We always find it fascinating to hear what people liked reading when they were growing up, so today, Gillian is doing just that by sharing their most influential books they read as a teen!
Thank you, Gillian!
I love YA and I’m fascinated by the culture(s) surrounding those who write and read it. One thing often stands out to me at the events I’ve attended and in articles I’ve read online – when (adult) people talk about YA it is nearly always in the context of what they wish they had growing up. They wish they had stories about kids their age, they wish they had stories set where they lived or with characters that spoke like them. Of course this is valid, and I’m really glad for the increasing diversity of YA stories, but I also find it interesting. I was fifteen when Twilight came out, and Teen/YA sections started popping up in bookstores when I was finishing up high school. #LoveOZYA didn’t happen until I was well in my twenties, and the diversity of books we have now definitely didn’t exist. However, I don’t think I experienced that lack of Australian stories others talk about.
I don’t know if there was some kind of precursor to #LoveOzYa in the nineties, but my school libraries (from primary to grade 12) had an abundance of fabulous ‘Oz YA’ books. While they may not have been the blockbuster successes of Twilight or The Hunger Games, Australian books for children and teens have always felt strong. Authors such as John Marsden and Jackie French have been both prolific and well-known to more than one generation of young readers. As many of us like to say, Australian YA punches above its weight.
The books you read as a teenager can have such a strong impact, so when I think of Australian YA my first thought is always to the authors I read growing up. Here is an Australian book for each of my teen years, all highly recommended if you haven’t read them!
Thirteen: People Might Hear You – Robin Klein
I started reading Robin Klein in primary school, and was one of the writers I read as a bridge from childhood to adolescence. People Might Hear You is a story that fascinated me.
Fourteen: Finding Cassie Crazy – Jaclyn Moriarty
My copy of Finding Cassie Crazy is about the most worn out book I own. I can’t even remember how many times I reread it, or flicked through my favourite parts. I loved the friendships between each of the characters and the way the story hinted at other connections and stories in the background. Jaclyn Moriarty’s way of writing the Brookfield/Ashbury series is truly special – though she’s not the only person to use a collection of written communication to tell a story, the way she does it is unique.
Fifteen: The Simple Gift – Steven Herrick
I read this book as part of my Year Nine English class. This was the first year of my life I didn’t like English (entirely because of the teacher) but this book blew my mind. The idea of a novel in verse was totally new to me, and was a highlight in an otherwise less than pleasant class. Steven Herrick has stuck with me since then, a quiet favourite. This book caused me to seek out other verse novels, and to sing their praises to whoever will listen.
Sixteen: Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta
Melina Marchetta crafts stories about interweaving relationships and the impact they have with incredible skill. All her books are wonderful but to me Francesca is special. I never had the words for what Francesca meant to me as a teen – as someone whose mother had once stayed in bed for a year, it gave a voice to feelings I couldn’t articulate by myself. To sixteen-year-old me it seemed as if Saving Francesca was written especially for me.
Seventeen: The Devil’s Latch – Sonya Hartnett
I read a lot of Sonya Hartnett as a teen, but The Devil’s Latch was the first. Her writing style is very atmospheric, and she explores deeply uncomfortable topics. The intensity of complex emotion it invokes in the reader is something I think teenagers really connect to. She is the perfect example of books teens devour and adults wring their hands over whether it is ‘too dark’.
Eighteen: A Rose for the ANZAC Boys – Jackie French
I spent my eighteenth year in France, with only three English-language books and a hell of a lot of fanfiction to read. My aunt sent me A Rose for the ANZAC Boys for my birthday in the middle of the year and I cried the whole way through because it was just so Australian (event thought it’s actually about New Zealand). I barely remember the story, but I still remember how it tapped into my homesickness and made me feel like a part of something.