The five editors presenting this year’s YA buzz books on a Thursday morning panel emphasized that books can change lives, whether a young person is reading a fantasy novel set in a world of magic and mystery, or reading nonfiction about a crime inflicted by one teen upon another on a city bus.
Connie Hsu, Roaring Brook/Macmillan senior editor, noted that while Spinning (First Second, Sept.) by Tillie Walden ostensibly is a graphic novel memoir about a teen figure skater, “it’s really about feeling,” with a protagonist who comes of age and comes out as gay. Although readers may not ice skate or be gay themselves, “something in you connects with” Walden, who was 19 years old when she wrote and illustrated Spinning. “This is set to be one of the most authentic voices in the [YA] marketplace,” Hsu said.
“Which comes first, the book or the author?” asked Ben Schrank, president and publisher of Razorbill, noting that Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Beasts Made of Night (Sept.), holds both an M.F.A. from NYU’s Tisch School and a law degree from Columbia University. Onyebuchi drew upon his Nigerian heritage and his concern for social justice in creating Taj, a sin-eater in the walled city of Kos, a protagonist who at first glance is “an anti-hero” but “is turned into a real hero to all readers.”
While not as fantastical as Onyebuchi’s Kos, the Southwest setting in Samantha Mabry’s All the Wind in the World (Oct.) is “magical and dangerous, and bursting with secrets,” Algonquin Young Readers editor Krestyna Lypen declared. She’d had high expectations for this debut novel by a teacher of writing and Latino literature at a community college in Dallas, she noted, “and that’s what I got: it’s compelling and complex; the language is beautiful and raw.”
Crown Books for Young Readers publisher Phoebe Yeh recalled that she acquired Nic Stone’s debut novel, Dear Martin, based on the synopsis and first three chapters. (Oct.). “I was excited about what Nic was doing,” Yeh said, disclosing that Stone is a woman writing in the voice of a contemporary teenage boy whose response to being racially profiled is to write letters to Martin Luther King Jr. “It’s powerful, provocative, visionary storytelling” about a topical issue, Yeh said.
FSG Books for Young Readers editorial director Joy Peskin presented the only nonfiction selection, The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (Oct.) by Dashka Slater. Like Yeh, she emphasized the book’s relevance to young readers, in its exploration of issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, crime, and punishment in America. “This is a book we need right now about empathy,” she declared. “Especially when there are politicians demonizing ‘the other,’ who usually are people with dark skin.”