Several years ago a group of Australian YA authors and supporters launched the grassroots campaign #LoveOzYA to promote Australian YA books in a market dominated by US titles. Think Australian asked literary agent, editor and youth literature advocate Danielle Binks about the current state of Aussie YA.
Can you give examples of Australian YA novels that have found success overseas?
We’ve actually coined a hashtag to keep track of those books that specifically come out in North America! #LoveOzYAInUSA
Will Kostakis is one of Aussie YA’s most beloved authors. He got his first book deal with Penguin when he was a high-school senior, and his second book The First Third won the Gold Inky Award, which is the only book award of its type in Australia with the winner being chosen by teen readers. Will’s third book The Sidekicks will be his first released in the US—with rave reviews from the likes of Jennifer Niven and Laurie Halse Anderson!
Claire Zorn’s The Protected (University of Queensland Press) has received a star-review in Kirkus, which said: ‘Zorn treats the issue of bullying with brutal realism.’ It’s such a gut-punch of necessary reading.
Erin Gough’s Get it Together, Delilah! is about a lesbian teen struggling to balance school, work, life and love—and I loved this book when it came out in Australia as The Flywheel (Hardie Grant Egmont) in 2015 after winning an unpublished-manuscript prize.
Finally, Carole Wilkinson’s ‘Dragonkeeper’ series (Walker Books) is set to take China by storm—with an animated film, produced between Spain and China, currently being filmed. It’s set in ancient China during the Han dynasty, the novel centres on a slave girl named Ping who journeys across the country with the last imperial dragon while pursued by a ruthless hunter.
Can you recommend any Australian YA spec-fiction?
Alison Goodman’s ‘Lady Helen’ series (HarperCollins). These books are like Jane Austen does Buffy—so good!
Justin Woolley’s ‘The Territory’ series. Book one, A Town Called Dust (Pan Macmillan), has the tagline: ‘Stranded in the desert, the last of mankind is kept safe by a large border fence… Until the fence falls.’ And there are rumours this climate-thriller will be made into a movie.
There’s also the blockbuster YA title The Undercurrent by Paula Weston (Text Publishing), about a girl who is literally a live-wire, who has to go on the run when an experimental privatised military unit comes after her and the power she holds.
Also look out for forthcoming 2018 YA title Borderland by debut Indigenous author Graham Akhurst (Hachette). This is a noir eco-thriller that pulls on recent environmental activism events like the Dakota Access pipeline and Adani coal-mine protest, and puts a creepy sci-fi spin on the question ‘who is the true owner of our land?’
What makes Australian YA unique?
I think it all comes down to the unique way we see the world and our position in it. As I’ve been touring Australia talking about the short-story anthology designed to show off our local youth literature Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology (HarperCollins), I’ve been talking about the way our politics in particular shapes our stories. Australia’s treatment and reactions to asylum seekers and refugees, for instance, plays a big role in a lot of our sci-fi and fantasy titles. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s ‘The Illuminae Files’ is all about displaced persons in outer-space; the epistolary novel is narrated by ‘fake news’ and the unreliable-narrator of the book is the government itself. Melina Marchetta’s high-fantasy ‘The Lumatere Chronicles’ (Penguin) is about a kingdom that is burnt to the ground and its people left without a state, left to wander the land looking for a new home.
But as for what else makes us unique? I think that we really are a patchwork, and you can’t really pin down any one thing that summarises us—because we’re so disparate. We’re still such a young country, built on the backbone of multiculturalism and we embrace that in our stories too.
How would you like to see the #LoveOzYA campaign spread to international readers?
Of course, it’d be nice if we got a few more blockbuster movies and TV shows under our belt! Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (Pan Macmillan) just won big at the Emmys, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones (Allen & Unwin) has now been turned into a successful stage-play and film, and Benjamin Law’s The Family Law TV adaptation is probably the most honest and brutally funny slice of Australiana to ever be made. Australian art and artists have so much to contribute, and we really do punch above our weight. I’d love for us to keep adapting and being adapted, to really have our voices heard on the international stage.