A veritable sea of teens and tweens flooded Upper King Street on Saturday afternoon. And the cause of all the excitement? It wasn't Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, or any other candy-coated pop star.
It was books. This was the first-ever YALLFest (YALL as in Young Adult Literature, plus an L), hosted by Blue Bicycle Books, and it was an unqualified success. Anyone who bemoans the state of youth today, groaning about how the kids spend all their time either on Facebook or texting, obviously doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Sure, they probably spend a lot of time on Facebook or texting, but they are also readers with distinctive tastes who can smell inauthenticity a mile away.
Fans from ages 10 to adults, books in hand, waited in lines stretching down the block to get their copies signed by YALLFest authors, who ranged from the great Ellen Hopkins, author of the heavy teen novels-in-verse Crank and Glass, to Pseudonymous Bosch, the hilariously cryptic author of the much more kid-friendly Secret Series. (Bosch is so secretive about his identity, in fact, that he wears sunglasses for all public appearances; he didn't disappoint his audiences at YALLFest.)
When not in the signing tent, authors participated in panels with names like "Fangs Among Friends," "Reality Bites," and "Don't Dis-Topian." On one panel titled "Undead Poets Society," Hopkins, Crush: Love Poems author Kwame Alexander, and S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth discussed poetry's special appeal for teens in particular, as well as their own journeys as poets and authors for young people.
Meanwhile, in the picturesque courtyard a few doors down from Blue Bicycle, ghost story authors Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin gave a "Victorian Fireside Chat," complete with period costumes and 19th century photographs. Brown and Griffin led a group of young teens through a riotous storytelling process, creating the spooky story "Howard the Ghost Cadet." These kids came up with awesomely creepy ideas, things like blood coming out of a tap instead of water, and invisible fingers spelling out words in a fogged-up mirror.
The grand finale to this all-things-YA day was the YA Smackdown, which featured all 26 participating authors onstage at the American Theater competing in storytelling games. Authors were split into teams based on their genre: Team Dystopian, Team Mystery, Team Supernatural, and Team Contemporary. Kaleb Nation, author of the Bran Hambric series, emceed the high-energy event with a panache worthy of the WWE, while the authors scrambled to come up with stories based on fake titles ("Princess Manatee and the Attack of the Sexytimes") or props (a huge fuzzy spider, a musical alien), finishing with a fill-in-the-blank lightning round. After winners were announced — Team Dystopian took the title — and prizes given, the inaugural YALLFest officially drew to a close.
And now it's time to begin planning for next year.