Last week, not even the frigid weather and impending snowstorm could disturb the cheerful atmosphere inside Books of Wonder for the Great Teen Reads Event. The January 25th event featured three YA authors and their newest books: Jason Reynolds’ The Boy in the Black Suit, Nick Lake’s There Will Be Lies, and Len Vlahos’ The Scar Boys.
Each book focused on protagonists that struggle with life and the emotions and situations that come with it. As a result, the theme of the night was experience – how situations and emotions play into writing.
It turned out that all three novels featured had developed out of personal situations.
Lake’s idea began in Arizona while he was on a book tour for In Darkness. While out one night, he saw a coyote and ended up locking eyes with it.
“This may have been because I was slightly drunk,” laughed Lake. “But it felt like I was seeing some kind of secret mechanism behind the world and it had a really profound effect on me.”
Drunk or not, his encounter inspired There Will Be Lies, where Shelby’s life starts to change when she sees a coyote that speaks to her.
Vlahos talked about his personal experiences and how they affected his novels. Vlahos dropped out of college in order to focus his attention on The Woofing Cookies, the pop-punk band he was in. The Woofing Cookies began to tour America, but their van broke-down two weeks into their tour. The Scar Boys contains those two elements from his life: a band and a broken down van.
Scar Girl, the sequel to The Scar Boys came from another personal experience: when a mom at an event asked “At the end of The Scar Boys, is [the female base player in the band]pregnant?” Though Vlahos responded with a tentative “No?,” the mom explained her theory.
“And a whole story kinda just wrote itself,” confessed Vlahos. Scar Girl, which tells Cheyenne’s story, releases later this year.
On the other hand, Reynolds spoke about a broader and more serious life experience: grief.
“I wanted to write a story about [grief]from the perspective of a high school senior,” said Reynolds. “What I’ve learned over the course of my life – especially over the last six months or so – is that most teenagers are grieving. […] And are coping, just trying to hang on, and they aren’t being asked the proper questions or being told how to grieve.”
Reynolds also talked passionately about his experience as child growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which is the setting of The Boy in the Black Suit. “It’s a neighborhood that has been ostracized and criticized and feared for so long. It means the world to me to bring humanity to this neighborhood.”
Asked often about setting the book in Bed-Stuy, Reynolds told the audience that tat he writes for the kids growing up in these neighborhoods to not be ashamed, and for those who don’t live in these neighborhoods to not be afraid of them.
Although the night ended with audience Q&A and book signings, everyone in the room felt satisfied and more connected, warm from the fact that experiences, thoughts, and questions a.k.a life itself, has a strange magic that is able to bring a room full of strangers together.