While many of you experienced the first Sun God since the beginning of COVID, I was in Santa Monica at Yallwest, a Young Adult Book Festival. I missed a lot of good photo opportunities at Sun God, they outdid themselves with the photobooths, but if given the choice again, I would still go to Yallwest. The event itself was free, except for a couple events that you could pay $5 to attend. Some big names from the YA community were there, like Adam Silvera, Tahereh Mafi, and V.E. Schwab, just to name a few. There were book signings, keynotes, and a bunch of giveaways. Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore was also there, which is located here in San Diego!
I went with my friend who was not interested in going to Sun God, and after rushing out of my office we made a bee line to Santa Monica, traffic and all. The festival was Saturday, April 30, but because it started at 9 a.m., we wanted to make sure we were there and on time. We were lucky that our hotel was close to the venue, which was at Santa Monica High School, but to get the best parking rates, we ended up parking further and taking the bus over to the event. Yallwest started at 9 a.m., so we got there around 8:40 a.m. to get in line.
Because we got there early, we were able to snag wristbands for what was obviously the best event there — a Dippin’ Dots social — happening later in the day. From there we walked around collecting freebies on different tables from Novl, Riveted, and more. We stopped at a booth doing trivia on one of my favorite series so far (Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco). The first ten to fill out the paper correctly got a prize, but knowing my memory, I did not think I was going to get all of the questions correct, I just wanted the book-themed pin they were giving out. After turning in the pink slip with my answers, we went to lineup for one of two events that we paid to see — but come on, Tracy Deonn and Chloe Gong together speaking about their books? Take my money. The only downside to the keynote was that I remembered later in the day there were bookmarks based on their books These Violent Delights and Legendborn, but I can excuse it … maybe.
I want to give a shoutout to my friend who sat next to our bags while I waited in line for forty-five minutes to get a wristband so Stephanie Garber could sign my Caraval Trilogy copies. I specifically rebought them because I was not missing out on the opportunity to have them signed simply because they’re at home. I’m happy I did, too, because meeting her was the highlight of the trip, so my friend wasn’t too upset to guard the crown jewels — unless she lied to me, which in that case, fair — because it meant a couple hours of unabridged reading in the sun with a book she won by correctly guessing which banned book they described.
I met some cool people in those lines, and it was such an experience to connect with like-minded people, as going to a STEM heavy school limits the amount of people I know who like to read — or, frankly, have the time to. While we debated which character should end up with who, the two hours of waiting for Stephanie flew by and I was graced by her presence at last. When I said it was the highlight of my day, I wasn’t kidding. Not only did she compliment my outfit — she loves pink — she also took a photo of my name because she found it pretty. I will literally never forget that moment, or how she signed my books with quotes with her signature pink sharpie. As I ran to find my friend because, unfortunately, Stephanie’s signing started at the same time as Dippin’ Dots so she had gone forward to pick up her free cup of frost bitten ice cream that’ll suck the moisture from your lips if you eat too much at once. After getting my own cup of Dippin’ Dots — rainbow because there was no strawberry — I decided to go back to the Kingdom of the Wicked table. Just because I didn’t think I won, I wanted to see if I could have my paper back to keep for memories. It’s a good thing that I’m a hoarder of paper items because lo’ and behold, I won! The prize came with a bookplate (a sticker with an author’s signature), two tarot card prints inspired by two main characters, and another pin. The cardboard sleeve it came in also came with a wicked wax seal on it that I’m currently trying to cut off to keep.
It was almost 3:00 p.m. then, and one of the talks we wanted to sit in on was Queer Blockbusters, with none other than Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End), Aiden Thomas (Cemetery Boys) and Kacen Callender (Felix Ever After). My favorite part of this one was their discussion about queerness in general when talking about fiction. Callender made an amazing point that when people say their book is too cliche. They rebuttal with “If I haven’t seen a black, queer, transgender character have their happily ever after, then it is not a cliche. It can’t be cliche if it’s never been done before.”
Silvera also had a good point, saying people will ask him when he is going to write a straight MC. “But a straight person is never asked when are they going to write a gay MC.” This talk was honestly so cool, and it felt more intimate because, unlike Gong and Deonn, it wasn’t a paid event, so there was a smaller crowd. I even learned of some new authors that I’d never heard of like Jason June (Jay’s Gay Agenda) and Laura Gao (Messy Roots).
We went to another couple of events but we were both kind of crashing, it was around 4p.m. and besides the cheese danish I ate that morning, I forgot to eat the rest of the day because my ND brain was squirreling hardcore. The last event we went to was the other one we paid for, which was the “Yallwest Smackdown.” My friend gave me a lollipop she’d got along with sugared almonds, making sure I got something besides water into my system because we were going to be there until 7 p.m. and it was currently 4:30 p.m. Even though my social battery started crashing, I’m so glad we went to this event. Melissa De La Cruz (Alex & Eliza) and Abdi Nazemian (The Chandler Legacies) hosted it, jam-packed with fun bookish activities to end the night. The most impressive activity was “guess the book by the first line” and some people were SO quick with it, and on books I hadn’t read for years. It was crazy how they just knew. Smackdown ended with a group karaoke session of ‘80s and ‘90s girl ballads, where we could sing and be weird without it being an issue.I do wish that Yallwest hadn’t been pushed back a week so that I could have experienced both Yallwest and Sun God, but there was not one part of this trip that I regretted. I had an amazing time with a friend, I went to a city that I’ve never been to, and finally, at twenty years old, got to finally experience a book festival after years of craving one —I blame 2013 Booktube for my obsession. Unfortunately, I think it has only made me want to go to more, but we will deal with that when it comes.
Photo of Rosabella Debty by Meline Norquist