Young adulthood is all about trying on different personas, so it’s not surprising that the five books in discussion at Thursday morning’s Young Adult Editors’ Buzz panel all feature main characters who are either sampling, or being thrust into, different identities – sometimes literally.
Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., wasted no time introducing the first panelist: Sara Goodman, associate editor at St. Martin’s Press. “Editors love to complain about the ones that got away,” Goodman said, and for her, that one was Rainbow Rowell’s debut, an adult novel called Attachments (Dutton, 2011). “I pined for this book.” Goodman’s unrequited love had a happy ending, though, with the acquisition of Rowell’s first young adult novel, Eleanor & Park and its follow-up, Fangirl. In the book, which Goodman described as “young adult literature with a capital L,” Cath and her twin sister, Wren, have a huge online following as authors of fan fiction based in the universe of Simon Snow (think Harry Potter). In the canonical version, Simon and his roommate, Baz, are sworn enemies; in Cath’s fan fiction, they’re in love. Goodman sounded like a bit of a Rowell fangirl herself, closing with, “You’ll want to write fan fiction about Fangirl – it’s just that good.”
Alternate universes also feature prominently in Anna Jarzab’s Tandem. “What would it be like to live in a world that’s like ours, but different?” asked Delacorte executive editor Wendy Loggia. “Who would you be in this alternate universe?” That’s the question 16-year-old Sasha Lawson of Chicago must answer when she finds herself trapped in the parallel world of Aurora, in which she’s a princess whose disappearance threatens peace between lands Loggia praised the novel’s “terrific world-building – the world teens know, and the world of Aurora.” In addition to a sequel, Tether, planned for spring 2014, Delacorte will also release digital originals in the Many-Worlds trilogy.
Disney-Hyperion’s editorial director, Emily Meehan, posed a scenario to the audience: “Imagine your 20-year-old self has the chance to go back and talk to your 16-year-old self.” Cristin Terrill’s All Our Yesterdays explores that possibility in what Meehan said was pitched as “Terminator meets The Time Traveler’s Wife.” “I wish I could take credit for the amazing pacing and plotting,” Meehan said, explaining that what also drew her in were “the emotional connections between the characters” and the “deceptive simplicity of Cristin’s writing.” Terrill, she added, has just delivered book two.
Another book with a Hollywood-esque pitch was Amy Rose Capetta’s Entangled. HMH executive editor Kate O’Sullivan said that at BEA 2012, Capetta’s agent, Sara Crowe, spoke of Capetta’s debut, “If the TV show Firefly were a YA novel, it would be Entangled.” And as a self-described Browncoat (a Firefly fan), O’Sullivan said, “That was all I needed to hear.” Entangled is set in the year 3129; Cade is a 17-year-old loner with a cherry-red guitar. When she learns that she’s in fact a lab creation, entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan, she sets out to locate him, joining up with a crew of outlaws. “The story is about human connection,” O’Sullivan said. “How much are we willing to risk to connect?” Unmade, the sequel, is due in fall 2014.
Elise Howard, editor and publisher of Algonquin Young Readers – which is launching its first list this fall – concluded the panel with her discussion of If You Could Be Mine, Sara Farizan’s debut. First, she gave some background: “Many people are aware that in Iran it’s a crime to be gay, often punishable by death.” What they may not know, she said, is that gender reassignment surgery is legal. In Farizan’s novel, 17-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. Then Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage between her and an older, successful doctor. At a party given by Sahar’s cousin Ali, who is “gay, and has never gone to great pains to hide it,” Sahar meets a girl who began life as a boy, and realizes that she may have found the way to be with Nasrin – though it would mean sacrificing her true self in the process. At its core, Howard said, the book is “about being in love with a person the world says is wrong for you” – something that many young readers, regardless of identity, will relate to.