In a world where technology often takes center stage, there’s something magical about walking into a physical bookstore. The smell of fresh pages, the promise of countless stories awaiting discovery—it’s an experience that many of us cherish. And for one young entrepreneur, this love for books has translated into an innovative venture after noticing a gap in the world of bookstores—one that specifically catered to Young Adult (YA) literature.
We spoke with the 17-year-old founder of Annabelle’s Book Club, Annabelle Chang, to discuss her remarkable journey, her passion for YA literature, and dedication behind the creation of a space that not only fills a market void but also nurtures a community of eager readers.
Annabelle Chang: Growing up, bookstores were always my favorite places. I've always been a huge reader. During the pandemic, I received so many requests for book recommendations that I decided to start an Instagram account and blog to share some of my favorite YA reads. Seeing the excited response to that, I started selling my own favorite YA books online and eventually I transitioned to selling them at in-person pop-up events like the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
After several of those in-person events and seeing how enthusiastic people were about my YA focus and the books that I was curating, I started to think about creating a more permanent space for YA books. As I researched, I realized that there were no YA-focused bookstores that I could find. I really wanted to fill that gap in the market.
AC: I love to read so many different genres and types of stories. And one thing that's been really fun since the store has been open is just seeing how my taste has evolved with the new authors and books that I'm introduced to. I have noticed that one thing all of my favorite books have in common, or most of them, is that they have really strong plotlines and diverse characters. And I've noticed that I especially love books that have strong female protagonists.
One of my main goals with the reading list in general is just to highlight diverse and underrepresented stories. In the store, we have a wall of my favorite books, which is one of my favorite parts of the store. It's really a visual representation of this [diversity] because I'll have an adult memoir next to a YA fantasy book and even some classic middle grade reads. I really just love introducing customers and fellow readers to new authors, and also being introduced to new books in turn by our customers.
AC: One of the most rewarding parts of having a brick and mortar bookstore has been connecting with authors and fellow book lovers who are as passionate about books and YA literature as I am. Authors have always been my personal heroes, and getting to host events for them and even getting to meet some of my favorite authors that I've idolized my whole life has just been a really special experience. In general, I really just enjoy supporting local authors, and seeing the sense of community building around the store has been really special.
As for challenges, I think there are a lot of challenges with running a small business, but I think the main one for me that I've been balancing these past almost nine months that we've been open is just balancing school. I’m a senior in high school, so balancing school with the needs of the bookstore is challenging. Fortunately, the school that I go to, Laurel Springs, is an online school so it makes it easier to manage while still taking the classes that I'm interested in. Before opening the store, I used to play competitive tennis, so I feel like that really helps me just learn how to manage time. It's been a lot of fun but I've definitely learned a lot from it.
AC: Three of my all-time favorite books, and this is always changing for me, but three of my all-time favorite books that I think represent me well as a person are Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson; Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin; and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. And I think that Nothing to See Here, which I just read and absolutely love, represents my love of humor and also my love of being an identical twin because that book is about twins. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is probably my all-time favorite book. In that book, I was really drawn to the complex relationships and friendships because I'm also very devoted to my friendships. And I have to include Judy Blume because I feel that we all carry our younger selves with us. My younger self who was absolutely obsessed with this book would not believe that I actually had the chance to meet Judy Blume. I really recommend these three books.
AC: I hope that Annabelle’s Book Club will continue to grow as a community and also become a place where everyone—adults and kids and teenagers—can go to find interesting books and to connect with other book lovers and people. In a dream world I'd really love to see Annabelle’s Book Club LA expand to other cities, and perhaps even launch my own YA focus in print. It'd be really fun.
As for projects and events, I'm really excited for some of the events that we're planning for the fall right now. One event coming up in a few weeks on September 10 that I'm really excited for is an event with Laura Numeroff, who is the author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The event is going to be in support of an organization that she works with called It Takes a Village and I've been lucky enough to connect with the organization. They focus on building libraries in under-resourced parts of the world. I'm really excited for everyone to come meet Laura and the amazing people who have made this organization possible.
AC: With my YA focus, I hope to sort of help reimagine the young adult space and how it is viewed. I'm really proud of the way that my store presents YA equally with the other genres and doesn't talk down to kids who are interested in this genre. Historically, some people have viewed YA as fun reads, but not truly meaningful stories. I think we're at a point where that's really changing and people are recognizing that they can thoughtfully address a lot of different important themes and issues. I hope that that continues to expand.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.