Before I launch into the fanfest that’s about to ensue, I feel I need to be upfront: My intent in writing this post is 100% to make you go out and buy Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology (Harper Collins, May 2017). It’s FABULOUS. And while I haven’t been paid, bribed, cajoled, blackmailed, coerced, or, you know, asked to write about Begin, End, Begin (I didn’t even request a review copy because I so wanted to have the experience of buying this book from my local bookshop), I am ever so slightly biased. Begin, End, Begin is edited and features a story by Danielle Binks, who I have the great fortune of calling my agent. And in addition to loving this book completely in its own right, I’m also utterly thrilled for Danielle to see it out in the wild and causing such a buzz. So, to reiterate: Fanfest. Not review. Even still, go read it.
With brilliantly entertaining short stories from beloved young adult authors Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer, Lili Wilkinson and Danielle Binks, this all-new collection will show the world exactly how much there is to love about Aussie YA.
If you’re Australian and a fan of YA, you’ve likely heard about the #LoveOzYA movement by now. It started when the Australian Library and Information Association released its list of most-borrowed YA books for the first quarter of 2015. Of the ten titles on the list, only two were Australian, Every Breath by Ellie Marney and The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak. The rest were international bestsellers by American authors with film franchises and huge marketing campaigns behind them. While there’s nothing wrong with these overseas titles, or with Australian teenagers reading them, Aussie teens deserve stories that speak to their experiences too. Those stories exist, in fact, we’re lucky to have some truly incredible authors writing YA in this country, but readers don’t always know they’re out there—our publishing industry just isn’t large enough to support the kind of large-scale publicity pushes needed to compete with blockbusters from overseas. So #LoveOzYA is basically a way for Australian teachers, librarians, booksellers, writers and readers to share their love of Aussie YA. As Danielle explains in the forward to Begin, End, Begin:
LoveOzYA … Was not born out of patriotism or a rejection of international voices—far from it. LoveOzYA has been about the inclusion of voices.
For more about #LoveOzYA—how it came about, why it’s necessary and what work is being done—have a read of Danielle’s essay ‘#LoveOzYA’, published in Kill Your Darlings back when the movement was getting underway in July 2015, and also see the #LoveOzYA website and have some fun exploring the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.
As the title suggests, Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology was born out of the #LoveOzYA movement. It’s a collection of ten short stories from some of the leading voices in Aussie YA. In ‘In a Heartbeat’ by Alice Pung, Kim, who is Catholic Asian-Australian, and her single mum try to figure out what to do when Kim falls pregnant and the dad decides not to stick around. While in ‘Oona Underground’ by Lili Wilkinson, Meg follows her best friend, Oona, on a dangerous and fantastical labyrinthine journey, all the while wishing she could just tell Oona how she really feels about her. In Ellie Marney’s ‘Missing Persons’ a girl from the outback strikes up an unlikely friendship with an English boy as she tries to navigate Melbourne life. And in Michael Pryor’s ‘First Casualty’ an intergalactic schoolies trip takes an unexpected turn when two teenagers help an alien refugee ship in distress and inadvertently find themselves at the centre of a media-fuelled political shitstorm. There’s time travel and psychics, star gazing, all-night parties, first loves (on Mars) and broken hearts. I laughed a lot and cried at least three times.
All ten stories hinge on this idea of endings and beginnings, which is a fitting theme for stories about young characters who are moving through one of life’s major turning points. There are realisations made, perceptions altered, hearts exposed and apologies offered. And even the more light-hearted stories are underpinned by a certain poignancy, a sense that risks must be taken and sacrifices made before something new can be gained. It gives the collection a quiet vulnerability that I absolutely loved.
I thoroughly enjoyed all ten stories, but for me, the standouts were those that really embrace this vulnerability:
In Will Kostakis’s ‘I Can See the Ending’ a psychic boy struggles to negotiate the beginning of a new relationship that he knows will endure for many years but ultimately end badly. The dialogue is clever and witty, the characters endearing and the story raises big questions about what makes an experience worthwhile and whether happy endings are overrated. (Also, just quietly, how incredible is that title?)
Gabrielle Tozer’s ‘The Feeling From Over Here’ throws an ex-couple together on an overnight bus ride from Canberra to Melbourne. It’s wonderfully intimate and atmospheric, and I loved how the narrative switches between Lucy and Cam’s point-of-view as they slowly work up the courage to revisit the past and discuss what went wrong between them.
Finally (and I swear I’m not just playing favourites here), ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ by Danielle Binks grabbed me by the heart and still hasn’t let go. It’s the story of Bowie, a girl whose big brother, King, is about to leave on a gap year. He and his tight-knit group of friends are all headed in different directions and Bowie tags along with them as they celebrate one last night together at an abandoned observatory on the outskirts of their small town. The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about this story is haunting, and it left me with a big ol’ lump in my throat. Also, the prose is sen-freaking-sational—lyrical and filled with vivid imagery and subtle-yet-beautifully-worked symbolism that makes you want to linger over over the sentences and lose yourself between the lines.
I know a lot of readers who’ve read one or two of the big international bestsellers and turned up their noses at the entire YA category (side note: fab article ‘Boks for Girls’ by Samantha Forge about this up on Kill Your Darlings), and I just want to find every single one of these naysayers and press a copy of Begin, End, Begin into their hands to show them what they’re missing out on. It’s stories like these that are the reason I’m still reading and fangirling over YA in my thirties and will still being doing so in my eighties, if I make it that far. But more importantly, I’m really excited that this anthology exists for Aussie teens and will hopefully help them discover and revisit local authors who speak to their experiences.
See Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology on Goodreads and purchase through your local bookshop.
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