Jennifer Niven in Australia

American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.

It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.

Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’

I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.

When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.

Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.

Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’

Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.

Further links:

Jennifer recommends Germ online magazine

Follow Jennifer

My brief review of Holding Up the Universe for Boomerang blog

My review of Holding Up the Universe for the Weekend Australian

YA at ‘Reading Matters’ and other standout novels

Some of the best YA novels I have read recently span contemporary realism to fantasy, past to future, New York City to Ireland.

Two of the authors I’ve reviewed here will be making appearances at the excellent Reading Matters conference in Melbourne (see more at the end of these reviews). Another is about to arrive in Australia.

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books) is set in an alternate Ireland. Nessa and her cohort know that this is the year when they will be ‘called’ for a life-changing three minutes by the Sidhe, avenging fairies who have been forced ‘under the mounds’ by humans. Nessa has the extra difficulty of a damaged left leg but she throws herself into the physical and psychological training all the young people endure to give them a chance of escaping and returning. Any who return have been damaged in some way. Will Nessa be the exception? The Call is atmospheric, chilling and highly imaginative. Its originality and brilliance are unforgettable.

Peadar is about to make appearances at, at least, one Australian bookshop and the Perth Writers’ Festival this month.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Corgi, Penguin Random House) is shooting up ‘best of’ lists. Natasha and her family live in New York City but are about to be deported to Jamaica. On her way to a last minute attempt to revert the decision, Natasha meets Daniel, a gorgeous Korean-American with a ponytail who breaks the mould.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (Penguin Books) follows the author’s stunning All the Bright Places.

Holding Up the Universe takes us inside the life of Libby Strout, who starts high school after being homeschooled because of her obesity. She encounters beautiful Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia (a condition which appears in another recent excellent book which, for ‘spoiler’ reasons I can’t reveal here yet). Jack can’t recognise faces. The narrative explores both Libby and Jack’s universes, and how they intersect.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King (Little Brown, Hachette) takes us further afield, into the future, as well as the present. Glory and her best friend Ellie, who lives on a commune, drink a petrified bat, which gives them visions of the future. Like Juliet in Bridget Kemmerer’s upcoming Letters to the Lost, Glory has lost her mother and makes sense of her world through photography. Glory O’Brien is a slow-burning and original piece of writing. Exceptional.

A.S. King and Jennifer Niven are both speaking at Reading Matters conference in Melbourne in June. Link here. What an opportunity to hear these brilliant authors.