If you're a young bibliophile, it takes special dedication to brave the crowds at the BookExpo America convention. PW caught up with four such book lovers – all under age 21 – who attended this year’s show, to talk about the world of YA book blogging, their favorite forthcoming books, and standout moments of BEA.
In town from Ashburn, Va., Kit, a graduating high school senior, and Austin, who returns to high school in the fall, attended BEA for two days, perusing the booths, meeting authors, and picking up galleys. The two are BEA veterans, seasoned book reviewers, and bloggers on the site Reading Teen. Their involvement in the book blogging world is truly a family affair. Kit, who “always loved reading,” described how when her tastes began to diverge from middle-grade books like A Series of Unfortunate Events (HarperCollins) into sometimes edgier fiction, her mother became a tiny bit nosy: “What’s in that book that you’re reading?” she asked of Kit (it was a book from Lisi Harrison’s The Clique series).
What could have been a “stay out of my business, Mom!” moment instead evolved into mother and daughter reading, sharing, and discussing books. The ReadingTeenBlog started out as a partnership between Kit’s mother, Andye, and her friend Amy – Austin’s mother. At first, it was intended to be a place for “parental book reviews.” But Kit and her sister, Reagan, wanted in on the action. And when Austin – also a voracious reader – divulged to Kit one day that he had read (ahem) Twilight, he became involved with the blog as well. The focus shifted away from exclusively parental reviews to a more youth-driven community of readers.
Both bloggers have a broad-ranging taste in books, from Michael Grant’s Gone series to a perennial favorite like Harry Potter. Austin likes to challenge himself by reading books that might typically fall outside his interest: “Either I’m surprised by how much I liked [a book] or I hate it,” he said, noting that he often finds it easier to write critically about books that he doesn’t absolutely love. One of Austin’s BEA goals was to talk to James Dashner. He’d never met the author face-to-face, but received a personal message from him a couple of years ago. Austin hadn’t gotten around to reading The Maze Runner (Delacorte), so when Kit's mom met Dashner at a Random House event, she asked him to play a little joke on Austin. On her phone, she recorded Dasher saying: “Austin, dude. Why are you not reading The Maze Runner? Read it or I’m going to come smack you.” Spoiler alert: he did, and loved it – news that he was able to share with Dashner (who remembered him) at BEA. Kit and Austin are both looking forward to Dashner’s The Eye of Minds (Delacorte, Oct.).
The bloggers named some of the other books that they were excited to grab at BEA. Kit was eager to get her hands on Neal Shusterman’s UnWholly (S&S, Aug.). She also discovered some books that she’d not previously known about, including Katie Cotugno’s debut, How to Love (Balzer + Bray, Oct.). After spending the day selecting galleys to take home, both Austin and Kit admitted that they are “unabashed cover judgers.” Austin elaborated, saying that he sometimes has a knee-jerk negative reaction to cover art, particularly if the cover is a photographic depiction of a character: “If there is a real person on the cover, I do not want to read it,” he said. Similarly, one of Kit’s pet peeves is when characters on book jackets don’t look anything like the way they are described in the books. Both agreed that it’s important for readers to be able to “idealize” the characters and imagine what they look like for themselves.
They also spoke to PW about some of the trends they had noticed at the show. Austin believes that vampires and werewolves are officially over, but that zombies still have some staying power. He also observed that there seem to be more time travel-themed YA books coming out, which is just fine with him. His personal theory? It’s because of the growing popularity of Dr. Who in the U.S. He noted that he would also like to see more space-themed YA books.
Like many others attending this year’s convention, Kit and Austin noticed – and approved of – the presence of more realistic fiction and standalone novels. Kit said that when she read Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, it felt so complete to her that she initially thought it was a standalone book. From her perspective, individual books in a series are best when they resonate just as powerfully on their own.
In addition to poring over print copies, Kit and Austin also regularly review audiobooks on ReadingTeenBlog. “You have a different perspective,” Kit said. “Characters seem different when you are hearing it.” Though Kit grabbed a galley of Lemony Snicket’s When Did You See Her Last? (Little, Brown, Oct.), at the show, she preferred Who Could That Be at This Hour? (Little, Brown) in audio format. Now, she wonders whether she’ll want to swap the galley for the second book in the series as well.
Though Kit and Austin have more than enough galleys to keep them busy for a while, Kit reported that she showed some restraint – maybe because she’s moving to New York City for college in the fall. “I have very high standards this year,” she said.
Julie, an 18-year-old YA/New Adult blogger and college student living in New York City, enjoyed her first BEA this year. Julie first became acquainted with reviewing and blogging through the IMDb board, where she met fellow book-lover Lanna, who also blogged on the site Bloggers [Heart] Books. Lanna first launched the site with a few other bloggers, but since 2009, Julie and Lanna have been running it together.
Having waited for a couple of years to attend BEA (life events, including a college orientation last year, got in the way), Julie came well prepared with a list of books to grab, as well as author events and panels to attend. Some of her sought-after titles: Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire (Hyperion, Sept.), Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept.), which, unfortunately, Julie’s roommate “kidnapped”; and Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars (Hyperion, Dec.). She was able to make most of the stops that she intended, including meeting Alethea Kontis as she signed copies of Hero (Harcourt, Oct.). Attending the YA editors’ buzz panel on Thursday morning was the first thing she did at the show.
The highlight of being at BEA, she said, was interacting with fellow bloggers as well as authors. “Sure, it was great to get the books, but I honestly had so much fun just meeting people. I ended up meeting Veronica Roth and Sarah MacLean – two authors that I adore and admire – by accident.” Walking the floors of the Javits Center, Julie also took note of what she believes to be current trends in YA literature. Most of the titles that she took home were contemporary fiction fantasy, or sci-fi, with “less of a dystopian push. It’s nice to find sci-fi that’s not dystopian.” Overall, Julie found her two days at BEA gratifying and igniting: “I’ve definitely been low on energy and motivation to blog and talk about books, but BEA renewed that.” Post-BEA, she said, “I’m hoping that I’ll be better able to really talk about books that I love, to promote them, and to get readers excited.”
The Night Owl
Devoted YA reader, blogger, and cinema buff Kimmy West, 20, came all the way from Los Angeles for BEA 2013. It’s a goal she’d had for some time, but she was waiting for just the right nudge to get her on a plane and to fly across the country. That nudge came in the form of an invitation – to attend the party for Mortal Instruments: City of Bones on Thursday night at the Angel Orensanz Center, housed in a Gothic revival synagogue building. West was joined by other temporary tattoo-clad YA bloggers bathed in the venue’s blue light and all waiting in line to have their tarot cards read. Earlier in the evening, party attendees were treated to a sneak preview from the City of Bones film, which will be released August 21. West, who is also an actress, explained that she is especially interested in the transition that YA novels make to film; her passion recently led her to visit the set of Divergent. So the merging of the book and film worlds at the City of Bones party was especially intriguing. West explained that her career as a YA blogger began two years ago, when she launched a Twilight fan site, His Golden Eyes. She is also the cofounder of Mockingjay.net and Page to Premiere.
Kimmy was especially glad to score galleys of James Dashner’s The Eye of Minds, which she thinks will be “as good” as The Maze Runner, and looks forward to reading Veronica Roth’s Allegiant (HarperCollins/Tegen, Oct.), for which galleys weren’t available at the show. On the whole, Kimmy pronounced BEA “a very awesome event.” The show, she said, gave her an opportunity to gain greater “insight into the authors” behind the stories she loves.