Emotionally intense! Snarky! Action-packed! Fast-paced! Lush! Talking books with teens is fun, especially when using buzzwords that energize and colorize a book to make it downright enticing — at least enticing enough to spark a compelling curiosity for a teen to hold the book and read the inside flap. Progress, indeed! When enthusiasm for talking about books is backed up with a canon of teen buzzwords, your booktalk can become an effective powerhouse tool for getting teens to read.
So, what are buzzwords? The buzzwords I’m talking about are the appeal terms most often used to describe the key components of a teen book: the storyline, the pace, the tone, and the writing style. What are some of those booktalk buzzwords that will get teens interested in a book? Let’s take John Green’s wildly popular The Fault in Our Stars as an example. When I booktalk this book with teens I incorporate these buzzwords:
- character-driven to describe a storyline dedicated to the development of characterization
- leisurely paced to emphasize the gradual unveiling of the story through detail and language
- snarky, dark humor, with emotional intensity, but thought provoking (John Green has an ability to bring out a variety of emotion and feeling in his books) to highlight the overall tone
- sophisticated, witty, and compelling to describe the overall writing style of the author
Of course, there will be many of you thinking of other terms you’d use to describe this book. Fantastic! That means you’re thinking about some booktalk buzzwords! Words are exciting and very motivating. Taking the time to think of the best buzzwords to pitch a book will make all the difference on how teens will view a book. Plus, if you start collecting teen booktalk buzzwords now, not only will you possess the descriptive language necessary to present a book, you’ll also be able to work a booktalk in reverse. For example, ask a teen if they like issue-oriented stories, or stories that are journalistic (nonfiction) — stories with angst and high drama or stories that are plot-driven. Once a teen identifies the type of story he or she likes, then it’s time to pull out the readers’ advisory arsenal and offer a smorgasbord of potential titles.
Think about all the fun combinations to make with your favorite books. Lush, character-driven, emotionally intense, and leisurely paced: Ahh … for me that would describe Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. How about amusing, world-building, fast-paced, and witty to describe the comical fare in James Kennedy’s outlandish, one-of-a-kind book The Order of Odd-Fish? And that’s just a beginning, so imagine how using these buzzwords will add color, splash, enthusiasm, and connection to your booktalks!
The 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults committee is currently reading nominees for the categories of war (Conflicted: Life During Wartime), humor (Humor Me: Funny, Fantastic, Witty Reads), and books with characters of varying sexual orientation (GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer-questioning, Intersexed, Asexual individuals, and Their Allies).
I just finished reading Chris Lynch’s book Vietnam Book One: I Pledge Allegiance. Knowing there are always teens looking for good war books, especially the boys who want realistic action, I decided to take this one to the stacks. Imagine the buzzwords waiting to zing out! Set in 1967, this book is about four friends who pledge that if one of them is drafted into the war, the rest of them will enlist. The teens responded to these buzzwords: fast-paced, action-packed, and gritty. Of course, a book about friendship and loyalty between four best friends who each go into different branches of the military is a perfect story hook.
Knowing key buzzwords is critical in connecting teens and books. Become familiar with these buzzwords and pay attention not only to how teens describe books they like, but read book reviews to see what new buzzwords are being used to describe the most “popular” teen books.
Field suggestions for the 2014 PPYA committee are open. If you’ve read an amazing book that falls into one of the above categories, you can nominate a title on YALSA’s website.
— Jennifer Kendall, currently reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews