Stephanie had just finished speaking with another fan. I stepped up to the table, smiled, and introduced myself. Then something unexpected happened.
My voice quivered. My heart thumped faster. The inside of my chest expanded, and an intense rush of love and affection for her novel’s characters pushed up from the center of my body to my throat and head.
As she smiled and thanked me for the compliments – I loved the characters and the story, you did such a great job of showing what it’s like to live in Paris, I really identified with her love of movies – I realized I needed to end the conversation before I became a blubbering mess.
Or rather, more of a blubbering mess. Tears tickled the corners of my eyes. She is so nice to not laugh at me. I squelched the oncoming freight train of hyperventilation, smiled, and said “Thank you!” as I escaped into the crowd.
But not before I saw Lauren Oliver, author of Panic,** rise from her seat and turn away from the table. I loved Panic. Should I try to catch her?
Considering that my dignity had rushed out with tires squealing, and was probably getting rear-ended somewhere in L.A. traffic, I decided to play it conservatively this time. In short: No way.
I rushed from the building, blinking in the too-bright California sunshine and vowed to never tell anyone what happened. Then I walked around in a daze, finally wandering over to the food trucks for lunch.
But after some reflection, I remembered a story Geraldine Brooks told when she visited Colorado a few years ago to promote March, a companion novel to Little Women that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. She described her feelings for a book she wanted to read when she was a girl.
News that she was receiving the coveted novel as a gift caused a strong reaction in the young Geraldine: her heart rate increased, her breath quickened, and her face became flushed.
It was the first time she felt desire. Desire for a book.
The audience laughed with her.
I also looked at the hundreds of teenagers at Yallwest who lined up to get their books signed by favorite authors (a scene that would be repeated at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books the following weekend).
I recalled the smiling authors who were so gracious while meeting young fans and answering their questions during panel discussions.
One author even remarked it was more fun to participate in festivals like Yallwest geared toward teens because the fans are so genuine and unguarded in their enthusiasm. Whereas some adults at other events play it ultra-cool when distributing compliments (insert restrained, dignified voice): “I found your book deeply satisfying.”
In other words: it’s okay to be real, people.
Pure joy at knowing someone else in the world understands what you’ve experienced, felt like you did, and was able to capture that emotion eloquently on the page…
No one should be embarrassed by that.
Katherine Valdez plans to never, ever introduce herself to Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Robyn Schneider, or E. Lockhart, lest she dissolve into a puddle of blissful nothingness. Like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. But not evil. And less steamy.
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*Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins brings readers to Paris, where our heroine spends her senior year in boarding school. She struggles to learn French, haunts Paris’ theaters to prepare for a career as a film critic, and attracts a smart and cute boy named Etienne St. Clair. She likes him, and he seems to like her, but there’s one catch. He has a girlfriend. The title made me pause, but I was soon swept away by realistic characters, a page-turning story, and sensory details that reveal what it’s like to live in France.
**Panic by Lauren Oliver follows high school seniors in a dead-end town competing for a cash prize in a secret and dangerous competition. As Heather and Dodge advance in “the game,” secrets unfold, alliances form, and they find themselves falling in love with people who surprise them. This novel hooked me from the first page. Compelling, gritty, and haunting.