Algonquin recently launched a new teen imprint, Algonquin Young Readers. Our Teen Press Corps was eager to interview Algonquin’s Editor and Publisher of Algonquin Books for Young Readers, Elise Howard.

    What do you look for when your are selecting a book for your line?

[EH] You’ll hear a similar answer from many publishers and editors acquiring for small lines, but it’s true: I’m looking for great writing, characters I want to spend hours of my life with, and a great narrative voice – whether it’s dramatic, funny, eloquent, pained, profane, or quirky. It does seem to me that plots are easier to fix than writing is, so I’m very willing to roll up my shirt sleeves and work on story mechanics with a great writer – but I do tend to gravitate toward books with meaty plots, too.

    What kind of subjects/content are you focusing on?

[EH] One of the happy surprises of the new line for me is how varied the subjects and content have been. The books on the AYR list range from stories mainly about two girls in love in Iran, to a boy dying in hospice in upstate New York, to a paranormal detective and his sidekick, to a mystery involving arson and art – with a few others along the way. I suppose you could say that I’m interested in whatever content grabs me and won’t let me go – though if it’s something I’ve seen or bought recently, I might be more wary. Recently, I’ve gotten a number of intergenerational road trip novels, which makes it hard for them to seem fresh, and I can’t buy any more books with dead siblings for a while.

    What are the major differences between a teen or young readers imprint versus an Adult line?

[EH] I’m always looking for books that will appeal directly and primarily to a teen or middle-grade audience. I don’t think much about how that’s different from an adult book, because that question doesn’t figure into my decision. And if I buy a book that will appeal to adults, too, that’s great – happy to have them – but I’ve never consciously edited a book to increase its appeal to an adult reader. Many people say that young readers books typically have more dialogue and more swiftly moving plots than adult novels,  and that may be true. If so, as a publisher, I’m happy with that.

    What is or will be your primary goal for your imprint?

[EH] We’re hoping to publish great books that both readers and critics – but especially readers – will love and that will last for a long time. We’re not particularly interested in following trends or publishing best-sellers that will be here today and gone tomorrow, but we would like definitely like to have some bestsellers on our list!

    Do the Authors get any say in the covers?

[EH] I always ask authors early in the process if they have specific ideas for a cover image or design direction. But not all authors have the final approval over their covers, and it’s always OK if writers don’t have a specific jacket design in mind. Some writers are great visual thinkers and great marketers, but not all, and it’s not a requirement of the job. So we depend on expert designers, artists, and photographers to create jackets, and it’s really exciting to see how they interpret a story and translate it to a book package.

Check out these titles published by Algonquin Young Readers thus far:

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.So they carry on in secret until Nasrin s parents announce that they ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they had before, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively and openly.Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman s body is seen as nature s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants in the body she wants to be loved in without risking her life.

“I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to take a journey through a novel. This book isn’t light and fluffy, but hopefully it will make you think about the justice and change that needs to be made in this world.” — Erin, TPC

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

“Chemo, radiation, a zillion surgeries, watching my mom age twenty years in twenty months . . . if that s part of the Big Dude s “plan, ” then it s pretty obvious, isn t it? Enough said.” Smart-mouthed and funny, sometimes raunchy, Richard Casey is in most ways a typical seventeen-year-old boy. Except Richie has cancer, and he s spending his final days in a hospice unit. His mother, his doctors, and the hospice staff are determined to keep Richie alive as long as possible. But in this place where people go to die, Richie has plans to make the most of the life he has left. Sylvie, the only other hospice inmate under sixty, then tells Richie she has a few plans of her own. What begins as camaraderie quickly blossoms into real love, and this star-crossed pair is determined to live on their own terms, in whatever time they have left.

“Each character is vividly drawn, with a sharp, memorable voice that readers will love and remember . . . A fresh, inspiring story.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review