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31 Days of Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson

Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.

There are many great things about being YALSA President and tops among them is getting to announce the winners of YALSA’s awards at the Youth Media Awards press conference. In 2009 I was excited enough just to be making the announcements, but when I found out whose name I’d be saying had just been award the Margaret A. Edwards Award I was thrilled. Laurie Halse Anderson had been honored for Fever 1793, Catalyst, and Speak. I’ve admired pretty much all of the Edwards award winners, but I felt that there was something extra special about Anderson that made me so pleased she was recognized. First of all, she was a relatively “new” author. Sure, it had been nine years since Speak was recognized as one of the first Printz Honor books, but overall she was a recent voice in young adult fiction and someone who was still actively writing and publishing. I truly believe that the committee’s decision to honor her showed that no matter what else she might write in the future, she had already made her mark in the lives of teens and the canon of YA lit with those titles. Now, let’s talk about those titles.

Speak and Catalyst are both intense contemporary novels, whereas Fever 1793 is a historical novel for YA readers at the younger end of the spectrum. I have a special fondness for Fever 1793 for two reasons: one, it taught me about an important historical event that I cannot believe I hadn’t learned about in school; and two, as a librarian it was one of the first books I booktalked and had great success with. Seriously, it is riveting historical fiction and if you haven’t read it you’ll be surprised by what you learn! The selection of those particular novels really shows the scope of Anderson’s ability. What it comes down to is that whether she’s writing about a type A overachieving teen, an outcast, or a girl 220 years ago, she creates characters that you care for, and you become invested in their story and survival.

While the award recognized three of her titles, Anderson is a prolific author with many more titles out there to explore. More recently I was most affected by Wintergirls, an intense story about a girl’s struggle with anorexia. Not an easy story to read, but what a beautifully written portrayal of the mental anguish the girl experiences. I think she totally transcended eating disorder novels and wrote something very different and new. In fact, more than an eating disorder novel, I would call this a novel about mental illness and grief. I found this book very different from her other novels in terms of both writing style and content. And I guess that’s what I really like about this author–she continues to surprise me.

I know the 2009 MAE committee doesn’t need my approval, but they certainly have it in this case. Laurie Halse Anderson is an amazing author who has already made her mark in literature, but who continues to write rich, relevant, and entertaining stories. You can read more about Laurie Halse Anderson on her website.

–Sarah Debraski, who must get back to the very exciting Goliath by Scott Westerfeld.

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Sarah Debraski