I read everything, to be honest, picture book all the way to adult. Usually, I read one adult novel to every three books for young readers. It gives me a good sense of the “sound” of each genre, not to mention introducing me to new voices in the field.
What YA book are you reading now?
I recently read Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills. Maggot Moon, one of the Printz honor books, is science fiction; BMFUG, a Stonewall Award-winner, is realistic fiction about a transgender teen in high school. On the younger side of YA, I am currently reading Margi Preus’s West of the Moon, an adventure story based on Norse mythology. Quite a spread, right?
I read in bed every single night for about an hour. It is my most peaceful and blessed time. I also read in airports, on long drives, in doctor’s offices, really any time that I am captive in a small space. It is my number one favorite thing to do.
What draws you to a book?
Reviews and awards do play an important role for me initially because I am always interested in what we are collectively calling strong work. I also love to get recommendations from friends who know my tastes or who might like to challenge me. I do love cover art, but the only time it factors in for me is if it’s intolerably sexist or silly – and then I just won’t open it on principle. What holds me in a book, though, is voice and how well the characters are drawn.
Do you ever reread books?
I definitely re-read a book if I’m going to use it in a lecture or speech, just to make sure that I remember the book as it really is. The first reading is pure enjoyment; the second reading is a study of how the author succeeded.
There are only a few books that I re-read purely for pleasure, I’m sad to say. There just isn’t enough time to get to all the wonderful books that are being written. That said, Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (not a YA) is a book I have re-read for style and tension and for the depth of the character.
Which YA books have had the most impact on your writing?
There has been no single book. There have been hundreds of books, and not just YA. My biggest influences have been the modern day Latino masters: Márquez, Alvarez, Cisneros, etc.
In terms of YA specifically, I’d say that reading broadly has given me a sense of the landscape of the YA world. It has given me a clearer sense of what I like to do and what I might have to offer to young people in my own work.
It actually changes every year and the list is long. This year, I was extremely fond of two titles in particular: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Both of these novels center around young women pushed to their limit. I finished each one of them feeling so sad to have reached the end.