we tell. These are the conductors of electric current, who can make a spark of a book into a bolt of lightning.
They make magic, and are beyond the realm of ordinary understanding. Supernatural.
More important, they, along with the young people we serve, provide me with the gumption to imagine writing stories about . . . Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Gary Larson walking into a bar. Or perhaps, better yet, a classroom.
Jason Reynolds is the award-winning author of Ghost, As Brave as You, All American Boys (with Brendan Kiely), and more.
Jason Reynolds’ Honor Roll
Black Boy, by Richard Wright (1945)
From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, by Jacqueline Woodson (1995)
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech (2001)
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
The Young Landlords, by Walter Dean Myers (1979)
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