I suspect that every YA writer has a Walter Dean Myers story, but here’s mine: In 2006 or 2007, I spent a long plane ride in the cramped back row of an airplane, situated between my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, and Walter Dean Myers.
He hadn’t read my books and didn’t know me, but when I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself a couple hours into the flight, he was astonishingly gracious. He shared advice about writing and publishing and stories over the decades. In my many interactions with him since, he was always so kind and gracious to me. He invented so much of contemporary YA lit, but he was always quick to credit and congratulate others.
Like many young people of my generation, I read Myers’ war novel Fallen Angels in my adolescence–it was, in fact, probably the first YA novel I read (although at the time I didn’t know about book categories; I just thought it was good). A veteran who enlisted in the army at 17, Myers was a brilliant war novelist (Sunrise over Fallujah is also excellent), but he could write about anything: He won the first-ever Printz Award for the brilliant and deeply troubling Monster, about a murder trial, and he won the Coretta Scott King Award an astonishing six times.
fallen angels who rip the feathers from their backs and devour them hungrily, scrambling for every last shred of their former lives and trying to cram it back into their bodies, panicking when grace starts to bleed from cuts in their skin, slurping it from their veins, desperately trying to force themselves back into what they once were. all the band-aids in the world won’t hold divinity into your bones.
you wonder why these filthy humans get so many chances. an average human lies 17 times a day, so they all sin at least 119 times a week. you sinned once and got thrown out, wings ripped off by the branches of that wretched, wretched tree. mea culpa.
you tried to go back up once, tried to build a tower, tried to reach beyond the clouds. you forget that the Lord your God is a jealous God, and he will never let you back in. it doesn’t matter that everyone suddenly started speaking different languages. you know what they were saying: usurper, usurper, usurper. you let yourself drop to the dust. mea culpa.
every week, you go to a synagogue, a temple, a mosque, a shrine. you don’t know if you exist in all their stories, but you go anyway. if no one is to believe in you, then you will believe in yourself. the name of God burns in your throat. you think that maybe one day it won’t. you fall to your knees. mea maxima culpa.