When I was a teen, my favorite author had been dead for 50 years. This is just one of the many challenges of being obsessed with characters like Anne and Laura. Sure, I was able to ride the wave of all of L. M. Montgomery’s books being reissued in the wake of the mini-series, but fan mail definitely wasn’t an option. And there wasn’t a chance of being in the same room with my favorite author.
So, I’m a little jealous of today’s young readers, who can follow their favorite authors on Twitter and Instagram. Or be in the same room with them and get photos and autographs and all of those amazing things.
Yesterday was the very first North Texas Teen Book Festival. I’ve been a member of the DFW Forever Young Adult Book Club (p.s find a chapter near you. You won’t regret it!) for several years, and our little club was heavily represented–a member was running the whole thing, other members were on the steering committee, panelists or moderators. When the author list was announced in December, I was completely blown away. For the last few months,I’ve been binge reading YA, trying to become acquainted with as many of the visiting authors as possible.
Over the years, I’ve been to my share of author readings. I’ve attended the Texas Book Festival a few times. But let me tell you–none of those experiences compare to the energy of being in a room with hundreds of obsessive teen fans. Over and over, I saw teens basically ready to bust out of their skin in excitement. Their book bags were full of books. They were moaning about not having enough money to get everything they wanted. They were very, very happy. Books aren’t dead!
My friend Mandy moderated the “Book Boyfriends 101” session featuring authors A. G. Howard, Megan McCafferty, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Ally Carter. I’ve read 4 of the 5, and must say I am completely smitten with Jenny Han and Stephanie Perkins, so this session was a high priority for me. Luckily, I happened to run into Mandy right before her session. As we headed to her room, the hallway got more and more crowded and we realized–they were all trying to get into that session. Mandy pushed her way through, and I was right behind her. She got into the room by saying “I’m the moderator,” and I got into the room by saying “I’m with the moderator.” Yes, I totally cut off hundreds of rabid fangirls. I do feel guilty, but I was also the official session photographer. I had a job! I grabbed a seat on the first row. Five minutes later, the volunteers asked any adults “who didn’t have to be here” to please leave. I shrunk down in my seat and tried to look as young as possible.
The girls next to me were super, super excited. One was literally on the edge of her seat, back ramrod straight, for the entire hour. She squealed. She gasped. Other girls on the front row were wearing Gallagher Girls shirts, a nod to Ally Carter’s series. There was literal screaming when each panelist was introduced. It was clear that the audience was full of teen girls who had read and reread and obsessed over these authors’ books. It was quite obvious that this experience was going to be a highlight of their lives.
And the panel. Oh, the panel. So very funny and real and honest. Authors confessing the silly things they’ve done for love. How to create the perfect book boyfriend, with the reminder that sometimes a good book boyfriend would make a terrible real boyfriend. As I said on twitter, it was like a cross between a rock concert, comedy show and therapy session.
At a certain point yesterday, 35 year old Melissa became very, very jealous of thousands of book loving teens crammed into the Irving Convention Center. Being a teenager can be such an awkward, terrible thing–and being bookish doesn’t always help much. But they had this moment to connect with fellow fans and the authors they love. This is one of those events that you just know will have extraordinary ripple effects in these teens’ lives. There was a great article about the event, and I think they totally understood how magical this was. They followed one girl in particular and wrapped it up with this little story:
She opened her bag and counted her haul, 14 books total.
“Eight, nine, 10,” she said, piling the books in her lap. By the time she was done, a tower of novels swayed atop her knees.
Fire & Flood. Don’t Even Think About It. Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
And her latest acquisition, Side Effects May Vary.
“I met Julie,” Carol told the boy matter-of-factly. “Do you know how exciting that is?”
I’m so very proud of my friends that put this whole thing together–and so very glad that I could come along on the ride.
Now, I have to get back to my very long reading list, currently full of authors that are alive and well!