2015 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for Australian Young Adult literature. Margot McGoverns recommends three of her favourite titles to date.
A few weeks ago, Kill Your Darlings published a piece by fellow book blogger and emerging YA writer, Danielle Binks, discussing the absence of homegrown talent among Australia’s top borrowed YA library books. We’re lucky to be home to a large and growing number of extraordinary YA writers, and Binks points out several ways fans of Aussie YA can show a little love for these local writers and their books. To name a few, readers can use the #LoveOzYA hashtag to give their favourite titles some social media love and join the discussion about the state of YA in Australia, parents and students can speak to schools about including more Australian reads in the classroom and on library shelves and Readings has released a list of their top recommended YA titles.
For my bit, I’m sharing my three favourite YA reads from the previous month—that’s right, in the past few weeks alone I’ve stumbled across three most excellent titles. For a little context, I have a preference for YA that’s rooted in the real—dystopia is all fine ‘n’ dandy, but if I read one more story, shamelessly riding The Hunger Games‘ coattails, about a sassy teenage girl who reluctantly agrees to save the world while getting herself horribly tangled in a love triangle with all the romantic appeal of a mouldering sponge, I will rise, red as the dawn, and leave a trail of ashes-that-were-manuscripts in my wake. Hell hath no fury like a woman bored.
I love a story with a strong, well-rounded protagonist who speaks with an original and authentic voice. I’m drawn to clean, clever prose and respect an author who isn’t afraid to tackle the tricky and taboo. I also enjoy stories with a black heart, or at the very least, a dark edge.
With these things in mind, here are my three most recent Aussie YA book crushes:
Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle (Allen & Unwin)
Lucy’s brother, Cam, has been dead eight weeks and it’s time Lucy started piecing her life back together. Time to get back in the pool. ‘Today should feel right,’ she tells herself. ‘Today school goes back and the routine of train, study, train can start again.’ Only Lucy—state champion backstroker—can’t make herself get in the water. She can’t find her way back into her old routine or enjoy hanging out with her old friends whose lives revolve around swimming.
Her mum has completely shut down and hardly ever gets out of bed, and her dad doesn’t even notice when she stays out all night. Her Auntie Deb, up from Newcastle, just doesn’t get it. Even Cam’s best mate, Ryan, has left town. The only people Lucy feels she can turn to are her estranged best friend from primary school, Steffi, and Steffi’s cousin Evan, who’s just blown in from Sydney and has problems of his own. And then one night Lucy finds pictures of a faceless girl hidden among Cam’s other drawings and strange, poetic texts start appearing on his phone from an unknown number.
In her search to discover the mystery girl and what really happened to Cam the night he died, Lucy finds a love of her own as well as some hard truths and a family secret.
Pieces of Sky is a refreshing debut about accepting loss, putting the pieces back together and reevaluating the things that matter.
Risk by Fleur Ferris (Random House)
When best friends Taylor and Sierra strike up a conversation with Jacob Jones on Mysterychat, it’s just a bit of fun—something to fill an afternoon at the end of the school holidays. Then Jacob starts emailing Taylor and she thinks maybe it’s something more, maybe it’s love. But it turns out Sierra’s also been chatting with him, and they have a date on Friday night.
Around the time Sierra should be heading home, she calls Taylor and asks her to cover for her so she can spend the night with Jacob. Taylor is jealous and annoyed—Sierra’s done this before. But when Saturday morning turns to afternoon, with no sign of Sierra, Taylor and her friends begin to worry. Where is Sierra and why isn’t she answering her phone?
Risk is an unsettling and compelling read, the stuff of modern nightmares, made all the more unsettling by the fact that predators like Jacob Jones are both real and invisible.
A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell (Allen & Unwin)
She let him put his sticky hands in places her own had never been. All those places she’d been warned about. The places that attract strangers with lost puppies and the wrong touch and sin. Private places that embarrassed her and shocked her eyes wide when he touched them. … When it was over and she pulled her knickers up, she realised her bottom was crusted with cool sand. The heat was over along with summer. They walked the dunes in a flush of new shyness, talking of the beginning of their last year of high school.
But Rose and Michael come from strict families where sex is not discussed and nor is the importance of taking precautions. Besides, as Michael reminds himself, ‘In the sixteenth century you could have sex with someone you promised to marry sometime in the future and the church said it was okay.’ He and Rose do plan to get married, so surely there’s no harm in enjoying sex beforehand? Their more worldly friends, particularly Rose’s best friend, Liv, warn them to be safe, but it feels so good and in the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget.
When Rose learns she’s pregnant, her confusion and panic quickly shift to denial. Her mother taught her that ‘A happy face reflects a happy home,’ and so Rose, a talented actress, decides to pretend the pregnancy isn’t real. She convinces herself that if she can play her part convincingly, it will become the truth. Michael is initially (unfairly) angry with Rose and grows increasingly frustrated with her denial. But ultimately, he buys into her fantasy. Though he watches Rose make herself sicker and sicker in order to maintain the pretence, he can’t bring himself to tell anyone about the pregnancy for fear of disappointing his father.
The months pass with mounting dread as the story swells to its inevitable crisis. More than a mere cautionary tale for horny teenagers, A Small Madness is an unsettling, claustrophobic novel of anxiety and denial—a sinister reworking of the Gothic ‘descent into madness’ tale.
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