Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels was, as best I can recall, the first young-adult novel I ever read. (I was 13.) Reviewers love to call books haunting and brilliant, but Myers’ story of boys at war is truly both. In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Myers–who died July 1 at 76–wrote more than 100 books for children and teens, exploring the lives of African-American kids, who too often do not see themselves presented honestly and compassionately in literature.
Millions of readers have stories like mine of being inspired by his books. But the man who wrote them was also extraordinary. A veteran who had enlisted in the Army at 17, Myers went on to become a tireless advocate for children, literacy, and diversity in books. (Just a few months ago, he wrote a blistering essay, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”) Walter was also a generous colleague, encouraging generations of children’s and YA writers, including this one. I reread Fallen Angels after I’d heard of his death. What a gift that book was to me as a kid–and what a gift it remains.
Green is the best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars
This appears in the July 21, 2014 issue of TIME.