Author Matt de la Peña will be teaching a fiction intensive at the SCBWI WWA pre-conference on Friday and and giving a keynote address at the conference on Saturday: Working Class Writer. I’m reading his latest young adult book, I Will Save You, about a boy named Kidd, traumatized and without family, who does a very bad thing to begin the novel and works through his thoughts about his actions and his family as the book progresses. The writing is visceral and the voice true and I am very much looking forward to meeting him and listening to him speak and teach.
In preparation for the fiction intensive we have read Gary Schmidt’s Okay For Now and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. Both books have protagonists who are outsiders and endure abuse as they come to terms with their lives and themselves, emotional notes that clearly inform all of de la Peña’s novels. I Will Save You is de la Peña’s fourth novel for young people; his first picture book was just published.
Matt was already committed to the conference when his books became the center of a controversy in Tuscon, Arizona involving state legislation that was being employed to dissolve Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, a program benefitting students throughout the school system. Invited to a Tucson high school for an author visit, de la Peña found his book banned and himself acting as a lightning rod for the controversy. The New York Times published a great article on the controversy that is worth a read. I expect his keynote will touch on this experience, and that we will hear about the need for all young people to see themselves reflected in literature and the arts. I cannot wait.