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.

rani-patel-in-full-effect-cover

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

ALA Midwinter 2016 BFYA Teen Feedback Session

The highlight of my trip to ALA Midwinter was attending the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen feedback session. A diverse group of teens from the Boston area had the opportunity to share their thoughts about titles nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Their uncensored, frank and articulate opinions—both positive and negative—were a delight to hear. Here are the highlights!

You can find the final list of top ten Best Fiction for Young Adults here and the full list here.

Favorite Books

Many teens shared gushing, glowing reviews of these books, which I’d say were informally the most popular picks of the teens present.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

“Very realistic, reflects how teens actually think/talk.”

Another reading thought it was “perfectly executed” and loved the mystery of Blue’s identity and the “adorable romance.”

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

“Adorable.”

The book left one reader “feeling breathless.” She liked the unexpected ending and that the main character had everyday problems in addition to her peculiar medical condition.

“sweet and romantic.”

Another reader thought it had an engaging plot and deep complex character relationships. She loved diagrams and drawings.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

“An emotional roller coaster.”

“Sarah J. Maas is a genius. Loved. So many plot twists. Action packed.”

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“Euphoric, divine reading experience. Tragic and beautiful. Think long and hard, inspired to read and wander.”

“Takes the gold medal for sappy romance.”

Other Positive Feedback

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

One teen liked this book because it “focused on what’s important, not fluff.”

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

A young man enjoyed this book. He related to the main character’s struggle after losing a mother figure himself, and as a resident of inner-city Boston, he thought the urban setting was familiar and thought that Reynold’s captured the voice of teens with accurate dialogue.

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

One teen liked this because unlike some of the other favorites, it wasn’t too deep or heart-wrenching. It was “delightful and full of laughs” and didn’t take itself too seriously. Continue reading ALA Midwinter 2016 BFYA Teen Feedback Session

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

conviction

Kelly Loy Gilbert is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Conviction is the story of Braden, a teen baseball phenom who has to contend with not just his father’s expectations for sports stardom, but his estranged brother, and his looming testimony in his father’s trial for the murder of a police officer.

Kelly, congratulations on your Morris nomination for Conviction! When did you start writing or know you wanted to be a writer? 

Thank you!  It’s such an honor, especially to be in the company of Anna-Marie McLemore, Becky Albertalli, Leah Thomas and Stephanie Oakes, extremely talented women (and lovely people) who’ve written truly incredible books that are all must-reads. I got to read both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Weight of Feathers before they came out, and I remember thinking to myself, oh man, 2015 is going to be a banner year for YA if there ever was one. (And I really think it was!)

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been able to read, and the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote was in third grade–I wrote it in my favorite fine-tipped turquoise Crayola marker, and it was concerned primarily with the bedroom of my main character–thinly-disguised wish fulfillment, of course (a canopy bed! A fish tank! An art corner with tons of supplies!). And then I wrote all through my school years, mostly novels (well, “novels”) but occasionally short stories, too.

As someone who is familiar with conservative/evangelical Christianity, I thought you portrayed the nuances of that sub-culture very well. Can you tell us a little bit about writing either from a similar background or research that you did?

This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction.
This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction

I definitely think ‘conservative/evangelical Christianity’ has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it’s one I’ve always felt fluent in–I grew up going mostly to a very pentecostal church in the late 90s/early 2000s, the heyday of Christian phenomena like True Love Waits and Christian boy bands and, like, shirts like this “His Way” shirt. I think the landscape of American Christianity is changing a lot and is much more varied and diverse now, and I know personally faith (which is still a huge part of my life) looks different to me now than it used to. There are many wonderful things from my church growing up that I hope I always hold onto, but at the same time I don’t necessarily believe a lot of the things I did then, and sometimes now I feel like the longer I believe the more questions I have. My current pastor said once that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, and that really resonated with me in a way I think I would’ve dismissed entirely when I was younger.

But for Conviction I wanted to return to that particular sort of faith where everything feels black and white and certain, because I also remember what it felt like to believe that rightness mattered so much, that your highest duty to God was to fall always on the correct side of things. It was important to me to write a story that dealt with faith in a way that felt honest and complicated and nuanced, and so I wanted Braden to have to grapple with what it was like to experience a true crisis of faith–to find that nothing in the world was what he’d always taken for granted, and to have to figure out where that left him. I love reading about people’s journeys and experiences with their respective beliefs, and I’ve read a lot of honest, raw stories about people who left their faith, but (at least when I thought about books I’d read about young people) I didn’t feel like I’d read as many about people whose faith in its current form became untenable and yet they still found shards to cling to and rebuild into something else. And Braden’s faith is really real and defining to him, even if it’s built on certain questionable foundations, and so I didn’t think that ultimately it would be something he’d walk away from entirely; I felt it would be something he’d always have to come to terms with.

Another of the things that I found Conviction does really well is show the truth behind the carefully constructed facade of many families. Braden’s family has many dysfunctions –  violence, abuse, lies, bigotry – and Braden struggles to see and understand all of them. What promoted you to write about such heavy topics?

You know, it’s funny, I didn’t actually set out to write many of those from the beginning, but as I was getting deeper and deeper into the characters and asking why each one was the way they were, thinking about their backgrounds and their world views, a lot of those things came up (and then I think a lot of them are inextricably tied together–abuse and a cycle of violence, et cetera). And many things, particularly many of the family’s secrets, were discoveries along the way.

But I think also, because I was writing about a young person, I was interested in that shift when you start to see your parents as people rather than just your parents, and I wanted to explore that in a character who has everything riding on telling himself the same narrative he always has. Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert