Overcoming Challenges Now and in a Dystopian Future: a Boston Book Festival Recap

Confession: I’ve lived in Boston about six years now (holy cow!), and this is the first year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Boston Book Festival.

I know. Somehow I was always out of town or busy that day. But this year I put it on my calendar and made sure I was free. And it was a beautiful fall Saturday–the perfect day to be downtown and among the literary crowd.

I attended two panels. The first was YA: Overcoming Adversity, with authors Jo Knowles, Kathryn Burak, and Barry Lyga (moderated by Simmons professor Amy Pattee). As someone who writes contemporary YA fiction, I really enjoyed the conversation about how essential YA novels are in a young reader’s exploration of adversity. Society tends to trivialize the emotions of young people, but young adulthood is a time when you feel emotions so intensely. YA is the first opportunity for readers to explore “controversial” topics–and possibly, the first time readers get to see that they’re not alone in their pain.

A couple of quotes I especially liked from the panel:

  • “I try to explain about contemporary YA novels–that they exist.”
  • [By reading about things feel turned inside-out] “…we feel a little less turned inside-out.”
  • “Adolescents move toward adulthood. Adults move toward death.” Hmm, that reminds me of a song.
  • “Print it, bitches!”
  • Barry Lyga shares his research on serial killers, including how you can mess with forensics scientists by smearing horseradish all over your crime scene and how there was a surge in serial killers in the ’80s (no, it wasn’t the hairspray).

Next up was YA: The Future is Now, with authors Rachel Cohn, Cory Doctorow, and Gabrielle Zevin (moderated by M.T. Anderson). All of the panelists were really funny and thoughtful, and it’s encouraging to see authors talk about dystopia not as a trend but as part of a concern young people have. Where is our world heading? Are we living in a dystopia or a utopia? Is it possible to make a change?

A few fun moments from this panel:

  • “The usual Boston welcome is when everyone stops talking and looks awkwardly away from each other’s eyes.”
  • “The Dickensian family drama is now!”
  • Gyms are a glimpse at a clone-driven dystopian society. (I also think they’re a good place to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.)
  • Cory Doctorow’s German student impression and first draft puppet show.
  • “Art is an aesthetic feeling you want to get into someone else’s head.”

I also got to get signed copies of See You at Harry’s (which is already making me have all the feelings) and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party (which is one of my favorites).

All in all, a successful first Boston Book Festival. Thanks to all the literary people–the BBF team and volunteers, librarians, authors, publishers, etc.–who helped make this day so much fun!

2 thoughts on “Overcoming Challenges Now and in a Dystopian Future: a Boston Book Festival Recap

  1. Those sound like great panels! I am also glad to hear that people are talking about dystopian not as a trend, but as a manifestation of perennial concerns. Sure, there are lots of trendy title now, but I think many will have lasting power and that there will continue to be new angles as writers respond to new challenges in society.

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