There are so many elements of YA Lit that appeal to me, but the strongest is the voice -- that raw, honest, and vulnerable voice of an adolescent wading through an experience, or series of experiences, after which their world will never be the same. It's the sound of the characters that draw me to the work, the way they unpack their emotions on the page. My favorite YA books are hinged by a strong narrative voice, typically a first person point of view. Of course the story and setting matter a great deal as well, the structure and subplots and sidekicks, but it always comes back to a strong authentic voice.
What YA book are you reading now?
I'm currently reading an ARC of the YA novel Fig (forthcoming April 2015) by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz; she's a Simon & Schuster author, too, and the story is one I haven't heard yet in the YA world, so I'm planning to blurb the book. In terms of other YA books sharing the nightstand with Fig, the new issue of One Teen Story and E. Lockhart's We Were Liars are currently in the stack.
When and where do you read?
If truth be told, I'm mostly reading board books to my son these days, so we read on the floor, on the couch, and in the cozy chair in his bedroom. He's ten months old, and reading has become one of his favorite activities. But when I can find the time to read for myself, it is often on the back deck, curled up on the couch, at my desk in my office before beginning my writing for the day, or in bed. I also read in airports, in parking lots, in coffee shops, in classrooms before my students arrive, at dog parks, standing up in the kitchen, and in doctor's office waiting rooms. I try to sneak it in when ever and where ever I can! And I can't fall asleep without reading for at least half an hour. It's my way of unwinding and closing up shop for the day.
What draws you to a book?
I rely heavily on word of mouth and recommendations from friends and other authors. When I was on book tour for Fingerprints of You, I collected books based off the suggestions of booksellers, and never left an event empty handed.
Do you ever reread books?
I absolutely do. One of the most wonderful things about reading is seeing a book in a new way depending on what you're bringing to the page at that time. For me, a book changes each time I read it, so I often return to my stack of favorites for inspiration, particularly when I'm struggling with something in my own work.
I don't think I can pinpoint one book that has had the most impact on my writing. With each project, I have found a number of books that have helped me discover my own goals and strengths and have un-stuck me when I've struggled. The Outsiders taught me to write against the advice "write what you know," while John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back and Daniel Handler's Why We Broke Up encouraged me to experiment with structure. Recently, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park reminded me to write honestly about the sweetness and vulnerability we experience with first love, while David Levithan's Every Day encouraged me to be mindful of including diversity in my cast of characters.
John Green's Paper Towns, David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing, Claiming Georgia Tate by Gigi Amateau, and the literary YA magazine One Teen Story. Though it's not YA, I always recommend Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, which is absolutely beautiful and is populated by a fascinating group of teenaged characters. I also often recommend Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer in terms of an authentic and emotionally honest adolescent voice, though it is not a YA novel.