The sun is shining bright and everyone around me is in high spirits because what better way to spend our morning at this year’s YallWest than talking about love? Nic Stone (Dear Martin) is our moderator. She’s joined on the bleachers with Arvin Ahmadi (Down and Across), Becky Albertalli (Leah on the Offbeat), Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Shaun David Hutchinson (The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza), Sandhya Menon (When Dimple Met Rishi), and Wendy Xu (Mooncakes). They’re here to discuss the importance of young readers seeing themselves in love stories no matter who they love or how they look.
What I enjoyed most about this panel, well, besides the amazing authors I was only a few feet away from, was how open and honest it was. It was easy for the authors to tell us how they decided to write what they wanted to read, even if it was something they weren’t completely familiar with at the time. Nic Stone tells the audience, “you can write outside of your experiences and do it well.” And this led into Becky Albertalli discussing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and how important it was for her to tell this story. She goes on to tell us about all the hard work she had to put into the story to do it right and give the readers what she hoped they needed.
Having diverse books available for young readers is something everyone on this panel is passionate about. Sandhya Menon tells us that she wrote When Dimple Met Rishi not only because she wanted to explore arranged marriages, but also because she needed to see herself in a story where someone who looks like her gets that fairy tale ending.
The list continues as every author shares why they wrote the relationships that they did in their stories. Why Jenny Han wanted to write an interracial relationship to how Shaun David Hutchinson likes exploring every relationship in his stories, friendships and family ones alike. And how Wendy Xu mixes the element of paranormal into a love story.
Even with the seriousness of the discussion, don’t think that there weren’t plenty of laughs either! Arvin Ahmadi jokes, “did anyone get any in high school? Isn’t that why we’re all here? Books were our friends.” But Nic Stone slyly adds that she in fact did get some.. Haha!
As you can see, modern love was the perfect title for this panel. As I listened to some of my favorite authors speak about the different love stories that they wrote or ones they’ve read, it made me pause and think to myself, yes, this is modern love. Every type of love is love. Finding connections with people, no matter who you find it with.
The panel ended with what the authors would love to read more of in YA, and it ranged from pansexual representation to asexual representation to teen polygamous representation. I hope I can speak for everyone there that we all agreed with them. We can’t wait to see more stories with every representation in them because that is modern love.