YA novelist and Hit author Lorie Ann Grover is one busy woman. Not only is she an author, but she’s also the cofounder of readergirlz, a literacy and social media project for teens. We chatted with her about the impressive project, the importance of YA books and more.
SheKnows: YA books tend to get a bad rap. What are five reasons teens should read YA books? How do YA books actually help them?
Lorie Ann Grover:
- YA books are being written by some of the most talented authors in the publishing industry. Teens and adults are reaching to read YA, while everyone is being entertained by YA novels released in the theaters.
- Featuring characters the same age as teens, YA books hit home with protagonists experiencing difficulties teens may be wrestling with themselves.
- YA books, by and large, end with some measure of hope. Why not choose hope over despair?
- YA books are open to exploring forms not widely found in adult writing, such as verse novels.
- The gates are wide open for subject matter today in the YA world. And if a teen can’t find it, he/she might write it.
YA books, like any great fiction, tap into the soul, whisper truth and reflect back who we might be or might choose not to be.
SK: Are there any types of YA books teens should actually stay away from?
LAG: I can’t think of any. Even the poorly written can still hold life lessons and of course be a tool for learning how not to write. Or maybe that work will be a gateway into reading, the first stepping-stone to other works in a new reader’s life.
SK: What are some of your favorite YA novels ever?
LAG: M.T. Anderson’s Feed always comes to mind. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is brilliant while the works of my fellow readergirlz divas resonate so strongly. Books such as Justina Chen’s North of Beautiful, Janet Lee Carey’s Dragon’s Keep and Dia Calhoun’s White Midnight. Deb Caletti and Beth Kephart’s bodies of work also sing to me.
SK: If someone wanted to write a YA book, what would you say are the YA book essentials? Are there any common themes?
LAG: Coming of Age, of course, is popular and relevant. Otherwise, a YA book follows all of the same themes and ingredients that make any good story. I apply nearly everything I learn in works such as Bird by Bird, Story, The Writer’s Journey and The War of Art to my YA works. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there’s usually a dose of hope at the end.
SK: Your Hit-and-Run tour seems to be a, well, hit. What is it about this tour that teens appreciate?
LAG: In our #hitwithgratitude tour, I believe the teens are engaged by the hardships in my YA novel Hit and Justina Chen’s young adult work A Blind Spot for Boys. Our characters’ tragedies are gripping alongside our own personal difficulties that we share. I discuss my autoimmune diseases and cancer while Justina describes being abandoned in China with her children, by her husband. When teens see it is possible to endure hardship and still find gratitude, they are inspired. It’s possible to be “better, not bitter.”
SK: What are they learning from it?
LAG: Teens are seeing that following difficulty is the great “and then…” My career with the Miami Ballet Company crashed when I grew too tall. And then… I discovered my ability to write. Justina was forced back to work outside of the home following her divorce. And then… she discovered her gift of speechwriting for executives. I think this quote from a recent school visit sums it up:
“Honestly, it was phenomenal. Seriously. They are not just writers, but also mothers, speakers, inspirations, and survivors (yes). I don’t get how they can have so many unfortunate things happen in their lives and increase positivity and happiness! You guys inspired a ton of kids today with your motivated speakingness and thank you so much for coming — we hope to see you again soon!!”
– Yasmeen, student, Jackson High, Millcreek
If your school, book club, women’s group or youth group would be interested in being added to the tour, drop me a note at lorieanngroveratclearwiredotnet. Justina and I are happy to then gift a visit to an underfunded location or remote area following the first event.
SK: Can you give a Twitter-length description (140 characters) as to what readergirlz is?
LAG: readergirlz is a nationally awarded, social media literacy project inspiring teens to read, reflect and reach out.
SK: Why should more teens get involved?
LAG: How often when we finish a book do we want to discuss it, to reach out and do something because we ourselves have been changed? Readergirlz affords that opportunity on many platforms. There are community service ideas, like our #rockthedrop, where we leave books in neighborhoods around the world to be found and loved by others on Support Teen Literature Day in April. There are playlists, chats and current industry newsflashes. Why not talk about all things bookish with other avid book lovers and then better our circles of the world? We make that a little easier to do through rgz.
SK: How did readergirlz come about? What inspired you to create this group?
LAG: Back in 1996 on a book tour, cofounder Justina Chen was struck by how many schools couldn’t afford author visits. After making an effort to visit underfunded schools for no fee, she returned to Washington and asked Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey and me to work with her to create an online community, which would be accessible to all teens. Back then, the social media hot spot was MySpace and authors weren’t interfacing with readers. The concept that we could do this through an online site was cutting-edge and attracted a wide base of followers. One highlight from the first year occurred at midnight on Oct. 31, 2007. We had readers around the world chatting with Stephenie Meyer. It was mind-blowing for the time. Actually, it is mind-blowing even now. Another great moment a couple of years later was winning the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize. So encouraging!
We began readergirlz by contributing our own money and have chosen to remain volunteer and nonprofit. At times, there have been 30 volunteers at work behind the scenes. Right now, work is maintained daily by Melissa Walker, Micol Ostow, screenwriter and actress Allie Costa and myself. Everyone else is still in the wings to lend a hand as projects arise or our own personal writing deadlines loom. There’s a lot of sistering going on behind the scenes!
SK: How many members does readergirlz have online?
LAG: We don’t know! I can say we include teen girls, and really smart guys, librarians, teachers, moms, booksellers and those in the publishing industry around the world from the U.S. to South Korea, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Denmark. Our very first readergirlz are married with children now! Without the need to register on a site and with our multiple platforms, many readers keep tabs on us, but there’s no way to count them. It is always fun to be at school visits or conventions and have readergirlz connect with us. There’s much joy over books and our long-distance friendships.
SK: Readergirlz requires members take part in at least one community service project/activity. Why was it decided to include this?
LAG: Often teens have mandatory community service projects during their senior year. We thought we could help supply ideas for those instances. Ultimately, we want to galvanize responsible citizens and encourage altruism. It’s so easy to do with books. Like with my recent release of Hit about a teen struck in a crosswalk by her teacher, I’m pointing readergirlz to #redthumbreminder, a site encouraging text-free driving. It’s empowering to act after we’ve finished a good book. Our motto is read, reflect and reach out. We each can do that, right?
SK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
LAG: Keep an eye on us. We are always evolving, moving where the teens are, discussing great books, and then together, making impacts large and small. Feel free to join our community! Thanks so much!