Book Events · Book Review

Montreal YA Book Festival 2019

Montreal: The city of festivals. Our city is known for the jazz, comedy and food festivals that take over the city during our lively summers. There seemed to be something special for everyone to enjoy, except for bookworms. In fact, the city was once a lonely place for people who loved books with a passion. This was the case until the Jewish Public Library hosted Montreal’s very first young adult (YA) book festival last year. This event was a game changer as bookworms came from around the city and beyond to celebrate their love of books. We were lucky enough to have the festival back for it’s second successful year on May 26th 2019.

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There is something truly special about being around people who share the same passion for books. Everywhere I turned I saw people of all ages hauling around their books to be signed, taking notes on advice authors were giving and flailing their hands around theatrically as they described their favorite scenes from books (yes, that was me). A conversation was easy to strike up with practically everyone since we were all awake early on a Sunday morning to talk about books and meet authors. However, what is truly wonderful is how behind the stories we read are the authors that were inspired to create these masterpieces from their experiences, something they were able to share with us. The author panels were the highlight of the festival for me and I feel like I walked out of each panel with more knowledge and insight into the world of storytelling.

Teen Tearjerkers Panel

Kagiso Lesego Molope – This Book Betrays My Brother

Shenaaz Nanji – Ghost Boys

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

S.K. Ali – Love From A to Z

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Books that make me cry and really feel my emotions so deeply are the ones that stay with me long after I have closed the book and put it away. So I was very interested in understanding the process behind writing stories that evoke that kind of sadness. What I found interesting was how some of the authors on this panel revealed that they had not set out to write tearjerkers, but how in following and listening to their characters, the story took a life of its own. I loved the idea of how treating these characters like actual people, listening to them and letting them come to life on paper is what lead the story in the direction of becoming a tearjerker.

Coming of Age Panel:

Kagiso Lesego Molope – This Book Betrays My Brother

Natalie Blitt – The Truth About Leaving

Sabina Khan – The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

S.K. Ali – Love from A to Z

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It is incredible when authors become vulnerable and share their struggles and difficult memories with readers. This is something I truly admire because I know it cannot be easy to revisit painful memories. I felt a pang in my heart as S.K. Ali shared a scary story from her teen years of when she encountered an Islamophobic person in the subway. Sharing this experience from her teen years gave us more insight into the character from her book and how something so terrible could be used as fuel to educate the world on Islamophobia. I also loved hearing Sabina Khan talk about her teen years and the struggles of living with two cultures and Kagiso discussing her school years in a predominantly white school and black neighbourhood. All these different perspectives and experiences made for a very interesting talk.

Path to Publishing Panel:

Kim Turrisi – Carmilla

Monique Polak – I am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

Tim Wynne-Jones – The Starlight Claim

Sabina Khan – The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

JF Dubeau – A God in the Shed

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I think many people tend to reduce teenagers to self-obsessed social media addicts. However, this stereotype can quickly be diminished when you attend a book festival and see all the teenagers sitting eagerly in the “Path to Publishing” panel as they take notes and ask serious questions about the publishing process. It was so wonderful to see the teens jotting down advice from the authors. Jeff Zentner gave a very helpful rundown on the step-to-step process on how to move forward towards publishing. JF Dubeau hit the mark when he discussed the challenges of giving advice about publishing. He described the world of publishing to be a maze, and you make your way through it but when you try to show someone else the way through the maze you will realize the walls have moved (I’m paraphrasing but it was along those lines). I never really thought about it this way but it did make all of us pause and collectively nod our heads.

Why YA? Panel:

Ben Philippe – The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

JF Dubeau – A God in the Shed

Nicki Pau Preto – Crown of Feathers

Laura Sebastian – Ash Princess

Maurene Goo – Somewhere Only We Know

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There is this stereotype that YA books are meant for teen girls and that the content ranges from high school drama to boy problems. In short, teen girls are not taken so seriously and many believe you have to be a teenager to read these books. We can clearly prove this to be untrue by the amount of adults that were present during this panel. These authors discussed this myth and revealed how much YA books have evolved over the years to explore boundary pushing topics as well as dark content. I absolutely loved how the authors discussed their love for YA books and what made them fall into this genre. It’s always fun to backtrack and see how the authors entered into this world of YA and what made them stick around.

Author Signings:

Meeting Ria Voros:

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“The Center of the Universe” by Ria Voros was a book that I devoured in two days. My love for astronomy and family centered stories made this book so memorable that I was beyond excited to meet Ria and ask what inspired her to incorporate the stars and planets so beautifully in this book. It is always fun to meet someone who shares the same interests as you and discussing the cosmos with Ria was one of my favorite parts of this event.

Meeting S.K. Ali:

61467764_365210244137010_2254960402808963072_n“Love from A to Z” was a book that simply took my breath away. I was excited to meet the author to thank her for writing a book that I wish existed when I was a teen who was trying to make sense of the hate in the world. When I was a teen, there were barely any books with Muslim characters. I never opened a book and saw someone with a name similar to mine during my teenage years. It is thanks to authors like S.K. Ali that teenagers nowadays get to see the perspective of a Muslim character. My heart is full from the conversation I had with this incredible author.

Key Note Speech by Tim Wynne – Jones

“It is truly great to be with so many literary dreamers and doers” – Tim Wynne Jones

Hearing Tim Wynne Jones talk about storytelling was a truly beautiful experience. The way he talked about a story that starts out as a dream and becomes a story that is shared with the world was really inspiring. The room was completely still as he talked about the art of storytelling and the dreamers who create them. I think we all left that keynote speech feeling inspired to continue dreaming about the stories we have within us.

Inuit Throat Singing:

One of the truly great things about the Montreal Ya Fest was how there was a panel dedicated to Indigenous voices. While I sadly missed out on this panel, I got a chance to hear Nina Segalowitz put on a performance of Inuit Throat Singing. I had never heard throat singing before and I was amazed that there was a rich history behind it. How amazing is it to be immersed in cultural tunes and learning something new.

Final Thoughts: 

The Montreal YA Festival was everything we could have hoped for and much more. Being able to interact with the authors and hear them speak over a variety of panels was an incredible experience. The games, food and overall vibe of the environment made for a happy place for all bookworms.

I would like to thank the director of the Children’s Department of the Jewish Public Library and the founder of the Montreal YA Festival Talya Pardo for putting together such an incredible event with her dedicated committee. Montreal bookworms are truly grateful for this new community.

Until next year bookworms!

Shazia.

 

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