The five editors presenting this year’s YA buzz books at a BookExpo panel on Thursday morning underlined the importance of inclusion in book acquisitions. Moderated by Len Vlahos of Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore, the panel presented titles that seek to widen the scope of characters’ backgrounds and experiences.
Jenny Bak, editorial director at Little, Brown’s Jimmy Patterson imprint, called Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire a “true passion project.” A story about the practice of royalty keeping concubines, the book draws on “historical examples of repression” and is “reflective of societies devaluing to women”—to handle the sometimes difficult content with sensitivity, Bak and Ngan consulted with sexual assault survivors. Bak noted also that diversity in this title “extends beyond race” to include LGBTQ content.
Mimi Yu’s The Girl King, a fantasy inspired by East Asian history, builds a relational bridge between two distinct rivals. Hali Baumstein, associate editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, emphasized that readers will fully understand the motives of these characters, who “stand in direct opposition” to one another. Inspired by “epic narratives” from the author’s childhood, the book also “challenges gender stereotypes, offering so many female representations, all equally empowered.”
Regarding Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Dial Books for Young Readers associate editor Dana Chidiac said she had never seen a book about “having roots in a place you’ve never been—especially a place that is... embattled in the American imagination.” The book, about a half white, half Persian boy visiting family in Iran for the first time, “demystifies Iran” while managing a “balancing act of jokes and pathos... and walking a line between friendship and romance” (Chidiac has called it an “almost-coming-out story”). In addition to the story’s nontraditional relationship thread, the novel offers its protagonist a message of kindness: “Everyone wants you here.”
Sara Goodman, editorial director at St. Martin’s/Wednesday Books, predicted that Sadie by Courtney Summers, about survival, poverty, abuse cycles, and unconditional love, “is gonna grab” its readers. Aimed at a crossover audience, the book considers the feeling of impermanence that poverty and abuse can impinge upon a person, and the ways in which our society “discounts teenage girls” and their voices. Ultimately, the story shows how learning, and caring about, another person’s story can change one’s perspective.
Sourcebooks Fire editorial director Annette Pollert-Morgan looks for a “consuming reading experience” and “relatable and diverse and complicated” characters, all of which she found in Rebecca Hanover’s The Similars. Amid a story about clones joining an elite academy, Pollert-Morgan said, the book offers “layered characters who respond to opposing motivations” and “asks big questions about nature vs. nuture” and community.