Mari At Work · thinking out loud

Addicted to YA Panel + Google Hangout with Lauren James

Honestly, I was worried about the attendance for these two events, because (1) both were confirmed and advertised late compared to the others, and (2) it was Open House weekend – more so than the previous week – in which most locals would be attending “open houses” at friends’ and relatives as an extended Eid celebration, which meant they couldn’t commit to other events.

We had a small group for the YA panel, but it turned out to be pretty fun despite – or perhaps because – of it. We started later than expected, but once we started, it had a cozy feel to it, because we were really fangirling/fanboying about books and fandoms amidst the other subjects we touched on. It made me remember that this is exactly why I wanted to do this YAwesome Fest thing at our store – to have bookish discussions and fans nerding out over HP ships and, of course, the kinds of books we wished to see in the future: more diverse, less stereotypical depictions of Asians (and more hijabi characters!). After talking about what diversity in YA fiction meant to us as Malaysian readers, and what we wanted more of specifically, we closed with a mention of the good news that was revealed earlier in the day – Salaam Reads acquiring Hanna Alkaf’s The Weight of Our Sky, a YA historical novel set during the May 13 riots in Malaysia. While I’m definitely not a fan of historical fiction, I’m so excited about this book, and am looking forward to reading it!


After the panel, I had to start preparing for the next event – which everyone from the previous event joined in, except for two. I had reread the first book and quickly finished the second for the event, and had found myself really into this series – the way it handled the topics of reincarnation and time travel felt different from other YA I’ve read. And I loved the couples in the books, especially Katherine and Matthew (of 2019) – I’m not one for romance most of the time, but this couple felt so genuine and so in love with each other, not in the usual YA “I can’t live without you” way, but in that very real “life is so much more fun/meaningful with you around” kind of way. I adore them.

When we started the Google Hangout session, Lauren asked if any of us wanted to be writers (half of those in the audience raised their hands) and proceeded to tell us the story of how she started writing her first book, The Next Together – the doubts she felt when she first decided that she wanted to be a writer, how she got over them, how she researched and got an agent, etc. She let us ask some questions next, and told us about her upcoming book, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, reading a bit from the first chapter. She answered a couple more questions after (mostly Hogwarts house related, a must at our Skype/Hangout events) before we ended the event. She was so sweet throughout, and so funny, that it’s one of my favourite Skype/Hangout sessions so far.



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