Some of the Most Exciting Writers at This Year’s Portland Book Festival Are in the Young Adult Genre

It’s where you’ll find “post-punk fairy tales,” queer coming-of-age stories, and even a book set in a Portland shopping mall described as “Die Hard meets The Breakfast Club.”

Malcolm Gladwell! Rainbow Rowell! Chuck Klosterman! Ambassador Susan Rice!

Those are the highlight names of this year's Portland Book Festival, which is summoning everyone from Marvel Comics writers to an Olympic fencer to our corner of the Pacific Northwest for a one-day, all-out book extravaganza on Saturday, Nov. 9. And indeed, there are many reasons for bibliophiles to get excited.

Related: Crime Novelist Rene Denfeld Says Portland Is Failing Its Street Children: "The Cracks Have Become Chasms."

But the slate of young adult authors this year is particularly worthy of attention. It's where you'll find "post-punk fairy tales," queer coming-of-age stories, and even a book set in a Portland shopping mall described as "Die Hard meets The Breakfast Club."

If you ask us, it's all more interesting than whatever Malcolm Gladwell is prattling on about.

So we reached out to five Oregon YA authors appearing at the festival to tell us what they read growing up, their dream casting choices if their work was brought to the screen, and how they'd sell their latest book to their teenage selves.

(Sky Pinnick)

Shea Ernshaw

New book: Winterwood.

Synopsis: "Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. And when she discovers a boy inside the Wicker Woods, she knows something strange has happened even she can't explain."

Favorite book as a teenager: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. "It resonated with me so deeply that it became an instant favorite."

YA novel she enjoyed recently: All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle. "It's a powerful, important story that deals with feminism and women's rights, all spun together in a magical, unputdownable book."

Who she'd cast to star in Winterwood: "I've seen some fans who've done dream casts for both Winterwood and [my first book] The Wicked Deep, and I will always defer to them when making these decisions."

How she'd pitch Winterwood to herself at 13: "Lost boys, haunted forests and witches—that's all my 13-year-old self would need to know."

2:15 pm at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave. 4 pm at the Old Church,
1422 SW 11th Ave.

April Henry

New book: Run, Hide, Fight Back

Synopsis: "When a deadly shooting breaks out in a Portland shopping mall, a diverse group of teens ends up trapped behind a store's security shutter."

Favorite book as a teenager: The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien. "I love stories about ordinary people up against the odds who discover they have hidden powers."

YA novel she enjoyed recently: One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus. "Five teens are in suspension at school when one of them dies. I am super-picky about books that include police procedure, but McManus did a great job."

Who she'd cast to star in Run, Hide, Fight Back: "Timothée Chalamet as Cole—no other young actor has the intensity he does."

How she'd pitch Run, Hide, Fight Back to herself at 13: "If Die Hard and The Breakfast Club had a baby, it would be Run, Hide, Fight Back."

1:15 pm at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave. 2:30 pm at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave.

(Angelika Keil)

Michelle Ruiz Keil

New book: All of Us With Wings

Synopsis: "Seventeen-year-old Xochi loves her job as live-in governess for tween genius Pallas. Xochi does her best to put Pallas' needs before her own—ignoring the grief that lingers from her grandmother's death and rejecting her growing attraction to Pallas' guitar player dad."

Favorite book as a teenager: The Complete Claudine by Colette. "It's basically Gossip Girl meets Just Kids in early 1900s Paris. Claudine's adventures were a window out of my jaded existence as a failed suburban high school student into a Bohemian life in a beautiful city, a theme that I'm still exploring in my work today."

YA novel she enjoyed recently: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. "Like all the best fairy tales, Pet is deceptively simple and deeply subversive."

Who she'd cast to star in All of Us With Wings: "Ariela Barer of Marvel's Runaways has the intelligence and presence that would make her an amazing choice to play Xochi."

How she'd pitch All of Us With Wings to herself at 13: "All of Us With Wings is for older teens and adults, but my 16-year-old self would have been a total sucker for my favorite run-on sentence elevator pitch: 'All of Us With Wings is a coming-of-age story about trauma and healing set in post-punk San Francisco about a 17-year-old Latinx governess, her tween genius charge, the girl's pagan rock star family, a pair of ancient avenging children and an aging Siamese bookstore cat.'"

10 am at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. 12:15 pm at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave.

Related: Author Michelle Ruiz Keil Asked a Class of Portland Teenagers What Kind of Book They Wanted to Read. It Became Her Debut Novel.

Tehlor Kay Mejia

New book: We Set the Dark on Fire

Synopsis: "At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Daniela Vargas is the school's top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie."

Favorite book as a teenager: Empress of the World by Sara Ryan. "It was the first time I ever saw a relationship between two girls in a book, and it was so beautifully done it made me feel like it was OK to be me."

YA novel she enjoyed recently: Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno. "The way she handles diaspora identity and complex family dynamics while still finding joy in the teen experience is so masterful."

Who she'd cast to star in We Set the Dark on Fire: "I'm so obsessed with everything Melissa Barrera is doing right now for Latinx representation, both on and off the screen. I would love to see her in a role like Dani."

How she'd pitch We Set the Dark on Fire to herself at 13: "It's about politics and revolution, and the main girl doesn't end up with some dumb dude. I think she'd be sold."

1 pm at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave. 2:30 pm at the Old Church,
1422 SW 11th Ave.

(Julieta Salgado)

Gabby Rivera

New book: Juliet Takes a Breath.

Synopsis: "Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn't sure if her mom will ever speak to her again."

Favorite book as a teenager: Aloud: Voices From the Nuyorican Poets Cafe by Nicole Blackman. "I was 17 and lying to my parents about going down to [New York's Lower East Side] for poetry slams at the Nuyorican. I found this book at a Bluestockings and read it everywhere. I read the poems out loud to myself, in the park—I was obsessed."

YA novel she enjoyed recently: Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi. "After being on a panel with Mary, I was like, 'Wow, I'm going to book-worship this person forever.'"

Who she'd cast to star in Juliet Takes a Breath: "I'd want to go nationwide, open-call style, like when they made Selena. Even though J. Lo was ultimately cast, I remember watching the news coverage of hundreds of young Latinas all across the country auditioning for their shot to be Selena Quintanilla Perez. I'd want the casting of Juliet Milagros Palante to feel just like that—she's out there somewhere."

How she'd pitch Juliet Takes a Breath to herself at 13: "On days when it's really hard to love yourself, please read Juliet Takes a Breath. Let yourself laugh big and have the queerest crushes. And no one, not anyone at school or in the neighborhood, can take being Boriqua away from you."

10 am at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. 12:15 pm at the Portland Parks Foundation tent, 1010 SW Park Ave.

Related: After Making Marvel Comics History With "America," Gabby Rivera Is Re-Releasing Her Debut Novel Set in Portland.

Five Under-the-Radar Portland Book Festival Picks

Morgan Parker

One of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2019, Morgan Parker's poetry collection Magical Negro lives up to the hype. The poems run the emotional gamut—from comical to grief-stricken—finding the heroes, the generational trauma and the loneliness in black life. 10 am at The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., 2 pm at Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., and 3:15 pm at Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway.

Michele Filgate

In 2017, Michele Filgate posted an essay called "What My Mother and I Don't Talk About" on Longreads, detailing her stepfather's abuse and her mother's silence. This year, Filgate edited a book of the same title, featuring 15 women writing about failures of maternal expectations. 11:45 am at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 SW Park Ave. and 3 pm at Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave.

Karen Russell

Karen Russell was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012 for Swamplandia! and is probably one of Portland's better-known writers. Still, based on the strength of this year's short story collection Orange World—which features pieces on breast-feeding the devil and post-apocalyptic gondola rides—she deserves be billed among the headliners. 1:30 pm at Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway.

Jericho Brown

Louisiana's Jericho Brown is one of the leading voices in American poetry, having won Guggenheim and NEA fellowships as well as just about every award in between. His poems are rich and detailed, with an equally sharp eye for both the sacred and profane. 3 pm at Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave.

Kevin Huizenga

Huizenga, whose alternative comics have appeared in the hallowed pages of Drawn and Quarterly and Kramers Ergot, released his sixth full-length book this year, The River at Night. What starts as a pre-bed discussion between a couple turns into an ages-spanning journey in consciousness, all wrought in Huizenga's bold style. 4:45 pm at Miller Art Gallery, 1119 SW Park Ave. JAMES HELMSWORTH.

MORE: The Portland Book Festival takes place Saturday, Nov. 9, at multiple venues. See for complete schedule.

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