Larkin About In America: Teen readers, hope for the future

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

audiobook cottage Alison Larkin

The Teen Book Fest at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, where the author found 1,500 teenagers enthralled with books and their authors. (Courtesy of Teen Book Fest)

Does your heart beat extra fast these days when, despite your intention not to open the New York Times on-line until after breakfast, you do, because, like everyone around you, you can’t help yourself?

And when you find out that yesterday’s drama was nothing in comparison with today’s, does the anxiety that begins early in the a.m. escalate throughout the day? Leaving you on the verge of despair by the end of the week?

If so, here’s something that might help. Turn off your computer and shift your attention to what the teenagers are doing.

Easy for me to say, of course, because I live with two of them.

Generally speaking, my kids would prefer me not to hang out with their friends – or speak to anyone at all, actually. Whenever my 16-year-old son brings his friends over for pizza, he whispers: “Can you go to your studio now, Mom?” And some of the time I do, resisting the urge to bow and exit backwards like a middle-aged British Geisha.

But sometimes my kids have to hang out with me because they can’t drive yet.

So when my 14-year-old daughter asked me to drive her and her friend to the Teen Book Fest in Rochester to see Sarah J. Maas last weekend, I said “Yes.”

In case you don’t know, Sarah J. Maas is the No. 1 NY Times bestselling author of The Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses fantasy series. She has the same effect on today’s teens that rock stars had on you and me in the olden days. She’s so popular she injured her hand from signing so many books.

My two passengers are talking about her books in the back of the car.

“I love how Sarah creates her own world. Like J. K. Rowling.”

“And George MacDonald.” I say, piping in from the front as we whizz past the sign for Schenectady.


“He wrote The Princess and the Goblin. It was the first ever fantasy novel, written in 1872,” I say. I know, because I narrated the audiobook. “He had a huge influence on C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.”

“OMG! Sarah J. Maas says she’s totally influenced by Tolkien! So I guess she owes a lot to George MacDonald, too.”


The girls glance at the back of their chauffeur for a nanosecond, then return to their reading.

When we walk into the Nazareth College gym at Teen Book Fest the next morning, there are over 1,500 teenagers cheering and screaming as the authors are introduced.

“Who’s the guy?” I say pointing to a cool dude at the end of the stage.

“That’s David Levithan. He writes about LBGTQ issues and stuff.”

They’re writing about things that teenagers are struggling with. I’m reminded of The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s powerful novel about teenagers dealing with cancer.

There’s another wave of cheering now.

“OMG! It’s Tamara Ireland Stone!”

“What did she write?”

Every Last Word. About someone with mental illness who finds her voice through poetry.”

“That sounds…”

But they’ve gone. Hurrying into the crowd to hear the first author talk, then take a writing workshop, then stand in line for an hour so the authors can sign their books.

In a couple of years these kids will be voting. Then they’ll be running the country. And I find my worry over the future easing a little.

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