Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2019: Social Justice and Activism in YA Literature

Saturday, April 27 was Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, a wonderful yearly event that I have now had the honor of speaking at for the past four years. This year it took place at Henry Sibley High School, in Mendota Heights. If you’re unfamiliar with Teen Lit Con, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a convention dedicated to teen (YA) literature. This event is FOR teens—teens win the prizes, teens often get first dibs at getting a seat in sessions, there are sessions that are ONLY for teens, etc. I feel extremely fortunate to not only present there each year, and meet so many wonderful teens, but to then also be able to hear fantastic talks from YA authors from around the country. Big thanks to everyone at MELSA, the Teen Lit Con team, the many volunteers, and Henry Sibley High School for the amazing day. What a lot of work went into pulling it off.



I had a wonderful day running in to lots of friends, listening to smart, engaging speakers, and nonstop grinning at the absolute joy of watching teenagers totally geek out over books and authors. I’m a huge fan of eavesdropping and overheard so many great snippets of conversations about books and presentations.

I presented my session twice on Saturday. I had printed 100 handouts but ran out during the second session. A born pessimist with impostor syndrome, I always assume that maybe my sessions will only draw a handful of people, though that has literally never turned out to be the case (aren’t the lies that depressed and anxious brains able to come up with and convince a person of so fun?!), so I print what feels like an excessive amount of handouts figuring it will be more than enough and I’ll just bring most of them home. I also made handouts from last year’s Mental Health in YA Lit sessions available yesterday, as those sessions were so well attended in the past and the topic is so dear to me. Those handouts all went, too. The mental health handouts from last year’s talk are available here:

Teen Lit Con 2018 handouts MHYALit

 2018 TLC Additional handout


The handouts from my 2019 Social Justice and Activism in YA Literature session are available here:   

Social Justice in Young Adult Literature Recommended Reading

Social Justice in YA Lit Resources (websites for further education)


Schools and libraries, please feel free to reproduce these and share these, but please leave my credit at the bottom of the page. 


As promised during my talk, I’m going to post a few relevant slides from my presentation here. My presentation was a mix of information about social justice, anti-oppression, intersectionality, and own voices and a rundown of some of the many YA books that address these topics. When I began working on my presentation, I made a list of the books I really wanted to talk about. That list was 186 books long. Listen, I talk really fast, but even I can’t fit that into 45 minutes. So I pared it down to a much more reasonable 62 books. I know. I can’t help it! I used every single second of those 45 minutes. Click on the slides to enlarge them.




The rest of the presentation was quick summaries of books that address social justice topics. Slides showed the book cover (because I do indeed judge a book by its cover) and title/author. The suggested reading list includes all the books I talked about/made slides for. Just for a peek, the slides looked like this:



The resources handout includes these sites and many more:



After each talk I had excellent conversations with teachers, librarians, and teenagers looking for more books on a certain topic, or suggesting titles to me, or just stopping by to give me a high-five (and in one case, stopping to slip me a coffee gift card!). It was great to see so many people nodding along to the points I was making and scribbling notes. Four years in, I now recognize so many familiar faces in my sessions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Teen Lit Con is absolutely one of the best days of the year.


As a pretty hardcore introvert, being on display like that, socializing that much, should have drained me. Instead, I left the high school invigorated, fueled by all of the excitement and energy of the day. Did I still go home and hole up in my office for an hour before I could interact with anyone again? Yes. But I can’t think of a better reason to feel a little wiped out than hanging out with people who love YA books.