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Cleveland author Justin A. Reynolds tells young writers: We need your voices

Headshot of Justin A. Reynolds
Daniel Lozada
Cleveland author Justin A. Reynolds has found a niche writing for teens and pre-teens.

As a kid, Justin A. Reynolds dreamed of one day seeing his name on the spine of a book at the local library. The Cleveland author said he even remembers making a space for his name on the shelf.

“I kind of always wanted to pay back the magic that I felt from that place,” he said.

Reynolds now has several books on the shelves of local libraries and beyond as he’s found a niche writing for teens and pre-teens. His latest book, “House Party,” is due out in June.

While the path to becoming a professional writer wasn’t clear growing up, he said support from librarians and teachers helped foster his interest. Reynolds also enjoyed competing in writing through Power of the Pen, Ohio’s longtime interscholastic program, while a middle school student in Elyria.

“Writing, itself, it's such a solitary endeavor most of the time,” Reynolds said, noting that Power of the Pen students are "with other kids who are as excited to be there as you are, and there’s this kind of camaraderie.”

Reynolds returns to his Power of the Pen roots this week as he speaks with students at the 2023 Power of the Pen State Tournament at Ashland University. The main message he wants to covey to young writers: We need your voices.

“Every kid deserves to be the hero of a story,” he said. “When you decide to take the story in your own hands, you get to create those heroes."

Reynolds has written superhero stories about Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales. Writing these graphic novels built upon his own appreciation for Spider-Man.

“They kind of literally let me run with the story, create my own villains and, like, my own narrative,” he said. “It was awesome.”

With his novels, Reynolds tackles tough topics, from death and dying to social justice issues, while also weaving in humor and joy. His 2019 debut novel, “Opposite of Always,” is a story about love and loss, and Paramount Players is adapting the book into a feature film.

“I don't shy away from difficult subjects. Because I think sometimes that's kind of what hurts us,” he said. "We find it difficult to talk about hard things in a respectful way, in a way that allows us to open our hearts and our minds rather than shut them off and close them off to new ideas or to things that may differ from the way that we were raised or brought up to believe.”

Reynolds teamed up with several authors to create “House Party,” a romantic comedy for teens. It’s an ode to some of the favorite teen movies Reynolds watched growing up, such as “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “10 Things I Hate About You.”

“I love rom-coms,” he said. “I think there's something to be said for, like, knowing that no matter what happens, there's a silver lining to be had. There's love at the end, and that's the world that I want to live in.”

Book cover for "House Party"
Penguin Random House
"House Party" is a rom-com for teens penned by several writers and an ode to some of Reynolds' favorite teenage movies.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.