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All grown up: The Austin Teen Book Festival attracts kids and adults in record numbers

All grown up: The Austin Teen Book Festival attracts kids and adults in record numbers

The Austin Teen Book Festival is all grown up. 

On Saturday, Sept. 29, the free festival will pack the Palmer Events Center full of YA fiction fans of all ages. With 36 authors and an anticipated turnout of 4,000 attendees, the event has come of age as one of the largest festivals in the country exclusively devoted to YA fiction. 

Festival director Heather Schubert, a librarian at Hill Country Middle School, partnered with BookPeople to found the festival in 2009 after being inspired by a similar event in Houston.

The Austin festival met with instant success, quickly outgrowing the high school auditorium that was its first home. When the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation came on as a funder last year, the event moved to the Palmer Events Center and booked twice as many authors.

This year, headlined by YA heavyweights Neal Shusterman (UnWholly) and Libba Bray (The Diviners), the festival will attract teenagers by the busload, itching for the chance to meet their favorite authors in person.

Swarms of young bibliophiles will wait in line to get their books signed and attend panel discussions with names like  “Real Life Happens,” “What Would You Do for Love?” and “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.” 

But that’s not all. There’s also going to be a giant bubble.

“If you look at the cover of Ally Condie’s book Reached, there’s a woman breaking out of a giant bubble," explains Julie Wernersbach, publicist at BookPeople. "So the publishers actually made the bubble and they’re sending it down to the festival. Kids can take pictures of themselves inside it as if they’re on the cover.” 

She adds, “You know that teens are going to be taking those pictures and tweeting them all day.”

In fact, a team of high schoolers called the Teen Press Corps (TPC) have been charged with doing exactly that — promoting and covering the festival via social media platforms. Organized by BookPeople, members of the TPC regularly review YA books, interview authors and blog for the BookPeople website.

During the festival, they’ll be making the rounds, streaming live interviews with authors on the convention center floor and continually updating Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds.

Fifteen-year-old TPC member Laura Bryant, who has been “seriously into books since [she] was about five,” eagerly anticipates “being able to give people the full story when they can’t be there.” 

When asked which author she was most excited about seeing, Bryant answered without hesitation: “Libba Bray.” Wernersbach also mentioned Bray, whose new book The Diviners, a supernatural thriller set in the 1920s, has been getting rave reviews from the adult staff members at BookPeople, too.

As any fan of The Hunger Games can tell you, YA isn’t just for kids anymore. And if past years are any indication, the festival will draw adults in impressive numbers. “I mean look at all the blogs out there,” Schubert points out. “It’s adults who are running these YA blogs.” 

Depending on who you ask, the popularity of YA among adults marks either a rise in quality and diversity of the books or the intellectual decline of our generation. (Not to tip the scales either way, but this reporter is also pretty stoked about Libba Bray.)

Wernersbach, who most recently fell in love with John Green’s cancer survivor romance The Fault in Our Stars, explains the appeal of YA fiction this way: “It’s the straight stuff. It really gets to straight emotional issues, what it is to live a life. And those lessons can still be really useful, no matter how old you are.”

Although the festival welcomes its adult fans with open arms, at its heart, it's all about the teens. The website carefully stipulates that seating preferences during the author sessions will belong to the under-18 set.

It’s nice to know that while the festival is past the awkward years, it’s still young at heart.

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The Austin Teen Book Festival is free and open to all ages (and you don't even need to bring your parents!). Events kick off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 at The Palmer Events Center and run until 5 p.m.

Austin Photo: News_Amy Gentry_Austin Teen Book Festival_Poster
Austin Photo: News_Mike_Neal Schusterman_Headshot
YA author Neal Shusterman will be the Opening Keynote Speaker for the Austin Teen Book Festival. Courtesy of Austin Teen Book Festival
Austin Photo: News_Amy Gentry_Austin Teen Book Festival_Libba Bray
Novelist Libba Bray will be the Closing Keynote Speaker for the Festival. Courtesy of Austin Teen Book Festival