Three Harker teens – rising seniors Natalie Simonian and Allison Wang, and rising junior Andrew Rule – offered a national award committee their opinions on titles nominated for the 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) at American Library Association (ALA) conference in San Francisco on June 27. Upper school librarian Lauri Vaughan facilitated the students’ participation through her membership in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), which sponsored the teen review session. To participate, students were required to read several titles from a list of 59 nominated books and prepare brief oral presentations for the committee.
In addition to the review session, students were invited to an author luncheon where they shared a table with internationally acclaimed Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat, best known for her novels “Breath, Eyes, Memory” and “The Farming of Bones,” as well as her story collection “Krik? Krak!” and memoir “Brother, I’m Dying.” Danticat offered the students galley copies of her forthcoming young adult title “Untwine,” which will be published in October. Students also met Bill Konigsberg, author of “Openly Straight” and the forthcoming “The Porcupine of Truth,” and Marissa Meyer, author of “Cress,” among others.
Simonian, Wang and Rule were given access to the ALA conference exhibit hall, which boasted more than 900 displays featuring authors, books and information technology. Wang, who offered commentary on Pete Hautman’s “Eden West,” Marcus Sedgwick’s “The Ghosts of Heaven” and Courtney Summers’ “All the Rage,” found the review session less intimidating than she expected. “The session was fairly informal, and offering my opinions in front of an audience did not feel significantly different from discussing books with friends,” said Wang who particularly enjoyed the exhibit hall. “Seeing authors whose books I love (Neal Shusterman, for instance) was exciting, and I look forward to reading the free books from the exhibits.”
“The best portion of the conference was easily the author luncheon, partly because of the opportunity to get my books signed and to meet a literary idol of mine,” said Rule, referring to Danticat. “But also because of the conversation session we took part in. To discuss writers with writers has long been a dream of mine, since the best writers are, almost invariably, the best readers. I received recommendations for authors I’m familiar with, like Shirley Jackson and Cormac McCarthy, as well as for authors like Jandy Nelson and Andy Weir, whom I hadn’t previously encountered.”
Simonian found the review session a highlight. “It was wonderful to stand up in front of the committee and audience and give my opinion and recommendation on the books I had read, and also to hear the thoughts of some other teens who had read the same books.” Simonian observed, “I find it really humbling that the committee members are going to take my opinion into consideration when deciding whether to give the book this national award.” Committee members – professional librarians from across the nation – will make their final decisions and announce winners of the 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults at the ALA Midwinter Conference in January.