One of the most exciting and interactive ALA sessions took place on Saturday afternoon. Many people outside of the young adult literature world might not be familiar with the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen feedback session. The YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee reads hundreds of books over the course of 16 months to create a list of the best recommended reads for teens ages 12–18. Their work is an invaluable asset to YA librarians.
But what many people don't know is that at every ALA meeting, both Annual and Midwinter, local librarians recruit their teen readers to come and speak at the open teen session about their thoughts and reactions to each of the titles. This is always a well-attended session: Librarians and publishers love to come hear the teen feedback and it helps give our work real-world application and impact.
This year we heard from teens attending several schools in the Philadelphia area and they provided us with great insight. Over the course of two and half hours, they talked about dozens of the nominated books and didn't hold back any opinions—good or bad. Not only did they give the crowd feedback on specific titles, they also tipped us off on things to look for in a larger sense. The most commonly heard word was "relatable"; the teens mentioned this for every genre. They all want characters they can relate to. Several even went against conventional wisdom by talking about how they hesitated reading any books that were advertised as being similar to trendy YA bestsellers like The Hunger Games. Teens also talked with great excitement about literary fiction, global fiction, and fiction with diverse main characters—genres we don't often think of them enjoying as first choices.
The teens also reminded the crowd about what it's like to truly love a book. Their enthusiasm for certain titles was palpable and charming. One teen said she loved a certain title so much she wanted to "buy it flowers and chocolate." Another teen mentioned how he loved a book so much his eyes were "literally glued to the page the whole time." They also spoke about their love for twists and finding books that blended genres. Many people were live-tweeting, so to see more real time reactions, you can follow the hashtag #BFYA.
For me, no matter what kind of amazing events are happening, the teen feedback sessions are a highlight of any ALA conference. They are a wonderful reflection of what all the hard work of the selection committees actually does in the real lives of the patrons we serve. There's truly no better way to reflect the best of our work! If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend attending one of these feedback sessions: you'll be laughing and learning the whole time. (And you'll hear a lot about love triangles, dystopias, believable characters, and surprise twists!)
ANGIE MANFREDI is head of youth services at Los Alamos County (N.Mex.) Library System.
See, hear, and read more about what’s going on at Midwinter—in real time and after.
Twitter: @alamw and #alamw14