Last weekend, I ventured up to Boston to attend the Boston Teen Author Festival for the very first time. Young Adult literature is one of my passions, so I was excited to attend an entire book event dedicated to these authors. But what really motivated me to make the four-and-a-half hour trek was the opportunity to meet the author of the first vampire novel I ever read (and thus the author responsible for changing the course of my literary life)—Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. I was also excited to see a couple of authors that I met last summer at the Brooklyn Book Festival and to discover new authors whose books I might like.
The festival had an interesting set-up, revolving primarily around panels with all thirty-five authors doing one big signing at the very end. The panels—ten in total, with three to four authors speaking in each—were divided into two groups. All five Group A panels occurred simultaneously during the first hour, followed by all five Group B panels. Then each set of panels repeated a second time, so that you had the opportunity to see two panels from each group. I think you were supposed to use one of those panel times for lunch, but I chose fitting in more book discussions over food. The amusing outcome of this set-up was that I actually wound up seeing my favorite panel twice—and it was entirely different the second time around.
For my first panel, I headed straight for the one featuring Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, whose book Shattered Mirror I picked up in fifth grade and never looked back from my love of vampires. Amelia was participating in a panel called “Choose-Your-Own-Family Adventure” in which the authors discussed how the theme of outcasts creating their own families related to their lives and works.
One of the other panels I saw was “Speculative Fiction Reflecting Our World,” featuring Michael Buckley, Malinda Lo, and Victoria Schwab. For much of this panel, the authors focused on the relationship between humans and the Other in their books—a topic I found particularly fascinating as the Other is an integral concept in gothic literature. Multiple authors spoke about how they like to show the monstrousness of both groups: humans can embody the characteristics that they fear in monsters, and even misunderstood monsters can have flawed communities with their own prejudices and cruelty. Though the “Other” in these speculative fiction books is usually represented by such fantastical creatures as mermaids, fairies, and monsters, the conversation naturally shifted to conceptualizing the Other as marginalized groups in our own society. The panel ended with some pointed suggestions for how to improve diversity both in books being published and within the publishing industry.
But my favorite panel by far was “Magic Beyond the Grave” with Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Córdova, and Daniel José Older. The panel was so much fun that I wound up going to it twice, after discovering that the other Group B panels I wanted to see were overcrowded. Having seen Daniel speak before, I knew that his natural charisma and chemistry with his fellow speakers always makes his panels a delight. Since seeing him last, I had finally read and reviewed his YA bestseller Shadowshaper, so I was better able to follow the discussions of his book and characters this time around. I was also really excited to see Zoraida Córdova, whose Labyrinth Lost I had just requested from her publisher and plan to read and review in the coming months. Though before this weekend, I had not been familiar with Roshani Chokshi, the description she gave of her Hindu retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth, The Star-Touched Queen, instantly had me intrigued.
These three authors sat on stage for a totally unmoderated chat in which they let their natural loquaciousness lead them into whatever discussions stirred their passions. The unstructured nature of this panel meant that it was pretty different each time I saw it. The first version of the panel was relatively lighthearted as they joked and laughed about their different cultural upbringings. The second panel got a bit more serious as they focused more directly on sexism and racism in society and in publishing. Throughout both panels, however, the discussion continually returned to the shared themes in all three of their works of celebrating both cultural heritage and female power. The word of the day was “counter-narrative” as Daniel, Zoraida, and Roshani took turns explaining how depicting the stories of different cultures can give us a new perspective on and richer understanding of how to approach ideas like magic and death.
After the panels were over, we flooded into a large room to get whatever books we bought or brought with us signed. I got to meet and have a quick chat with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and tell Zoraida and Roshani how much I loved their panel. My favorite thing though was how many of the authors were getting books signed from each other. I’d noticed that Zoraida had been carrying one of Amelia’s Den of Shadows books around all day, and I later saw that Amelia left a stack of books beside Melissa Landers to sign. Seeing these interactions was a nice reminder that authors are readers, too, and we’re all part of one community brought together by our love of books.
Were you at the Boston Teen Author Festival last weekend? If so, what books did you pick up and which panels did you see? Let me know in the comments!