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April 11, 2018 Reports from Houston’s TeenBookCon

Posted by Rebecca M

On March 24, 2018, teens and YA booklovers convened in sunny League City, Texas, to attend the ninth annual TeenBookCon. Established to celebrate and promote reading by connecting teens with authors, TeenBookCon caters to its teen readers first and foremost, giving them first priority in both seating and Q&A sessions --- and did we mention it's free? Last year, Teenreads reviewer Anushka Giri attended for the first time and enjoyed the event so much that she returned this year with a friend and fellow high school teacher, An. Anushka and An were dazzled by the convention's set-up, headliners and attendees. Read below for a breakdown of their experience at TeenBookCon, including which authors they loved the most, the panels that they will remember forever and the books they recommend. Who did you attend TeenBookCon with?

An Nguyen: I attended TeenBookCon with my long time friend and roommate, Anushka. She made the experience extra fabulous.

Anushka Giri: I hit up TeenBookCon with my favorite reading buddy, An. She’s serious bookspiration for me; she goes through multiple books a week! I knew she’d be the perfect partner in crime for TeenBookCon.

TRC: What were you looking forward to the most at the conference?

An: First and foremost, I was super excited to see Neal Shusterman on the guest list. He was my favorite sci-fi/fantasy author back in middle school. The first series I read from him was the Scorpion Shards trilogy. Months before the convention, I picked up SCYTHE and THUNDERHEAD. I binge-read both books within days. I am really happy I got to attend a panel with Shusterman and get his autograph at the end of the convention.

Anushka: I was super jazzed to hear Tomi Adeyemi speak. The lovely Rebecca of Teenreads had mentioned that CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is being made into a movie (eeeeek!) and I was really interested in seeing if she dropped any juicy tidbits about it. She didn’t (ugh) but it was still wonderful to hear her speak about other things, such as her fondness for writing fanfiction. (In that moment, I could feel An fangirling next to me.)

TRC: What events did you attend? Which was your favorite? Why?

An: I attended at least 3 panels. My favorite was “Fashion Forward” featuring  Dhonielle Clayton (THE BELLES), Leah Thomas (WHEN LIGHT LEFT US), Cecil Castellucci (DON'T COSPLAY MY HEART) and Mary H.K. Choi (EMERGENCY CONTACT). I enjoyed hearing each author’s description of their respective aesthetic. Choi was dressed in denim, and described herself as “swaddled in denim like a giant toddler.” I personally would not know how to describe my aesthetic as anything other than “comfortable,” which is how Clayton and Thomas described themselves as well. I love how Castellucci’s most important accessory is her earrings. I enjoyed this panel because I got to learn more about the individual authors’ personalities and voices.

Anushka: I also attended three panels instead of the usual four (the food truck lines were pretty long, so sadly I missed one.) They were all incredible, but my favorite was an all-girl group featuring Jessica Brody (THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL), Stephanie Garber (CARAVAL) and Sandhya Menon (WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI). They had amazing chemistry together, but the panel was especially unusual because they made it completely interactive --- they had planned some games ahead, complete with prizes, and even though I didn’t get to hear about their writing processes, per se, it was still a great bonding experience between the panelists and the audience that made me extremely fond of these lovely ladies (and even more excited to read their work!).

TRC: Were there any authors who surprised you or shared something unexpected? Who and why?

An: Cecil Castellucci’s new book DON'T COSPLAY MY HEART came from a funny play on words. Her editor told her that she should write a book on it, and so she did. Dhonielle Clayton of THE BELLES writes about things that make her angry. Leah Thomas of WHEN LIGHT LEFT US produces non-literary creative projects when she is in a writing rut. I think that is amazing to turn to other craft projects in order to push past writer’s block.

Anushka: TeenBookCon was a treasure trove of wisdom. The authors were all incredibly thoughtful, warm, and humble. Nevertheless, it’s hard to remember that they’re still human, especially when they’re writing these incredible works that are being turned into movies, you know? The one moment that was a great reminder of these guys’ mortality was when Stephanie Garber was telling us how she still gets super awkward and nervous around writers she admires, even though SHE is a bona fide famous writer. She said that she can never think of anything to say other than, “Hi! I read your book.” I myself was super nervous when I walked up to her to get her to sign my book later, so I totally stole her line. She laughed, and we commiserated about our awkwardness.

TRC: What was your best unexpected encounter with an author or fan?

An: I saw a fan sporting a Rock Lee tattoo (from the Naruto series). Anushka pointed him out to me and we quickly rushed over for closer inspection. The fellow anime fan gladly let me take a closer look at his tattoo, an opportunity to see Ringo Leone’s artwork firsthand. Attending TeenBookCon allowed me to see a variety of readers beyond the stereotypical glasses-wearing, introverted, quiet nerd we so often see in media. I was glad to experience the diversity.

Anushka: I also loved meeting the fan with the Rock Lee tattoo, because it really did speak to the breadth of interests that the TeenBookCon attendees have. However, my favorite meeting this year was when we met a pint-sized reader that had read more Neal Shusterman than An! As a high school English teacher who struggles to get students to pick up a book, it was really heartwarming and inspiring to see a young reader so full of excitement about books. (Seriously, his backpack full of novels to sign was bigger than he was.)

TRC: And of course, the books! Tell us some of the books that you came away wanting to read after TeenBookCon.

An: I bought Cecil Castellucci’’s graphic novel SOUPY LEAVES HOME. I did not know about Castellucci’s work as a comic book writer and graphic novelist. I am glad that I attended her panel and took the book home. It is one of my new favorites. The art is done so well. The choice in colors and illustrations made it easy for me to fall into the story. I also picked up EMERGENCY CONTACT by Mary H.K. Choi. The artwork was the first thing that attracted me to the book.

Anushka: I tried reaaaally hard to control myself this year. I still walked away with a few gems, though. The one I’m reading right now is Shusterman’s CHALLENGER DEEP, which is inspired by the real-life challenges Shusterman faced while raising a son with mental illness. After hearing Daniel Chacon speak, I really wanted a copy of THE CHOLO TREE, but alas, they’d run out. I’m definitely going to steal (um, borrow) An’s copy of EMERGENCY'S CONTACT to read next, since she won’t stop raving about it.  

TRC: What book would you encourage your friends to read after your hearing from the author?

An: Mary HK Choi's EMERGENCY CONTACT is a must-buy after I attended her panel. I did not expect to hear the word “MILF” at a book convention. After reading the book summary, I purchased it right away. I love romance and drama. Choi’s leading male character, Sam, has more than just girl troubles. He has anxiety, self esteem concerns, and an unusual home situation. Often men in YA books are painted as unapproachable jerks, hot by conventional means. Penny is humorous, passionate, and very “woke.” Her east Asian background does not characterize her entire personality, but it was awesome for me to be able to connect with this character when there is so little Asian representation in YA. I feel Choi’s characters have so many layers to them. I am more than halfway done with the book, but I am afraid to read to the last page because I am uncertain how Sam and Penny’s bond will end.

Anushka: So far, CHALLENGER DEEP is really blowing my mind, because I feel like mental illness is such an important issue at the moment, and the key to overcoming stigma is to put yourself in that perspective. It’s really interesting to see how the schizophrenic protagonist navigates his environment. I cannot help but empathize with his challenges. I haven’t read Sandhya Menon’s WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI yet, but after hearing Menon speak, I am pretty sure I’m going to hardcore relate to Dimple’s struggles with her Indian parents, so I will preemptively recommend that to any South Asian readers dealing with naggy, lovingly scheming parents.

TRC: What’s your best memory of the day?

An: My favorite memory has to be from a panel with Neal Shusterman and Tomi Adeyemi. Adeyemi revealed that she is a Zutara shipper and writes Naruto fanfiction. And Shusterman mentioned that his favorite Naruto character is Gaara, who is my favorite character as well.

Anushka: This is going to sound really bad, but honestly, my favorite part of that day was standing in line for the food trucks. Hear me out: It was pretty much the only time that I got to take a moment to observe my fellow readers. It was wonderful to see everyone gushing about the book they just bought, wearing the buttons they just made, rocking their nerdy fandom garb, and freaking out about which panel to attend next. The vibe was electric. And also, my lunch was pretty dang good. I would totally recommend Curbside Sliderz to any Teenreads fans who hit up Houston. My treat!