A&E: A brave voice

By on June 16, 2015

Young adult author to visit the valley tackles weighty issues in debut novel

Adam Silvera ushers important youth issues into the limelight with his debut novel, ‘More Happy Than Not.’ He discusses his book with teen program coordinator Andrew Munz Friday at the library. (Photo:  Margot Wood)

Adam Silvera ushers important youth issues into the limelight with his debut novel, ‘More Happy Than Not.’ He discusses his book with teen program coordinator Andrew Munz Friday at the library. Photo: Margot Wood

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Adam Silvera’s debut young adult novel “More Happy Than Not” is set during a Bronx summer where 16-year-old Aaron Soto navigates friendships, loss, and sexuality. Even though Aaron’s world is complex – his life writhes with suicide, murder, poverty, and drugs – his narration at first felt naïve, like the almost-whine of a teenager. That is, until the book’s surprise climax. Throughout the story, the reader will find herself wanting to hug Aaron, shake him, and ultimately her heart will break for him. This reporter finished the book as though Aaron’s life depended on it.

Silvera, just 25 years old, has crafted a work that illuminates the identity struggles that many young adults face in one form or another. His work is an important contribution to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks grassroots organization, which encourages narratives that tell stories and tackle subject matter that the mainstream often neglects. In preparation for Silvera’s appearance at Teton County Library Friday and Saturday, The Planet had a chance to sit down with Silvera, who speaks 6:30 p.m., Friday (recommended for ages 14 and up). Silvera also will hold two writing workshops, one for teens and another for adults, on Saturday.

The Planet: How does it feel to have your first book out at such a young age?

Adam Silvera: It’s been crazy. I set this goal a few years ago to have my first book published by 25. My 25th birthday was on June 7th. So it’s been as dreamy as it could be. I’ve been very lucky.

PJH: Young adult literature has become universally popular, and your novel is receiving similar attention across ages. What’s behind the trend?

Silvera: We’re always trying to dissect what it is about YA that is so booming. There’s always the nostalgia factor, the entertainment factor. But I think specifically with “More Happy Than Not” there’s the universal message of identity that people are relating to even if they’re not gay. That’s what I’m most proud of with this book. There is also this quest for happiness, but we can’t always be 100 percent happy, so maybe being more happy than not, maybe those are some nice odds.

PJH: So speaking of all of these themes, in “More Happy Than Not” you address a lot of serious issues – poverty, sexuality and suicide, to name a few. Why do you feel these topics are important in YA literature?

Silvera: Some people have said, [about the homophobic attacks in the book] “Well isn’t this kind of a dated thing?” and I say, “You are out of your mind! Go to the Bronx and go hold hands with a boy and let me know how that worked for you.” Teenagers and even adults are still being assaulted for being gay. I don’t want to pretend that sexuality is going to be easy for everyone. I created Aaron’s character around what I was scared was going to happen to me as a 16 year old in the Bronx. It’s violent, it’s messy, but that’s exactly why I didn’t come out until I was 20. I’m only interested in telling honest depictions of things, and sometimes it can be harrowing to read about, but I’m not sorry that I’m trying to present a realistic scope of what’s going on.

PJH: You’re a YA book reviewer yourself. Did reviewing young adult novels inspire you to write or was it the other way around?

Silvera: I’ve been around the publishing world the past few years, but those [jobs] all basically served as my own [Master of Fine Arts] in creative writing because I didn’t go to college. I had to build my own education. I wanted to see how far I could take this [without college], because I really didn’t want to take another math class if I could avoid it. Or science! I failed science every year. The fact that I wrote a book that’s slightly sci-fi is like a cosmic joke! So all these different publishing jobs have helped me in some way, but writing has always 100 percent been the end game.

PJH: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Silvera: I was writing Harry Potter fan fiction when I was 11 or 12. I was writing some terrible story called “Harry Potter and the Demise of Hogworts” and it was all about Hogworts getting its ass kicked with bad guys swarming in and I drew the cover on a Paint document because it was that long ago. Then there was demand for more chapters and more stories, so I was writing for an audience. It was really exciting, and it really gave me a high, and I’ve been writing consistently since.

PJH: Will we be seeing Aaron Soto again?

Silvera: I’m definitely playing around with the idea of it. As soon as I finished [“More Happy Than Not”], I was like, “Damn, I miss Aaron.” There are things happening in my head. Particularly with that ending, I’d love to go back and rescue [Aaron].

PJH: What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer?

Silvera: “More Happy Than Not” was originally set during the school year and I thought “Wow, Aaron going to class and doing English homework is really bumming me out!” And then I realized, I can just delete all that stuff! So even if you established a part of the story on page 20, and you’re unhappy with it on page 70, you’re not stuck with it. Dude, you can go back and change that! In the drafting phase, nothing is set in stone. 

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