BookCon, which took place the weekend of June 2–3 at the Javits Center in New York City, was a literary wonderland for 20,000 booklovers from all over the mid-Atlantic region and beyond. At least one attendee compared it to Disneyland, only with celebrity authors rather than rides. While ReedPOP, the company that launched BookCon in 2014, is hoping to diversify the offerings and thus grow attendance, it remains a festival that pulls in huge numbers of YA fiction fans, the show’s largest demographic each year.
While BookCon’s total attendance numbers remain stable, the fan base for YA is expanding, resulting in greater diversity: this year, more attendees who were outside the show’s primary demographic of women between 18–30 told PW that they were most excited to meet authors writing YA fiction, ranging from 12-year-old Amy Perez who took the train from Queens Saturday just to see Cassandra Clare, to 67-year-old Ann Sheridan, who traveled from Boston for the weekend, “I love YA, especially urban fantasy; some of the better writers these days are writing YA,” she said.
To ReedPOP’s credit, the organization fully delivered to YA lovers this year after last year’s missteps, which included placing Clare in a room that could not accommodate many of her fans, who were thus turned away at the door. All of the Main Stage events on Saturday spotlighted YA novelists, including a Q&A with Clare conducted by editor/author Kelly Link that drew as large and as enthusiastic of an audience as the event with Bill Clinton and James Patterson, which took place on the same stage Sunday morning.
Saturday’s first entrants to Javits when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. were Hayley Oliviera and Cassidy Guinada, 19-year-olds from Long Island who arrived at Javits at 3:30 a.m. for their second BookCon experience. The pair said they were primarily there to see Clare and to pick up “Shadowhunters Army” swag. After taking the SATs on Saturday morning, Allie Lilly and Amelia Ostrow, two 16-year-olds from Manhattan, got to Javits just in time to attend the Clare Q&A, an accomplishment that made them so happy that they were practically hyperventilating while talking to PW. Lilly said that she’s been a fan of Clare’s “since the beginning when [she] stumbled upon her first book,” and then persuaded her friend Ostrow to read it. Last year during BookCon, Lilly said, “We saw [Clare]. She looked at us. It was a great moment. But the [autographing] line was too long.”
The young women were among roughly 1, 200 people in the Main Stage area who listened as Clare opened up about her life and adventures, her writing processes, and the characters she’s created in the four overlapping series in the Shadowhunters Chronicles. Her promise to never kill Church (a cat) may have elicited the most cheers during an event that drew a lot of cheers and applause, as well as laughter.
While many show attendees PW spoke with mentioned Clare and Renegades author Marissa Meyer as BookCon’s main attractions for them, Roger Maloney, 45, from New York City, said he was most excited to see YA author Tomi Adeyemi, whose debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, was published earlier this spring to much critical acclaim. “I like to check out new authors,” he said. “I think Adeyemi is going to be the next J.K. Rowling. Her book has the same feel as Harry Potter.”
Maloney wasn’t the only one at BookCon thinking that: a number of people were buzzing about Adeyemi, who appeared with the biggest names in YA literature on panels both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Adeyemi participated in the “Magic and Power” panel on the Main Stage with Clare, Meyer, and Brandon Sanderson. On Sunday, she appeared with Tracey Baptiste, Zoraida Córdova, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Rebecca Roanhorse on a We Need Diverse Books panel focusing on magic and rituals in fiction, which was moderated by editor/author Dhonielle Clayton.
During both events, Adeyemi talked about how her fears concerning police brutality and other crimes against African-Americans, as well as her desire for more novels featuring heroes who are people of color inspired her to spin her African fantasy novel. “My writing is a way to help, to fight back,” she said on Saturday, noting on Sunday that she and other novelists weave “stories of oppression” set in a “magical world where people are being killed” as a means of addressing problems in our society. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk about racism and oppression in a fantasy world,” she pointed out.
Interestingly, while another debut YA novelist, Angie Thomas, cited the same reasons provided by Adeyemi as her inspirations for writing The Hate U Give, she presented a flip side by setting it in the contemporary South. “I want readers to understand what it means to be young and black in America,” she said during a Saturday afternoon panel, “Social Justice Warriors: Redefining Youthful Rebellion,” with Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, and DeRay McKesson, that was moderated by Kwame Alexander.
That goal on the part of writers such as Adeyemi and Thomas—that their work create an awareness among their readers concerning difficult subject matters—was appreciated by some parents accompanying their children to the show. Two first-time attendees, Christine Gaal and her 10-year-old daughter, Alexandra, came from Astoria, Queens to see Alexandra’s favorite authors, including Rachel Renée Russell and James Patterson. “My daughter likes to read a lot,” Gaal said. “We read books together and then we talk about them. It’s a great way to talk about uncomfortable subjects.”
Another parent, Madeline Collazo, from the Bronx, said that it has become a tradition for her and her 20-year-old daughter, Brianna, to go together to BookCon every year. “We love to read,” she said. “I used to read books to her when she was little, and then read books with her. Every parent should read books with their kids.” Plus, she added, she relishes observing each year how Brianna’s literary tastes have evolved since the previous show. “I also love to see her expression of happiness when she meets the author” of a book she enjoyed reading, Collazo said.