BookCon is a fan-oriented event that combines storytelling and pop-culture. It occurs during the weekend after BookExpo America. Both events were in Chicago this year, since the publishers are already set up. This year the event was a one day book extravaganza. There were over 7,000 attendees and two dozen panels to choose from. Despite the craziness, I managed to sit in on some great panels throughout the day.
The first full panel I saw was: “The Power & Importance of Historical Fiction for Teens,” featuring Ruta Sepetys and Monica Hesse. Ruta’s Salt to the Sea is one of the best books I’ve read this year and while I haven’t read Monica’s Girl in the Blue Coat, I’ve heard great things about the World War II story. They had a great discussion about the fact that young people are deep thinkers, making them a great audience for historical fiction. Both women did large amounts of research to portray the history accurately, everything from cooking recipes from the time period to traveling. During the conversation, Ruta and Monica both kept going back to the fact that they feel an obligation to tell these stories truthfully because of all the people whose stories have been lost throughout history. It was a really inspiring and informative discussion.
The next panel I saw featured Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer in a game of Truth or Dare. Leigh and Marissa played Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who went first and Marissa won. From there, they went back and forth doing both truths and dares, ranging from composing a limerick on the spot or sharing spoilers from their upcoming books to holding their breath during the other author’s entire turn to standing on one foot for the other’s turn. They even took Truth or Dares from the audience, giving fans a chance to interact with them. It was a lot of fun to witness, and huge props to Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer for putting themselves out there in front of a large crowd.
From there, I headed to the “Reality Bites – Contemporary YA Takes The Stage” with David Arnold, David Levithan, Jennifer Niven, John Corey Whaley, and Nicola Yoon. These authors have written books that include topics like mental illness, sexuality, illegal immigration and deportation, and so many other issues relevant to today’s teenagers. I didn’t see the whole panel, but what I saw was a great conversation surrounding the importance of telling stories that young adults can find a piece of themselves in.
This panel was especially exciting because Gabrielle Bondi, the co-founder of TheYoungFolks.com, moderated it. Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian, and Morgan Matson made tons of Hamilton references and talked about their writing & storytelling process. The three of them have been friends since before being published and it was nice to see the love and support they have for each other and the book community as a whole.
Last year’s BookCon was pretty chaotic and I was hoping that the organizers had made improvements for this year. I don’t know if it was the change in location or the fact that it’s hard to direct 7,000 people at once, but things were still a little unruly. I’ll be paying attention to how they handle BookCon next year since it’ll be back in New York and spread out over two days. The crowd control certainly isn’t a deal breaker but the large crowds and lines can be overwhelming, so if you’re not a fan of situations with lots of really enthusiastic people, BookCon is probably not the best event for you.
Overall, BookCon is a great place to see a lot of authors in person, whether through panels or autographing. With so many attendees, you get a chance to see some big-name authors in a fun environment. It’s all about what you’re hoping to get out of it. As long as your expectations are reasonable, BookCon can be enjoyable and a success.