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OMG, young adult authors turn up IRL at the Festival of Books

April 26, 2010 | 10:02 am


After several flights of stairs, multiple sets of double doors, one elevator ride and a few minutes of UCLA student volunteers explaining that Korn Hall doesn’t actually exist and I must be mistaken, I finally made my way to the far reaches of UCLA's campus and joined a sea of fans heading into Saturday’s discussion with young adult authors David Levithan ("Boy Meets Boy"; "Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist") and John Green ("Looking for Alaska"; "An Abundance of Katherines").

The teenaged girls seated behind me, who claimed they weren't "fangirls or anything," spent the minutes prior to the panel chatting about the latest John Green Facebook group, their favorite John Green moments from his YouTube vlog (originally intended as a way to communicate with his brother Hank), and how absolutely cool John Green is. I tried my best to keep up -- these young women were doing a much better job of filling me in on John Green than the research I had done -- but they were soon interrupted by the entrance of Green himself, holding a video camera and taping us for an upcoming vlog.

 "Good morning, Hank. It's Monday!" we all cheered, as Green had instructed us to do.

Green and Levithan appeared at the Festival of Books to discuss their joint collaboration "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," a novel that follows the stories of two different teenage characters named Will Grayson.

The idea for the book stemmed from an experience Levithan had in college where he was often confused for a fellow classmate with a similar name, David Levinthal. After four years of receiving phone calls and compliments meant for the other David, Levithan contacted Levinthal and the two became best friends.

The book itself came after Levithan read Green’s previous work and sent the author and Internet sensation a "fanboy" e-mail. A friendship was established and the two began speaking regularly before Levithan "eventually popped the question" to Green about his book idea. The project, which spanned five years, was handled primarily over the phone where the two would read to each other the parallel chapters they were writing.

The conversation at the panel focused on "Will Grayson" themes -- love in all its forms, what shapes identity and how young adults communicate with each other. Language, and how teenagers use it, was a pervasive topic.

The authors discussed slang and the Internet's effect on the "textual" development of language before, according to Green, "it happens IRL." As proof of that quick evolution, Levithan later professed that he didn’t know what IRL (in real life) meant before he and Green began their current book tour.

"You didn’t know IRL?" remarked Green, who also admitted to often saying, "I LOLed" as a replacement for actual laughter.

After moderator Denise Hamilton opened the panel to questions from the audience -- fans, nerdfighters (the term for members of Green’s online community) and readers of all ages -- I became acutely aware of how age and perspective are both tied to and transcend the literature we choose.

Almost all the questions were posed by the 18 and younger set, but they were some of the most thoughtful I'd heard all weekend. The responses were equally as considerate and interesting. When Levithan described himself as a young adult (because he did not want to be thought of as "an old adult"), I could identify. Young adults -- whatever that means -- FTW (for the win).

-- Heather Robertson

Photo: David Levithan, left, and John Green sign copies of their joint book "Will Grayson, Will Grayson." Credit: Heather Robertson