Last Friday, the top floor of Waterstones Leeds was transformed from silent bookshop to a welcoming, friendly space, ready to be filled by readings, signings and hilarity. With a small turn out of approximately 25, the event felt intimate and relaxed, with strangers striking up conversation with each other, bound by common interest and an excitement to meet their favourite authors. The special guests, of course, were award winning novelists David Levithan and Sally Green. Both authors are currently on tour promoting their new books, but more on that later.
After a swift introduction, Sally Green treated us all to a reading of the first chapter of her new book Half Wild. The novel is the sequel to her first book Half Bad, but the story was instantly absorbing, even to those who hadn’t read Half Bad. There’s a reason this book is being described as the new Hunger Games or Twilight; a mystical coming-of-age novel laden with witches, magic, and unexpected heroes. The gap in the booming Young Adult market has been filled by the Half Bad protagonist, Nathan Byrn. Half Wild is narrated by the teenage protagonist – a not-untypical move in the YA game. However, what adds a layer of unexpected literary complexity is the fact that the narration takes places completely inside Nathan’s mind, with the novel reminiscent of an extended internal monologue. This unique way of story-telling shows just how in touch with her characters Green is as the immersion into the story was natural. The cliff-hanger her reading left gave a sense of exhilarated excitement, telling me that this was a series I just had to read.
In hilarious juxtaposition David Levithan read next from his new book Hold Me Closer. Any fans of Will Grayson, Will Grayson (New York Times best seller that was the collaborative work of Levithan and award winning author John Green – or, as Sally likes to call him, “the other Green”) will devour this book. This companion book to Will Grayson, Will Grayson tells the story of fan favorite Tiny Cooper through his autobiographical musical Hold Me Closer. Though the musical was touched upon briefly in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, it was clearly not enough to satisfy eager fans, who inspired a further novel by making David and John Tiny Cooper Hold Me Closer t-shirts when the duo went on tour in 2010. Levithan’s decision to further the character of Tiny Cooper – a character Levithan described fondly as being “born of 1 dad, but raised of 2 fathers,” due to him being a character of John and David’s collaborative work – was a stroke of genius; Tiny’s story was by no means finished in the original novel, and fans will be delighted to delve deeper into the character’s back-story through the medium of song. Though Levithan’s choice to write this book as a musical in novel form (“or a novel in musical form”, as it says in the front of the book) was unexpected, but worked amazingly well. Tiny’s thoughts and feelings are clear in the writing and his voice shone through – especially in the hilariously in depth stage directions.
A Q&A session following the readings proved extremely interesting, touching on topics such as the effect of social media and advice for young writers. Levithan’s novels are notoriously humorous, and the author was apparently unconcerned about the considerable humor gap between America and Britain. “Musicals transcend that humor gap, so I wasn’t too worried about making sure jokes landed,” Levithan told the gathered fans, and if his reading was anything to go by, humor was not something the author should worry about; his jokes and witty comments had the crowd laughing out loud.
Sally touched briefly on the topic of the stigma around YA books. They’re gaining popularity and are the new avant garde in terms of variety. However, they’re often dismissed in whole due to their popularity; something that authors like Green and Levithan must undoubtedly find infuriating. When asked if she felt she had to prove the people wrong who say young people don’t read enough, her answer was sure. “No, I think that young people often read more than adults, but I do sympathize. When I worked, I didn’t read as much, sometimes only a couple of books a year.” But she made clear that it was an author’s responsibility to write books that make people of all ages want to read.
The two very contrasting books – Green’s dark and magical novel and Levithan’s funny and fabulous musical – provided a wide range of literature that the crowd listened raptly to. It was clear by the rush to the till before the signing that if people weren’t on board with the books to start with, they certainly were after being treated to such a fantastic and passionate presentation. And whilst I was of course there to write this article, I won’t pretend I didn’t transform into the embarrassing fan I am when posing for a picture with David as I had my book signed at the end of the evening.
Words by Lauryn Green