Shadin Al-Dossari ‘18/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor
On March 4, in Irving, Texas, more than 60 authors and 10,000 readers attended the third North Texas Teen Book Festival. The Book Boyfriends panel has drawn the biggest crowds at NTTBF for three years in a row now. This comes as no surprise when this panel offers a diverse group of authors filled with big names. This year’s Book Boyfriends panel included Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Nicola Yoon, Lilliam Rivera, Maurene Goo, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins. Four of these authors are authors of color, and two of them (David Levithan and Benjamin Alire Sáenz) are best known for their LGBT centered books.
All panels at NTTBF are moderated by figures in the book community, be it authors or librarians. The moderator does a general Q&A before opening the panel up for audience questions. Because this panel focuses on romance and love, a lot of the questions were about the perfectly imperfect love interest in young adult literature. All the authors agreed that the love interest has to have flaws in order for them to be realistic. Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star, likes to have her characters have matching flaws so that they complement each other. David Levithan, author of The Lover’s Dictionary and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is always more interested in the messy parts of a relationship. While Stephanie Perkins, who is most known for her Anna and the French Kiss series, always has her characters begin their relationship from a place of friendship, to make their relationship stronger and more intimate.
Some audience members expressed that they use romance novels as a happy escape from the current political turmoil. Though he was understanding, David Levithan cautioned against readers viewing romance books as an escape from the frustrating reality of the world; he believes that love stories are a part of reality and shouldn’t be used as an escape, as love is the foundation of the world. Yoon agreed heartily, saying that love is what makes the world go round, and even though people tend not to take romances seriously, love is at the base of everything. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, pointed out that he only likes to write love stories because part of the hardship of relationships is finding yourself. While writing, Sáenz found himself trying to explore the question of why men and women in today’s society can’t have intimate relationships without being suspect. Sáenz pointed out that friendship can be an act of falling in love; love takes many forms and no form is more important than another.
When a fan asked about how the authors’ characters battle insecurities with their love interests, the panel of authors all unanimously reassured the audience that even adults battle awkwardness in their relationships. Levithan went on to say that getting the guy or girl isn’t the most important part of the story; what the character finds out about themselves is. He made sure to emphasize that whether you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend isn’t significant to your value in life. Yoon added that a significant other in fiction should be there to help the main character grow.
Interactive panels like this one allow avid readers to connect with their favorite authors and pick their brains about characters that they have grown attached to. Book festivals are underrated when compared to big conventions like Comic Con, but each year the numbers are increasing, which points to a growing community of readers. As long as festivals like NTTBF exist, readers everywhere will rejoice and participate.
Yoon’s Everything, Everything is being released as a movie later this year, and Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will also be adapted for the big screen in the coming future.