Among the many childrens/YA titles and authors booksellers are looking forward to at Winter Institute next week is a debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, who happens to teach middle school in the host city of Seattle.
Judy Hobbs, the children's book buyer at Third Place Books in Seattle and Lake Forest Park, described The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Candlewick, March) as a lyrical, multi-generational tale of magical realism that lives up to the comparison to Joanne Harris's Chocolat. "It's one of those books that's hard to talk about," said Hobbs. Born with wings, Ava Lavender leaves her isolated household at 16 to find where she might fit in the larger world--confusing and mesmerizing people along the way. Bookseller buzz for Ava Lavender has spread far beyond Seattle.
"I'm simply over the moon about it," said Valerie Koehler from Blue Willow Books in Houston. "It's not a straightforward teen book," she said. "It's a highly stylized kind of writing that is so grown up."
Many booksellers have been riding the metaphorical band bus since they first heard about Len Vlahos's (former COO of the ABA and now BISG executive director) punk rocker tale, The Scar Boys (Egmont). At WI9 they'll have the chance to congratulate Vlahos in person for his rave review in the New York Times Book Review this week.
Speaking of industry-insiders-turned-authors, in April, HarperCollins is publishing Tease, a debut by Amanda Maciel, an executive editor at Scholastic. Inspired by a true event, Tease is told from the point of view of a teenage girl facing criminal charges after a girl she bullied commits suicide. Maciel, who was a bookseller back in her hometown of Omaha (at the now-closed Combs & Combs), said having the chance to talk with booksellers about Tease at WI9 is "really a dream come true."
Donna Bray, co-publisher of the Balzer & Bray imprint that is publishing Tease, described the debut as "truly remarkable." While the subject might be uncomfortable to read about, the book is never grim, she assured. "The voice is riveting and the alternating flashback chapters provide incredible suspense," Bray said. "I really hope this will open up discussion with teens and adults."
YA books often navigate that delicate line between edgy and educational; some early readers think Andrew Smith's new novel, Grasshopper Jungle (Penguin, Feb.), falls into that category. Robert McDonald at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill., said he loved Grasshopper Jungle so much that he read the galley twice.
"It's teen boys talking about and doing what teen boys talk about and do," said McDonald, explaining that the narrator wants to have sex with his girlfriend but is also trying to figure out the sexual feelings he has for his male best friend (who definitely has sexual feelings for him). Oh, and then there's the part where the best friends accidentally bring about the end of the world with a plague that turns humans into giant insects. "The voice is just so much fun, but really touching, too," said McDonald. "You really root for this kid--he's just such a goofball. It's so imaginative and so unlike anything I have ever read."
James Klise won an American Library Association's Stonewall Award for Love Drugged, and his new novel, The Art of Secrets (April), is one of the hottest books going into Winter Institute; as several booksellers observed, it also solidifies Algonquin's Young Readers imprint's place in the YA/children's world in just its second year.
"I read every title on their first list," said Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music, in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y. In The Art of Secrets, Klise--a Chicago school librarian--uses alternating points of view (students, teachers, parents) to tell how a high school community grapples with an apparent hate crime and its aftermath.
Also on Hermans's buzz list is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Random House, May), a new novel from the author of the NBA-nominated and Printz Award winner The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Lockhart's new book might sound almost too quiet, feared Hermans, since it focuses on a group of cousins in an affluent family who go to a beach house every summer. "But there's a great narrator, thrilling twists and turns, with a shocker at the end," she added, predicting it could be another award winner.
Geoffrey Jennings at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City sees a winner in The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski (FSG, March). Rutkoski, author of the magical, fantastical middle grade Kronos Chronicles series, is launching a new series with The Winner's Curse, which might skew a bit older, but still contains the element of impossible romance that has delighted Rutkoski's readers since her debut, The Cabinet of Wonders. In The Winner's Curse, a 17-year-old general's daughter, unhappy with the options of joining the military or getting married, buys a slave she believes is a kindred spirit--only to find he has secrets of his own.
Although his book isn't out until July, many booksellers are looking forward to meeting Chris Weitz, the director, producer and screenwriter who has brought beloved books like About a Boy, The Golden Compass and one of the Twilight novels to the silver screen. Weitz will be at WI9 to talk about his debut YA novel, The Young World (Little, Brown), in which teens take over New York City after an illness wipes out the adult population.
And lest anyone think the dystopian thing is over, Michael Link from Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Ohio and Kentucky declared Joelle Charbonneau's Graduation Day--book three of the Testing series--a gotta-grab galley. "Our children's booksellers can't get enough of that series."
When it comes to books for younger readers, bestselling author Marissa Moss's Creston Books imprint has been getting lots of buzz since it launched at BookExpo. Moss is making her first appearance at Winter Institute as a combined publisher/author: her new novel, Blood Diaries, is on Creston's spring list. In Blood Diaries, the author of the Amelia's Notebooks series and 50 other children's books (with five million sold) brings her adept storytelling and wit to the subject of a teenage vampire named Edgar.
Suzanna Hermans noted that Sourcebooks has "really stepped up their game" with its children's publishing program. Two Sourcebooks authors to be featured at WI9 are Marianne Richmond, with a new Blankie picture book called I'll Never Let You Go (March), and Carol Weston, with a new middle-grade diary-style novel, Ava and Pip (March), about an aspiring writer. Weston writes a monthly column in Girl's Life.
As many booksellers know, a new Jennifer Donnelly book is an event--whether she's writing for adults or kids--and with Deep Blue (Disney, May), about mermaids who protect the world, Donnelly launches a new children's series. "We loved Revolution," said the Book Stall's McDonald. "We sold hundreds and hundreds of copies."
And last but certainly not least, as the first YA author to be named one of the National Book Foundation's Top Five Under 35, John Corey Whaley's attendance at WI9 is greatly anticipated. His new book, Noggin (S&S, April), has an incredible premise: it's told from the point of view of a diseased teenage boy whose head was frozen and then attached to a new, healthy body; he returns to life five years later, after all of his friends have graduated from high school. "Hilarious, madcap and crazy," are the words Hermans used for Noggin, which she said she could easily hand to kids who like Libba Bray's Going Bovine.
While the ABA is hosting its first Children's Institute in San Antonio in April, ABC children's group manager Matthew Zoni confirmed that the new event dedicated to children's programming would not replace the children's and YA parts of the Winter Institute. "ABC Group will continue to offer a slate of children's educational programming at Winter Institute, contributing to a healthy and lively mix for both adult and children's booksellers," Zoni said.
See you all in Seattle! --Bridget Kinsella
WI9 Buzz Books Part 1: Top Picks and Debuts in Fiction is here; Part II: Nonfiction & Indie Pubs is here.