Bestselling author Neal Shusterman speaks to Yokosuka middle-schoolers about novels, writing
By CHRISTIAN LOPEZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2019
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Students were on the edge of their seats Thursday as they listened to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman read from his newest, unreleased novel at Yokosuka Middle School.
The southern California native, whose works “Thunderhead” and “Dry” were among Barnes and Nobles’ best books for young adults in 2018, has been traveling internationally from school to school to meet the readers who helped him achieve such accolades.
The visit, which included an assembly attended by all sixth-graders along with a more intimate gathering for a select few super fans, was Shusterman’s first at a Department of Defense Education Activity School. It was funded by the National Junior Honor Society, Yokosuka Middle School’s Student Council, Library Club and Parent Teacher Organization.
“Dry” — written with his son, Jarrod Shusterman — follows a California teen’s perspective during a catastrophic drought that has turned people into “zombies” willing to do anything and everything for water.
“When I write a story, I don’t write down to the kids,” he told Stars and Stripes during the event. “I deal with a lot of complex ideas and difficult questions hoping that they’re able to rise to that, and they always do.”
Before the assembly, Shusterman’s Yokosuka super fans got to have lunch with the author and ask questions about “Thunderhead,” the latest installment in his “Scythe” series. The futuristic novels are set during a time when death by natural causes has been eliminated thanks to an advanced computer system called Thunderhead, which controls society.
Those students were also treated to a reading from “The Toll,” the next, unreleased novel in the series.
“My favorite thing about these sessions with students is when a kid comes up to me and says something like, ‘I never liked reading until I read ‘Unwind,’ or ‘Scythe’ was the first book I finished cover to cover, and now I can’t stop reading,” Shusterman said.
Shusterman also fielded questions at the assembly. Students asked questions about their favorite characters or what it takes to become an author.
“I’m always pleased to see how the kids take my complex ideas, think about them and by [the] questions they ask … you can tell they understand it,” he said. “Parents come up to me and say, ‘Wow, I never knew my kid thought that deeply.’ It’s kind of neat to be able to bring that out with kids.”
A show of hands at the assembly revealed that most of Yokosuka’s sixth-graders had read several of Shusterman’s novels.
“To know that these books are bringing kids to read, it just makes me feel fantastic and helps me know I’m doing something worth doing,” he said.