Boston Teen Author Festival: “Reality Bites” Panel Recap

Alessandra Settineri ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Getting to the room for the ‘Reality Bites’ panel at 2 o’clock was tough – especially when it was the authors’ break room only a few minutes prior. The quarters are certainly tiny in comparison to the enormous lecture hall another panel is being held in, but the authors and facilitators are only slightly bitter, teasing the audience with claims of being the best panel ever.

"Joyride" Cover. Source: Feiwel & Friends
“Joyride” Cover. Source: Feiwel & Friends

The authors of the ‘Reality Bites’ panel at this year’s Boston Teen Author Festival were as follows: Anna Bank (Joyride), Jessica Brody (Unchanged), Emily Franklin (Last Night at the Circle Cinema), Stasia Kehoe (The Sound of Letting Go), Jonathan David Kranz (Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea), and Lance Rubin (Denton Little’s Deathdate). With the panel being moderated by Sarah Fletcher and Andi Soule, each YA author had very insightful responses on topics related to “overcoming challenges from the mundane to the magical in a contemporary setting”.

The six authors kicked off the panel by sharing their inspiration for their work. Anna Banks described her novel, Joyride, as “Bonnie and Clyde meets Pretty in Pink”, admitting that she enjoyed combining different story tropes and forming fresh narratives from that. Following her friend Banks’ lead, Brody said her Unremembered trilogy was “Jason Bourne meets Orphan Black”. Unafraid of leaking spoilers in her series, she hinted at the parallels between her novels’ heroine and these sci-fi characters. She also shared a tip with potential writers about to where to find ideas: “Ideas are everywhere; a lot of them are in newspapers”. “And NPR,” the rest of the panel quickly added.

Next, the authors discussed the importance of settings in their novels. Jonathan David Kranz was very forward about the inspiration for his setting – his novel takes place in a beach town called Sea Town, which was based off Ocean City, New Jersey. The author was adamant that the Jersey Shore he depicts in his novel is devoid of guidos and the like. Stasia Kehoe revealed that she usually made up New England towns since she grew up in that region. She also admitted that she would randomly pull together names for cities and then look them up later to see if they actually existed. “Spring. Field,” Kranz joked, inciting giggles in the audience.

The crux of the panel began when the writers began discussing the importance of real world problems in their respective narratives. Considering the title of his novel, it wasn’t surprising when Lance Rubin said that he often thought about death and time. In relation to his book, he wanted to emphasize his view about the importance of living in the present and how being plugged in to technology “divorces” one from the people surrounding them. Joking about how relatable her “drop-dead gorgeous, superhuman” heroine is to audiences, Brody shed light on the important message in her novels. In a generation that has become so fixated on “perfection as an exterior feature”, Brody expressed that although her character seems flawless, she still doesn’t fit in and struggles. She also explained her use of the press within her story and how they pose a threat to the protagonist. “US Weekly?” Lance Rubin quipped, rousing laughter throughout the room. Immigration issues is an underlying topic of Banks’ novel, while in Emily Franklin’s novel, Last Night at the Circle Cinema, the three protagonists, just graduating high school, emerge out of a “dark” phase in their lives.

"Denton Little's Deathdate" Cover. Source: Knopf Books for Young Readers
“Denton Little’s Deathdate” Cover. Source: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Of course, one cannot discuss YA without mentioning relationships. The strong friendship between the main characters of Franklin’s novel becomes strained due to the secrets they keep from themselves and each other. Friendship was also a major element in Denton Little’s Deathdate, with Denton’s best friend being modeled after Rubin’s actual best friend. The banter between the real life pals during their comedy sketch days influenced the “pure friendship love” that pervades the novel and gives this dark tale an uplifting note. Admitting that romance is generally present YA novels, Jonathan David Kranz also said he wrote his romantic relationships organically, allowing them to emerge naturally. “I let [the characters] dictate” whether or not the romance becomes a focal point.

Older YA readers know as well as anyone that the genre has a reputation for being “fluffy” and “not delving deeply” into internal conflicts. A few of the authors admitted they initially thought that YA was supposed to be “squeaky-clean”. While Jessica Brody said she continued this pattern in order to stay true to her younger readers and maintain their parents’ trust in her, others like Jonathan David Kranz are not afraid of holding back f-bombs and writing about weighty issues because they strongly believe that real teens deal with tough realities, “so why make it light in fiction?”

In an off-topic aspect of the panel, the authors were asked which character they’d like to be for a day. While Rubin and Brody opted for film characters Marty McFly and Beca Mitchell from Pitch Perfect, respectively, the other authors chose classic characters such as Charlie Bucket (Emily Franklin’s pick). “I’m not gonna be Augustus Gloop!” Franklin exclaimed indignantly.

Following the planned portion of the panel, the authors answered questions on their writing processes. One question about the cultural diversity of characters in the YA genre led the authors to agree that this was incredibly important and that, as writers, they had to be sure not to misrepresent cultures. Banks commented that it was not just about culture, that “for diversity to happen”, multicultural characters had to be depicted as human, with real, relatable problems and to be true to cultures, without necessarily making it the primary focus. By the end of the panel, a mere 55 minutes later, the room did not seem so cramped anymore and the audience left positively buzzing. Best panel ever? Check.

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