How Jason Reynolds Distinguishes YA Books From Adult Fiction


How do you distinguish YA books from adult fiction?

I’m still trying to figure this out. You know, I’m currently working on adult fiction, and from what I’m learning from my edits, it has more to do with tone than anything else. My problem is that people create this huge chasm in between, which sometimes feels like a way to diminish written work for young people. Because of my disdain for it, I really tried to push the line, but eventually I learn there is a difference. I’m not sure it’s as drastic as we’re trying to make it. With a change in tone, “Salvage the Bones” could be a young adult novel. And that would make it a different work, certainly, but not a lesser one.

What young adult books would you recommend for people who don’t usually read YA?

“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 are many, many more, but it’s a start.

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

I’ll tell you, my dear and late friend Brook Stephenson was the man who brought me the news. I used to moan that I didn’t understand them and therefore would never try them, and he suggested that I read “Solo on the Drums”, by Ann Petry. Maybe now was the time. Maybe that was the story. But it opened the door for me and showed me the possibility of form. It brought me a lot closer to him. Shit, maybe it brought me a whole lot closer to myself.

What touches you the most in a literary work?

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

How do you organize your books?

I like this question. So, I have one of these large shelves in my office with 10 separate shelves. And instead of arranging the crate top to bottom, I alphabetize each shelf so that when it’s time to add a book, I don’t have to move the whole system. Instead, I have 10 possible places the book could go, and still in order. Of course, there are still 200 books in my office. 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 be surprised if you don’t know me.

What is the best book you have 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 have ever bought, and reading daily devotions isn’t really my thing, but to have this article with hundreds of tabs because he would read it every year is incredibly special. Sometimes I try to pick a page he annotated just to see why he kept coming back to it. I feel like he’s trying to teach me something. Always.


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