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How Jason Reynolds Distinguishes Y.A. Books From Adult Fiction

How do you distinguish Y.A. books from adult fiction?

I’m still trying to figure that out. You know, I’m working on some adult fiction right now, and based on what I’m learning from my edits, it has more to do with tone than anything else. My issue is that people create this massive chasm between the two, which sometimes feels like a way to diminish the work written for young people. Because of my disdain for that, I’ve tried really hard to push against the dividing line but ultimately, I’m learning there is a difference. I’m just not sure it’s as drastic as we try to make it. With a shift in tone, “Salvage the Bones” might be a young adult novel. And that would make it different, certainly, but not a lesser work.

Which young adult books would you recommend to people who don’t usually read Y.A.?

“Monster,” by Walter Dean Myers, “Shout,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” by Jacqueline Woodson, “Nothing,” by Janne Teller, “Platero y Yo,” by Juan Ramón Jiménez, and “Monday’s Not Coming,” by Tiffany D. Jackson. There’s many, many more, but this is a start.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

I’ll tell you, my dear, late friend Brook Stephenson is the man who introduced me to the short story. I used to groan about how I didn’t understand them and therefore would never attempt them, and he suggested I read “Solo on the Drums,” by Ann Petry. Maybe it was timing. Maybe it was the story. But it broke me open and showed me the possibility of the form. It drew me much closer to him. Hell, maybe it drew me much closer to myself.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

Character and language. I want writers to create a protagonist I want to eat with. And I want them to use language I want to … eat.

How do you organize your books?

I love this question. So, I have one of those big bookshelves in my office with 10 separate shelves. And instead of organizing the case from top to bottom, I alphabetize each individual shelf so that when it’s time to add a book, I don’t have to shift the entire system. Instead, I have 10 possible places the book could go, and still be in order. Of course, there are still 200 books on my office floor. But let’s not talk about that. Next question.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

The entire Captain Underpants series. But you’d only be surprised if you don’t know me.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

When my father passed away, I was given his devotional book, “Grace for the Moment,” by Max Lucado. It’s not a book I would’ve ever bought, and reading daily devotionals isn’t really my thing, but to have this item with hundreds of tabs in it because he’d reread it every year is incredibly special. Sometimes I try to pick a page that he’s marked all up just to see why he kept coming back to it. It makes me feel like there’s something he’s trying to teach me. Still.

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