Venturing out to brave the crowds at YALLFest this year was a first for me. Though I’d heard tell of the hordes of young readers infiltrating King Street every year, I hadn’t expected the sheer amount of positive camaraderie that I found when I arrived. It was like I’d stepped into the final days of summer camp. The hours of standing together in the same lines for the same authors seemed to create an irresistible attraction between anxious fans. Hardly had five minutes passed in each line before I’d been asked my name, where I was from, and what I thought about the author we waited to see. And, boy, did we wait.

[image-6]I stood in line to have my copy of The End signed by the elusive Daniel Handler (better known to his fans as his alter-ego Lemony Snicket) for three hours. Next to me and my wife was a 15-year-old Young Adult critic and a West Virginian family of six, golden retriever included. As I stood there planning what I would say when I finally met Handler, I realized that in some ways I had been waiting in this line for over 12 years. The first time I got my hands on A Series of Unfortunate Events I was probably 11 or 12. I saw the first several books sold as a bundle at my school’s book fair for the low, low price of $20. Of course, as I was not yet employed, I had to rely on my wits to procure my prize.

I turned to my mechanic/construction worker father, who was in no way a fan of reading for pleasure. I asked him if a day of work for him would be worth $20. He said he could just tell me to work for free anyway. I had almost given up when my Dad asked me why I wanted the money. I told him it was because I wanted to buy a bunch of books from school. After a suspicious squint, he finally straightened.

“Deal,” he said, “But you’re pretty weird, son.”

[image-1]I read those books like I’d never read before, reading with a flashlight under my blankets when I was supposed to be sleeping at night. I bought each of Handler’s books as soon as they came out. When I finished A Series of Unfortunate Events series, I read it again.

The chance to meet Handler was equally exciting for my wife. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she read A Series of Unfortunate Events when she was first learning to speak English after emigrating here with her family at age nine. So what did we care if we had to stand somewhere for three hours to meet the man who had lured us into the literary world?

When we finally reached the lobby of the Charleston Museum and saw Handler in person, we realized why it had taken so long to get there. He was not just signing his name and moving people along, he was personalizing every single signature and taking a moment to talk with each of his fans. A six-year-old girl in front of us approached him with her book.

“Have you read this book?” he asked. She shook her head. “Good!” said Handler, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

When my wife told the author how he’d helped her learn English, he raised an eyebrow and said, “What a terrible way to learn a language! Surely there are books far more enjoyable.”

These dreary insights may have put off fans of a different series, but Handler’s audience expect him to be this way. It’s part of what we love about his voice in the books. If Handler had been bubbly, everything about his narrative style would have seemed disingenuous. And YALLFest as a whole effectively humanized each of the authors I came into contact with.

Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series, was met with more than double the amount of fans she agreed to sign for. She took the crowd in stride, staying long after her listed signing time until the line had run its course. Maybe that’s why people were flooding the city from all over the place.

In the line for Victoria Aveyard’s signing of Red Queen at Magnifilous Toy Emporium, I met a guy who had packed up and driven all the way down from New Jersey and spent the weekend sleeping in his car. At another event, I ran into a woman from Indiana who was carrying a cape-wearing garden gnome around with her. Then there was the eight-year-old kid who brought a suitcase of Fablehaven books to Brandon Mull’s line, and the author signed every single one of them.

YALLFest, it seems, wasn’t just about signatures. It was like Comic-Con to pop culture people or Warped Tour to a rock fan, a massive gathering of the YA literary community both young and old that went way beyond this fan’s expectations.  


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