Wednesday, 19 August 2015

CBCA Book of the Year 2015

When I was in High School, the announcement of the CBCA shortlist was always a highlight of the literary year. I always endeavoured to read all of the shortlisted books before the winner was announced, and highlights of this period of my life were gems such as:

  • Gillian Rubinstein's Beyond the Labyrinth, Galax-Arena and Skymaze (the sequel to the wonderful Space Demons which I devoured even in Primary School)
  • Brian Caswell's Merryll of the Stones and A Cage of Butterflies
  • Caroline MacDonald's The Lake at the End of the World and Speaking to Miranda
  • John Marsden's Letters from the Inside (and Tomorrow when the war began, which was never given a guernsey for the CBCA Book of the Year, but started a new generation of teenage readers hooked on Australian YA.)
  • And, of course, Melina Marchetta's seminal Australian YA classic, Looking for Alibrandi
I  also remember reading other Australian YA authors such as Victor Kelleher, Isobel Carmody and David MacRobbie. back when YA was seemingly more about being creeped out by supernatural and psychological thrillers. I also remember being confronted by Kate Walker's Peter, back when queer characters and sexuality was less prevalent in YA fiction.

Now, over 20 years later, times have changed, but Australian authors continue to bring a wide range of new and fresh YA that continues to push the envelope in the literary industry. This Friday, the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers will be announced, and whilst I unfortunately haven't been able to read all of the shortlisted titles, I've read a fair few of them, as well as some of the notables. Here are some brief reflections.

Notables:
  • As Stars Fall - Christie Nieman. I must confess that this was an impulse buy, based on the fact that I used to work with Christie, and the cover is gorgeous - with a young odd-looking girl cradling a bush stone-curlew. What ensued is a haunting, evocative yet original novel about natural disaster and regrowth mirroring grief and healing, in a truly Australian gothicYA tale.
  • Razorhurst - Justine Larbalestier. This was a fun, gritty romp around 1920s inner-West Sydney, with an assorted cast of gangsters, prostitutes, a street kid, aspiring novelist, and lots of ghosts.
  • Still on my to-read list are Alice Pung's Laurinda, and Rebecca Lim's The Astrologer's Daughter.
Short-listed
  • The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl - Melissa Keil. I loved her debut novel, Life in Outer Space (which was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year in 2014), and this novel does not disappoint either. Where LiOS is an entertaining geek boy meets cool (but also secretly geek) girl, and romantic shenanigans ensure, full of pop culture references, Cinnamon Girl treads much more original territory, following a group of friends living in a quiet country town about to graduate from high school, but also facing the impending apocalypse. It's still has its share of fun, sassy banter, but also a lot of heart, with issues of friendship and facing the realities of impending change.
  • Nona & Me - Clare Atkins. Set in remote Arnhem Land in 2007, I found this novel personally reminiscent of my time living in Darwin from 2006-2009. This novel is a tale of innocent childhood friendships and connection with indigenous culture, the changes that occur through adolescent, with peer pressures stemming through ignorance, and finally rediscovering that connection that was lost. This novel accurately depicts Yolngu culture, and the tensions that grew during the time of the Indigenous Intervention, through to the Apology speech of 2008.
  • The Minnow - Diana Sweeney. The winner of the 2013 Text Prize, this one certainly stood out in its narrative style. Tom, the protagonist,has a unique, whimsical voice, tainted with grief but without the maturity to come to terms with her circumstances, as an orphaned pregnant girl living in the wake of a natural disaster that has claimed the lives of the rest of her immediate family. This novel is also excellently crafted, as something of an enigmatic puzzle that slowly comes together.
  • The Protected - Claire Zorn. And yes, here we are again, dealing with grief, loss and coming to terms with the truth. Zorn's writing is raw and honest, yet balanced without letting this become just another derivative problem novel about bullying and family tragedy. Never didactic or melodramatic, this is a skilfully-crafted novel which has already won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Young Adult Literature.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get my hands on Christine Bongers' Intruder or Darren Groth's Are you seeing me? Nevertheless, if the quality and unique talent of these four novels is anything to go by, then I certainly don't envy the judging panel's task of picking a winner.