An Interview With 2017 Morris Award Finalist, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris award. Her book, The Smell Of Other People’s Houses, is told in four points of view of teens living in Alaska in the 1970s. Their individual stories weave together in a satisfying ending that will give readers a sense of another time and culture.

Your background is writing news for radio.  How is your writing process different than when you wrote for news? The biggest difference is not having a daily deadline. Working on something for years rather than days is a totally different thing and I think it takes practice transitioning from one to the other. I still write though, as if each chapter is its own story and use a lot of the skills I used when writing a four minute radio piece. I miss interviewing people and using their own voices, which now feels like cheating after having to create characters out of thin air. (Although I did mine some of my past interviewees for personality traits for my characters.)

It feels like the four point of view characters each represent a different feel or culture of Alaska.  What do you want the reader to learn from this? Yes, I think you’re right about that. Alaska is a huge place and each region has its own feel, including differences in climate and culture, so it’s difficult for any one book about Alaska to portray the entire state. I chose to focus on the places that I lived throughout my life and depict those places through the kinds of people I knew and had close experiences with. I’ve heard so many different takeaways from readers about what they got (or didn’t get) from this way of telling the story. I just wanted to show how hard it is to generalize the Alaska way of life. Alaska is many things to many people and all of it is true. Continue reading An Interview With 2017 Morris Award Finalist, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris Award YA Debut Award, which will be presented at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 23, 2017.

The Serpent King is about three teenaged outcasts in the small town of Forrestville, Tennessee, who are seniors  in high school trying to overcome their family’s histories and expectations to make their own choices for how they want to live their lives.

Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist. What was your reaction when you got the news?

Great surprise! I actually found out on twitter from a librarian who’s totally unconnected with my publishing network (editor, agent, etc.) from whom I normally learn information like this. And my first reaction was “oh man, I hope this guy isn’t pulling my chain.

The difficult relationships between fathers and sons and the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons is a major part of the book. Did you have a difficult relationship with your father? How autobiographical is your book?

I had and have a great relationship with my dad, so those parts of the story aren’t autobiographical. I did grow up in a strict religious faith that often left me feeling alienated and isolated from my peers at school, like Dill. But, like Dill, I managed to make a few very great friends who were my lifeline.

I was heartbroken over the fate of one of the characters and actually burst into tears while reading your book on a train. You didn’t pull any punches here and it’s an honest and sometimes unflinching look at these three characters’ lives. Were you worried that readers would be angry about what happens to one of the characters?

I honestly didn’t think beforehand that I was capable of writing a character that people would feel deeply enough to be angry with me about. I discovered that I was from my first reader, my buddy Jarrod. I gave him my manuscript to read and sort of forgot that he was reading it until one day I got a text from him that simply said: “You [expletive] [expletive].” I was like “??????” and he texted back “[Character name].” It makes me very happy that readers are forging a connection with these characters, even if I have to endure occasional wrath.

Religion, especially Pentecostalism isn’t a religion that I’m very familiar with – especially the unusual practice of snake handling. It’s certainly not something that’s explored in YA fiction very often. What made you include this? Do you have personal experience with unusual worship practices?

I wanted to explore the effects of struggling inside with a strange faith that outsiders don’t understand—a faith that isolates you socially to begin with and even more when decide you have to find your own. I also wanted to include a religious tradition specific to the American South, which is the place I write about. Finally, I loved how the practices of snake handling and drinking poisonous things functioned on a metaphorical and symbolic level in my main character’s story arc. I do have personal experience with unusual worship practices, so I was on comfortable ground. Continue reading 2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Jeff Zentner

2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Sonia Patel

Sonia Patel is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris YA Debut Award for her novel Rani Patel in Full Effect. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.

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Rani Patel in Full Effect grabs the mic to tell a story of hip hop, healing, and the path to self-understanding. Set in the 1990s, Rani, a 16-year-old Gujarati Indian teenager, is growing up on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka’i and is isolated from her peers. She also has a very complicated relationship with her parents to say the least. Her mother doesn’t seem to see her, and when her father gets a new girlfriend, things come out for Rani about her relationship with him that she hasn’t been to admit to herself. Her father’s betrayal has her feeling like widow, in a bold stroke, and like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Rani finds solace and power in writing slam poetry taking on the patriarchy in the island’s underground hip-hop scene as MC Sutra. She soon attracts the attention of the swoony Mark, who is much older than Rani. Even though there is plenty to warn her against him, she falls head over heels. This could easily be the undoing of Rani, but through pain and art, Rani is able to connect with parts of herself lost and unknown.

Sonia Patel is a Gujarati American and the daughter of immigrant parents. She lives in Hawaii where she works as a psychiatrist working mainly with teens and their families. You can follow her on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Congratulations on your first novel and being selected as a Finalist for the William C. Morris Award for debut authors!

Thank you so much for reaching out! I am honored and grateful for being a Morris Award finalist and for the opportunity to be interviewed for the YALSA Hub! Continue reading 2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Sonia Patel

Vote Now for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten!

Voting for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten is now open! Encourage teens to vote for up to three of their favorite titles now through Oct. 15. The “top ten” titles will be announced the week after Teen Read Week™, which takes place Oct. 9-15. Encourage voting by sharing the video featuring the 26 nominated titles on your library’s website! Vote now at www.ala.org/yalsa/teenstopten.

Continue reading Vote Now for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten!

ALA Annual 2016: Alex Award Recap with Ryan Gattis

One of the best highlights of this year’s trip to ALA Annual was undoubtedly the Alex Award ceremony on Sunday, June 26th. A small group of dedicated individuals, including current and former committee members, made their way to the South Conference Center to listen to 2016 Chair Angela Craig deliver a brief presentation on the top ten award-winners and the vetted titles and hear the acceptance speech of special guest Ryan Gattis, author of All Involved (2016 Alex Award Winner).

In the wake of the acquittals over Rodney King’s beating at the hands of a few members in the Los Angeles Police Department, much of the Los Angeles metropolitan area experienced riots, lootings, arson, and violence including murders. Just six days of lawlessness resulted in:

  • eleven thousand fires
  • just under eleven thousand arrests
  • over two thousand people injured
  • more than $1 billion in property damages
  • approximately sixty deaths.

During these six days, Gattis set his novel and chose various characters taken from real interviews with those who experienced the riots, bringing to life the different realities during this turbulent period. Gang members, a firefighter, a nurse, a dreamer, an artist, a homeless man, and others give unique testimonies to all sides of the 1992 violence and show the complexities of survival, vengeance, desperation, and loss.

For more information about the history of the period, see www.lariotsallinvolved.com.

Award winner Ryan Gattis at ALA Annual, Orlando 2016

During Ryan’s acceptance speech, he described his own history with violence and how it created an author:

“I was seventeen when my nose was torn out of my face. Seventeen, when I had two facial reconstructive surgeries to fix it. I was eighteen when my senses of smell and taste returned. Before, I was on track to apply to the US Air Force Academy, and after, all I wanted to be was a storyteller. 

Suffering violence, enduring it and not allowing it to determine everything about me has made me who I am today. And that is a very difficult thing to say, but an important thing.”

Winning an Alex has brought about some powerful results for Gattis, who shortly after the award, was asked to speak at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School in Lynwood in South Central Los Angeles, an area described: “as inextricable from Compton as Long Beach Boulevard, sharing all of its violence and troubles but none of its notoriety”. They had not known he had won an Alex, but afterwards, were more enthused at the news. Upon his visit, in an area where “South Central Los Angeles is an island unto itself [and] the cities within it are locked off from the LA tax base and school system and must fend for themselves,” Ryan and his publishers (Ecco, HarperCollins, Picador and Macmillan in the UK, and Writers House in New York) were able to donate 150 books to students and over 100 to the library, including 2016 Alex Award titles. He found that the high school students knew very little of the Rodney King riots because “the generation before them had made an unspoken pact not to raise their children as they had been raised”. This discovery was “incredibly moving” and “filled [me] with hope for Lynwood and its future”. He shared with attendees a few photos and described his experience: 

“Their students are young and excited and so eager to learn but they don’t read. They don’t read enough. So all I did when I went in there was talk about what reading means to me and how it changed my life. Especially the year of my life where I was basically a hermit trying to recover from my surgeries and…and my injury…”

Soon after this visit, he describes how he was invited to Lynwood Middle School and visited immediately after a second 8th grader was killed due to gang violence, an 8th grader whose “body had been discovered in a parked car at the end of an alley”.

He notes: “Standing in front of a room full of young teenagers who know the cost of violence, who are dealing with its monstrous grief, at that very moment being asked to comfort them, to inspire them, is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And yet…nowhere was it more important to say that reading helps us learn the consequences of behavior without having to suffer them ourselves. I remain in awe of the decision that the Alex committee have, not least because its incredible foresight forced me to see my work more clearly but it also pushed me to refocus my efforts to make certain that I reach an entirely new generation in Lynwood, and I do whatever I can to inspire them to be writers to tell their own stories to the world.” Continue reading ALA Annual 2016: Alex Award Recap with Ryan Gattis

Booklist: Fiction and Nonfiction for Teen Poets and Writers

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month to encourage the reading of poetry and increase awareness of American poetry.  It is a great time to support and inspire the teen writers and poets who frequent your library!  Below is a sampling of fiction and nonfiction books to help you do just that.

YA Fiction Featuring Teen Writers

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Ever since her beloved Uncle Joe died, aspiring writer Anna has lost her muse.  This poignant debut novel follows Anna through her grief journey as she struggles to rediscover her passion for writing and cope with the knowledge that she may not have known her uncle as well as she thought.

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2015 Morris Award Winner, Best Fiction for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Top Ten)

In this novel in journal format, Gabi explores her feelings about her friend’s pregnancy, finds her voice in poetry, and works on her school’s zine.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

During November of her senior year, Darcy wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month that was picked up by a major publisher.  In this unique book, chapters from Darcy’s novel alternate with her adventures in New York as she foregoes her first year of college to dedicate herself to the publication process. Continue reading Booklist: Fiction and Nonfiction for Teen Poets and Writers

2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #8

Not signed up yet for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23, so sign up now!

I can’t believe how this winter flew by! Today is officially the first day of spring and, at least here, it has been feeling more like spring every day. If winter has had you feeling cooped up and not in the mood to read, now is the perfect time to grab one of the Challenge books and take it outside to read in the fresh spring air!

the hub 2016 reading challenge

Recently, I’ve been rereading another favorite from last year that made more than one of the lists, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. This graphic novel not only made the 2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten but also found its way onto the 2016 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Top Ten. And, to top it off, it was also a Newbery Honor Award winner. The story follows 12-year old Astrid as she signs up for a roller derby summer camp and comes to terms with changes in her friendship with her closest friend as their interests and passions start to diverge. This book has the potential to appeal to a wide range of age groups and reading styles. Best of all, it has great tie-in potential with the fitness/sports theme that many summer reading programs are adopting this year. I highly recommend reading this book; not only am I sure that you will enjoy it, but I am guessing that you will end up recommending it to friends and patrons alike. Continue reading 2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #8

2016 Alex Award Winner: An Interview with Liz Suburbia

Liz Suburbia’s debut graphic novel, Sacred Heart, was selected for the Top Ten lists for both the  Alex Award and Great Graphic Novels for Teens, presented as part of the ALA’s 2016 Youth Media Awards.  A full list of all the authors and titles honored at the 2016 YMAs can be found here.

Cover-of-Sacred-HeartSacred Heart follows Ben Schiller, who is trying to navigate high school in Alexandria, a town where all the adults have gone away.  As the teens attend school purely to socialize and local punk band the Crotchmen rock the nights away in an abandoned church, Ben juggles her changing relationship with her best friend and her newfound role as a parental figure to her younger sister, Empathy.  But no one knows when or if the parents are coming back, and a string of deaths may mean that even more sinister things are coming.

Congratulations on your Alex Award win!  What was your reaction to winning?

Thank you!  I was surprised and humbled. My mom is an elementary school librarian who follows ALA news closely, so when she texted me about it I felt pretty good.

Was there something in particular that inspired you to write Sacred Heart?

I didn’t really know where I was going with it when I started; at the time I had just started working at a comic shop and was suddenly completely immersed in comics, so I was inspired to make one of my own. I started with the kind of generic “young girl coming of age” template and it grew from there.

Sacred Heart is about a town that is completely devoid of adults.  Did you know at the beginning where all the grown-ups had gone, or did that revelation come later in the writing process?  

At first I was having trouble writing adults into the story, and it occurred to me that I could just not include them. It took me awhile to come up with a good reason for their absence though. I had a kind of lightbulb moment out of nowhere when I went to see the band Shannon and the Clams, and they sang a song from the perspective of a kid who doesn’t want to be in their parents’ cult anymore. Continue reading 2016 Alex Award Winner: An Interview with Liz Suburbia

2016 Morris Award Winner: An Interview with Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is the winner of the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which was presented at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards. A full announcement of all of the titles and authors honored at the 2016 YMA’s can be found here.

Simon vs. the Hsimonomo Sapiens Agenda follows the developing relationship between high school junior Simon and an anonymous boy he meets on his school’s Tumblr site “Creek Secrets.” Simon is not ready to come out to the rest of the school, but after forgetting to log out of his email, a classmate discovers his correspondence and begins blackmailing Simon in exchange for Simon’s attempts to persuade his best friend to go out with him. The heart of the story lies in Simon’s close friendships and the sweet, slowly developing relationship between Simon and the boy he knows only as “Blue.” Albertalli’s debut novel already has many devoted fans and, after her Morris Award win, is sure to gain more.

Congratulation on being selected as the 2016 Morris Award winner! Can you give us an idea of what was going through your head when you won?

Thank you so much! I’m ridiculously honored, and I can’t explain how much this means to me. I don’t know if it’s even sunk in yet that my book won this award! I found out via a phone call from the committee, and I didn’t see it coming AT ALL. Even after I was named a finalist for the Morris, I still didn’t think winning was in the realm of possibility. I’ve always viewed my book as a romantic comedy. I have a lot of feelings about how rarely romantic comedies are recognized as having literary merit, and I actually feel strongly that rom coms deserve award consideration. That said, I didn’t think MY rom com would be considered for a national award. I’m stunned and humbled and so, so grateful. To be honest, I was floored to be named a finalist alongside Anna-Marie McLemore, Kelly Loy Gilbert, Stephanie Oakes, and Leah Thomas. Their books blew my mind. I can’t even describe what it feels like to be honored next to them.

Social media plays a huge role in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon and “Blue” meet through Tumblr and fall in love through emails. What was your reasoning behind having their relationship develop this way, and how do you think the story would be different if they had met “IRL”?

I love this question. Technology is a huge part of Simon’s story, and I truly believe this reflects the way many modern teens form the connections that matter most to them. There’s something almost magical about the way the internet shapes relationships. It allows us to get to know people, as Simon says, “from the inside out.” I think that possibility is meaningful for all of us – but for LGBTQIAP+ kids, it can be lifesaving. For Simon and Blue, who live in a conservative southern suburb, the internet is one of the only ways to connect with other gay teens. It allows them to find each other safely and anonymously, and it provides a space to discuss sexual identity before they’re actually out to friends and family. I can’t imagine this particular story even happening if they had first gotten to know each other “IRL.” Simon and Blue actually do know each other IRL in this story – but it’s hard to imagine them finding that intimacy and comfort with each other based on that relationship (I don’t THINK that’s a spoiler).

For what it’s worth, though, I think internet friendships and relationships do count as real life. Often, they’re even realer than what we think of as “real life.” Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Winner: An Interview with Becky Albertalli