Once I met an author by running into him on the exhibit hall floor at ALA. (Literally, body against body. Followed by stuttering an apology and the realization that it was a pretty damn cool author standing in front of me.) Four times authors have visited my library as part of a speaking tour, organized by the Programming Division manager. By tweeting reviews from this here blog, I have had brief exchanges with many authors – each time as thrilling as the last, but not as surprising. Authors are real people, and some enjoy communicating with their readers, even if just to say “thanks for the kind review”.
Suffice it to say that I am getting better at interacting with the same folks I once considered as untouchable as Johnny Depp or Gavin Rossdale (who are, unfortunately, still untouchable).
I had a little more practice this past weekend when I visited One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia. As part of George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, a panel of YA authors was speaking about their books. Elisa Nader, Elizabeth Scott, and Valerie O. Patterson all spoke about their characters, about writing such difficult scenarios, and about writing for YA readers.
The panel started with a bang when the authors were asked about writing such difficult topics – death, the Afghanistan war, PTSD, extreme religion – for a teen audience. Patterson said something I wasn’t expecting; “Writing to the teen audience is writing to the teen I once was.” To think that an author writes for its cathartic capabilities struck me as both surprising and obvious…it’s what I do, but I guess I never saw it that way. Then Scott chimed in, revealing that while writing her most recent book Miracle – about a girl suffering from undiagnosed PSTD – she herself was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD. Her therapist actually made her read her own book (which she said she never, ever does) because it could help her overcome her stress.
I appreciated the authors’ congruous message of “teens are already dealing with difficult topics so let’s talk about them”. I find it insulting to the entire age group when adults try to keep them safe from reading about such themes, when really we should be preparing them for how best to deal with the difficulties that they will likely face at some point in their lives.
I recently had a cousin go away to college. In the first card I sent to her I wrote two things I regretted about my freshman year, and one thing I am still thankful for. Not because I wanted to scare her, but because I wanted her to know that if she experiences something challenging or difficult, she has someone to talk to. Teens, young adults, they want to badly to be adults, but they can’t be until they’ve lived just a few more years. Some of those years will be incredibly trying, but if we can provide literature for them to read, and God forbid have a candid conversation with them about the issue, perhaps we can help make that transition a bit easier.