Arthur Levine displays his buzz book. Photo: Stevekagan.com.
Scholastic’s David Levithan gamely and amusingly ushered in BEA’s first YA Buzz Panel by noting a not-so-lofty goal: to “not do so badly or offend you so much” as to kill the event right out of the gates. The plugs for the six books that followed—titles Levithan said exemplified “why YA is so exciting right now”—covered everything from a collection of illustrated novellas to a trilogy-launching, genre-bending sci-fi/ fantasy/thriller.
Arthur Levine, also of Scholastic, kicked off the panel with his impassioned presentation for Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times, a collection of three novellas that Levine said required only a paragraph to get him hooked. “I love that,” he told the crowd, after reading the opening to the book aloud; he then belted out an enthusiastic, ‘Yeah!’ ” The book features supernatural-twinged love stories which all, according to Levine, “turn on a kiss.” (In the first story, a beautiful goblin boy, whose kiss is lethal, goes after an outcast teenage girl ; in the second tale, a girl grows up mute because of a supposed curse that says her words can kill…and meets the man of her dreams; and in the third story, a changeling girl falls for an otherworldly being.) Saying the book had what he considers the three elements of buzz—emotional impact, suspense and heat—Levine said the book has had unanimous in-house approval and is “bound to make you blush.”
Ari Lewin of Disney-Hyperion followed with her push for a debut novel, The Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda, a London engineer. When the book arrived, Levithan joked, he assumed it was “Lynn Cheney’s memoir, but no…” The book is set in a present-day London in which existing members of the Knights Templar (the famed fighting order from the Middle Ages) exists in secret, protecting the city from otherworldly demons. The youngest and sole female Templar is a headstrong teen named Billy who, despite her prowess in battle and commitment to the order, questions her place in the group. The questioning creates a rift between father and daughter. Lewin called the September title “a compelling coming-of-age story with a great romance.”
The next book, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, was introduced by Levithan as the kind of novel that has one of those wonderful “[wtf]” openings,” in other words, it begins by puzzling you—in a great way. Krista Marino of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, agreed, adding that the ending of the book is a “double [wtf].” The first in a planned trilogy, the book starts out with our protagonist, a teenage boy, waking up in a box that’s being lifted. When the box opens, the boy is pulled out by a group of other boys and walks into a space called The Glade, which is a big, grassy expanse in the center of a maze. And, every night the maze doors close, leaving those left within it prey to ghoulish creatures.When the first girl arrives at The Glade after our protagonist, carrying a note in saying she is the last one coming to the place, the story, according to Marino, really takes off. Noting that the dystopian novel seems particularly right for this moment, Marino said The Maze Runner is that rarest of things—“a commercial book that’s both sophisticated and accessible.” Marino compared the novel (which PW also reported is also getting buzz in Hollywood) to recent hits like The Hunger Games as well as classics like Lord of the Flies.
Mark Siegel of First Second Books was pushing Danica Novgorodoff’s Refresh, Refresh. Novgorodoff, a former designer at First Second (who, among other things, did the cover for Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese), has been quietly building a career as a graphic novelist and artist, according to Siegel, with books like Slow Storm. Refresh, Refresh, a slim graphic adaptation of Benjamin Percy’s Pushcart-winning short story of the same name, is, per Siegel, “one of our best books yet.” The story follows two teenage boys in Oregon whose fathers are both overseas in Iraq. With their friends, they find release by the “beating the crap out of each other” until, one day, the emails from their respective fathers stop coming. (The title refers to their hitting the “refresh” button, waiting for email from the Middle East.) Siegel, who said Novgorodoff adapted the story “considerably” from its source, added that it’s been said that “people should look to fiction to find the truth of history,” and this is the case with this book.
Liz Szabla of Feiwel & Friends had The Sweetheart of Prosper County on hand. She called the novel, a debut she discovered at a writers conference, “a Texas story by a Texas woman, and its audience is everyone, everywhere.” (Levithan said the book, which made him cry at 7:30 in the morning on the subway, features the best rooster in literature.) Ideal for teens “who want something other than Twilight,” Szabla said, the book stars a 15-year-old named Austin Gray, who decides she wants to be in the town parade (and must raise said rooster, which she names Charles Dickens, in order to qualify). Szabla “acquired it on the first five pages,” and said the story is ultimately about “real people and real life.” (Szabla cited Dairy Queen and Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood as literary points of comparison.)
The final panelist, Tara Weikum of HarperCollins Children’s Books, was pushing Adriana Trigiani’s Viola in Reel Life. The first YA book from bestselling author Trigiani, the novel is the first in a series featuring Brooklyn teenager Viola Chesterton. Chesterton, a funny teen whose parents are globe-trotting documentary filmmakers, is forced to attend her mother’s alma mater, a stuffy boarding school in South Bend, Ind., called the Prefect Academy. Convinced she’ll hate Prefect and South Bend, Viola, who largely views the world from behind her camera, learns unexpected things about herself—and starts a romance—as a result of the move. Weikum said the novel, like Trigiani’s adult works, features universal themes.
After the editors had their allotted buzz time, they were offered the chance to push other books (on their lists or on other publishers’ lists). Here’s who pushed what:
Arthur Levine: Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler’s picture book, Stick Man (Scholastic); Lisa Yee’s Bobby Vs. Girls (Scholastic/Levine)
Liz Szabla: Ann M. Martin’s Everything for a Dog (Feiwel & Friends); Andrew Smith’s Ghost Medicine (Feiwel & Friends); and Mary E. Pearson’s Miles Between (Holt)
Krista Marino: Frank Portman’s Andromeda Klein (Delacorte); Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here (Delacorte); and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine (Delacorte)
Tara Weikum: Bennett Madison’s The Blonde of the Joke (HarperTeen); Louise Rennison’s Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (HarperTeen)
Ari Lewin: Julie Anne Peters’s By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead (Disney-Hyperion)
Mark Siegel: Richard Sala’s Cat Burglar Black (First Second); David Whitley’s The Midnight Charter (Roaring Brook)
David Levithan: Natalie Standiford’s How to Say Goodbye in Robot (Scholastic Press)
Click here for more BookExpo America 2009 coverage from PW.