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Front Matter(s)

I chose to be part of a review panel for an upcoming award. I selected Young Adult literature as my preferred category. I had never done such a vast review before for a single award. Throughout the summer, we are reading as we choose. Ideally, we would read some of the so-called front runners. Others we would suggest to each other. The list of possible books is incredibly long. The list of frontrunners is very short. Some of the books eligible are not yet available to read.


I clicked into the running list with all the titles and began to put books on hold at my local library. I wanted to sort, find things in common, choose who did the things that resonate the best.


Regular email notices started to arrive in my inbox. Stacks and stacks of books held slips with the first three letters of my name and last four numbers of my card. Once or twice a week I carried the bag to my car like a grocery bag and not a purse, because I wasn’t sure the straps would hold.


My eyes drew conclusions from the titles and covers alone. Lots of true crime and Bridgerton follow ups. LGTBQ+ was very well represented and increasingly intersectional. I found very few historical titles or international settings. Most authors seemed to be digging into what never went right, but maybe could, in their own experiences or adjacent lives.


I selected a title, then another. The scent of smooth and shiny plastic mingled with fresh paper pages. My dog took a moment to lick a corner or two as I spread the rectangle shapes between us. I opened the books. Crunchy crackle and silent sweep. I would get a sense, even from the first pages of the first chapter if I would consider reading more, enough more that an award might be justified.


I was eager to read multiple first chapters simultaneously. Still, I started to linger, both before I read those first pages, and after. I paused on the front page. The almost blank page before you plunge into the author’s world. As a writer, I dreamed about that page. What would I say to be both clever and warm?


The thank yous and the I would have nevers


What could I say to those who became the story I told?


The fors and the becauses.


Some of the books held those heartfelt sentences, printed because the authors were lucky enough to have someone who saw the whole of them and believed. I had loved those sentences, but if those words hadn’t been in the front, it wouldn’t have mattered. The book itself was still my dream. The stories being told were still a kind of me.


The books I was reading this year used that page to say something else. They made sure that the youth who were reading knew that if no one else was listening, this book was If no one else saw them, this book did. All the books awkwardly stacked in my dining room held messages from the authors to the youth who were them, like them, will become them.


Not Black enough. . . Not being Muslim enough. . .


Queer joy. Trans joy. . .


For the neurodivergent darlings, your brain is lovely and so are you.


. . . hold space for people, particularly young Black women, who have experienced trauma.


The piles grew. Another bag spilled over the floor, and the continued impact of those messages knocked me over. I returned to those sentences even when I didn’t return to the novel for deeper review. Loud. Constant. Cumulative voices moving together as picket signs in protest.


Front matter(s) The words were both a welcome and a warning.


Front matter(s) These words were also a charge of responsibility to the adults who read them, either for their own purposes or as they perhaps are taking those books away from a young reader.


Front matter(s) Descriptions, phrases, names for what we failed to prevent, perhaps caused, and continued to not acknowledge.


parental abandonment

obsessive compulsive disorder

hurtful language

child abuse

bullying

sexual harassment

rape culture

vaping, smoking

racial discrimination

mental health challenges

disordered eating

verbal abuse


Heaviness. Sadness. Pain. Though the book titles named in the hundreds, the first words, repeated. While on this committee, I will only pick one of you, thank you authors for moving to the front such matters, what matters.


I tell stories for you. You are seen here.


. . . you are always, always enough


. . .please look after yourself and know that your mental and emotional well-being comes first


. . . to anyone who’s ever felt different. It turns out, we’re all the same.


Take up space. Tell your story.


First pages. Front matter(s).



** Front matter is defined as “the pages, such as the title page and preface, that precede the main text of a book.” The words in italics are quotes from various young adult novels' first pages.

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