By DAVID GREEN
How does an author know if readers are really connecting with the story? You head out on the road and talk with the readers.
Noted young adult author Patrick Jones spends many days in schools and libraries meeting with the kids who read his books, and Morenci is on his agenda at 7 p.m. Monday.
“I have a special affinity for Michigan,” said the Flint native, who will leave a morning session in East Lansing and travel down US-127 to Stair Public Library.
Jones believes he knows the young adult genre well after reading them by the dozens for more than two decades. He’s served on the committee that awards the “best books for reluctant readers” designation and he thinks he knows what it takes now that he’s writing his own novels.
“I think I have an understanding of what makes a book appealing to reluctant readers,” he said in an interview last week.
An intriguing opening. A seventh grade reading level. Short paragraphs. Relevance.
Reluctant readers like to see some relevance in a story, Jones said, and he’s discovered that a lot of young readers can identify with characters in his books.
One of his novels garnered the award for best bet for reluctant readers; another was runner-up for the Teen Buckeye Book Award—an honor chosen by the readers themselves in Ohio.
“There’s a stereotype that says a young adult book is simple,” Jones said. “In some ways, it is. But why are these teen characters behaving the way they do?”
That’s where some complexity arises.
When Jones visits schools, it’s mostly 10th and 11th grade students that he connects with. Seventh and eighth grade students tend to be the chief readers of his stories, but it’s the older kids who discuss the issues.
School visits are much more common than library talks, and libraries produce more unpredictable audiences that often include younger students as well as adults. His presentation is recommended for students in the eighth grade and older.
Jones typically starts off his presentation by walking the audience through the process of writing a book—from seeing something in real life and weaving a story around it.
He then talks about other people’s stories and the inspirations they provide, and finally, he works to engage teens in discussing his and other writers’ books.
“I want to know what they find relevant,” Jones said.
Jones’s novels are sometimes criticized for the language used, but he says it’s actually tame.
“If the dialogue was really like teens speak, no school would buy it,” he said. “There’s a vision of how parents want kids to be and there’s the actuality of how they are.”
He aims to use that reality to help teens work through their journey of growing up.
“How do you get through it? That’s the real journey,” he said.
He knows the trip isn’t always pleasant, but he knows that growth will occur.
“Failure leads to resilience and growth,” he said.