We talked to four authors whose books delve deeply into questions of love, family, community, and growing up.

Tehlor Kay Mejia

Mejia debuts with We Set the Dark on Fire, a YA fantasy novel set in a world of sharp polarization between social classes, and in which the opportunities for girls and women are limited to marriage and child rearing, or lives of poverty and peril.

Your book features fantasy elements, while also mirroring contemporary, real-life issues. How did you find this balance?
I wanted to address issues that were prevalent in my community, but weren’t necessarily getting major news coverage. Building the fantasy world was an exercise in amplifying those issues into a worst-case-scenario dark fantasy world, but the closer we got to publication the more prescient the themes became. Long story short, I really wrote this story as true fantasy, and the world sort of horrifically caught up with my worst projections along the way.

Favorite Word: Once, Daniel José Older said corazón, which means “heart” in Spanish, is like a poem all on its own.

“Love Is Love: Answering the Call for Queer Love Stories Across the Board” 11:15–11:50 a.m. // Choice Stage

Daniel José Older

In Older’s new YA novel The Book of Lost Saints, a New Jersey teen is visited by the spirit of his aunt Marisol, who disappeared during the Cuban revolution.

Was the book a project that had been brewing for some time?

The Book of Lost Saints is one of those books that feels like it’s been inside me waiting to come out for almost my whole life. When I did finally set it free onto the page, it seemed to have a life of its own in a way no other book I’ve written has. It’s inspired by the stories I grew up hearing and the incredible resilience of those who lived through trauma and came out the other side.

Favorite Word: Tiroteo, jambalaya, crepúsclo.

“Social Justice Warriors: Jason Reynolds, Daniel José Older, Morgan Parker, Elizabeth Acevedo, Damon Young, and Akilah Hughes” 3:30–4:15 p.m. // Room 1E14

Morgan Parker

In Who Put This Song On? Parker writes about a black teenage girl coming to terms with feelings of isolation and depression in her suburban community.

Did you draw on your own life to write this book?

When I was in high school, I attempted a “memoir” about my depression. I see the book as an extension of that seedling of an idea. From the start I was inspired by confessional books like Prozac Nation and The Bell Jar, and as the book developed, I pulled inspiration from old notes and diary entries, mix CDs, favorite teen movies, political autobiographies, and even stand-up comedy.

Favorite book as a teen: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Angelo Surmelis

In Surmelis’s debut YA novel, The Dangerous Art of Blending In, a high schooler searches for himself while grappling with abuse at home and his growing attraction to his best friend.

To what extent is this book autobiographical?

Much of what Evan goes through was pulled from my own experiences, especially his family life. I’d have real moments in writing where I’d have to step away because it felt too close to the bone. But then I’d come back and write the love story I wanted when I was a teenager, but didn’t experience. And that was a beautiful thing.

Favorite book as a kid: The Curious George books.

“Love Is Love: Answering the Call for Queer Love Stories Across the Board” 11:15–11:50 a.m. // Choice Stage