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June 23, 2016

Celebrating YOU KNOW ME WELL with Outstanding Authors

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Unless you've been living under a rock for the past several years, you're probably familiar with bestselling author David Levithan. Not only is he the author of beloved books like EVERY DAY and NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, he's also an editor at Scholastic, where he was worked with authors like Maggie Stiefvater, Suzanne Collins and Cecil Castellucci. Most recently, Levithan has released YOU KNOW ME WELL, co-authored with Nina LaCour.

Last week, I attended a celebration in honor of YOU KNOW ME WELL at Books of Wonder in New York City, my favorite bookstore for author events. The night marked my first time meeting David Levithan, so naturally I was hyperventilating a bit, but what really made the evening special was the fact that four other authors --- Stephanie Perkins, Lisa Williamson, Jane Mason and Billy Merrell --- were also there to celebrate.

The authors began the night by reading from each of their books. It quickly became clear that each writer values diversity and pride, especially for LGBQT* or racially diverse characters, but the most common theme throughout their works and characters was feeling different. No matter our orientations or skin colors, I think it's safe to say that we've all felt different from our peers at one point or another, and Levithan, LaCour, Perkins, Williamson, Mason and Merrell all spoke to that beautifully.

When it came to the question and answer portion of the evening, Levithan turned the conversation over to the audience. Questions ranged from personal ones about authors' backgrounds to more general ones about writing processes and styles. Each author, however, was adamant about the power of books, especially for those who are downtrodden or undervalued by the people around them.

Levithan remarked "For people who want to take people's humanity away from them and show them as caricatures, we want to act as the counterbalance to that" and the other authors heartily agreed. He said that Stephanie Perkins' latest book, SUMMER DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS, is perfect for this, because it includes the written works of a variety of authors. Readers who are fans of The Hunger Games, for example, may pick up Perkins' book to read Roth's chapter and end up discovering a whole new world of characters and themes from one of the other authors featured in her collection.

In a slightly sad twist, each author claimed that their works were at least partially based in truth, as each of them had been bullied and scared at one point or another. But that, remarked LaCour, is exactly why they write.

When asked about the most powerful responses to their works, Billy Merrell was quick to start by telling us the story of a girl who sent him pictures of her new tattoo featuring lines of his own poetry. Jane Mason relayed a story a librarian shared with her about a girl who was shocked to discover that Mason's book featured homosexual characters --- and that she couldn't stop reading about them!

Overall it was a very powerful night, and I was moved to see many teens absolutely gushing about their favorite books and authors. I also had a terrific chat with Stephanie Perkins, who told me how much she loves hearing from her readers and how much she appreciates teens who get really excited about books. Needless to say, we hugged it out hard!