Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Wildlife spotted in the CBCA shortlist...

So, last week, the shortlist was announced for the CBCA Book of the Year. I often find myself using the CBCA Book of the Year as a bit checklist to see how well I've kept my finger on the pulse when it comes to reading Australian YA. Others that I keep an eye on are the Printz Award, curated by YALSA, and the Inky Awards, where the winners are voted for by teenagers.

One of my favourites from the list is Wildlife by Fiona Wood. The story follows two characters: Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla is something of a wallflower at her school. That is, until she is featured on a prominent billboard ad, and enters the selective world of popularity.  However, before she is able to make sense of her new status, she is trundled off to a term of outdoor education camp, where there is no escape from her classmates - or the ongoing pressures of a new (and first!) relationship.

Lou, on the other hand, is the new girl. After a year of grieving the loss of a loved one, school camp is her chance to make new friends, and try to come out of her shell again. When tensions grow between Sibylla and Holly, her best friend, Lou is drawn into the drama and the associated risks that come with making enemies with those who are experts at catty schoolgirl politics.

The landscape of the school camp - and venturing into the wilderness - is a not-at-all uncommon theme in children's and young adult literature, particularly in fantasy and fairy tale where the heroes often venture "Into the Woods". In the case of Wildlife, both main characters are on the brink of unfamiliar territory. Sybilla is faced with the realities of sexuality and being responsible about it, as well as learning to stand up against a spiteful and jealous best friend. Lou is confronting the reality that she needs to accept her loss and move forward, even though it feels like letting go. Every student is required to spend a couple of days on a "solo hike", and for each character, this signifies a turning point, where they face their own personal challenges.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story, typical of Young Adult fiction, but is also very funny, with plenty of attitude and quirkiness that teenagers will easily engage with. Whilst the stories themselves aren't hugely original, the landscape of the wilderness in which these teenagers inhabit give the book a compelling edge, and there is plenty of heart and kookiness in Wood's assortment of characters.

In reflection, I've learned that book award lists are an excellent indicator in assessing one's collection, and finding gaps when it comes to new fiction. Being able to review books, and assess their merits and audience is also an essential trait for children's and youth librarians.

References

The Children's Book Council of Australia (2014). Children's Book of the Year Awards 2014. Retrieved from http://cbca.org.au/awards.htm

Howell, S. (2013). Girl Defective. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

State Library of Victoria (2014). The Inky Awards. Inside A Dog. Retrieved from http://www.insideadog.com.au/page/inky-awards

Wood, F. (2010). Six Impossible Things. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

Wood, F. (2013). Wildlife. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

YALSA (2014). The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz