Hello Darling Readers!
Yes! It’s that time again when I present you with Aussie YA readalikes to American YA books! And, hey – this idea has got some serious traction recently thanks to Trinity Doyle (yes, the Trinity Doyle of ‘Pieces of Sky’ fame!) she created this fabulous #LoveOzYA poster for people to do with as they will! How great is that?! If you’d like a copy of the poster – click this linky link.
More to that – I’ve had some fellow bloggers and vloggers asking if they can do their own #LoveOzYA readalikes post and turn this whole shebang into a tag … to which I say: GO FOR IT! Yes, please do – help spread the #LoveOzYA love, please!
Now, on with the show …
Because this is a most glorious month for the release of Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought the theme I’d run with this time is “classics!” Yes, Aussie readalikes to some American books that have helped shape the readership … some of the Australian titles I’ve chosen are likewise our own classics, and some are just best fit. So let’s jump in!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee→
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
I know, it’s pretty much impossible to match the Great(est) American Novel, but we can at least try, can’t we? Craig Silvey’s brilliant 2009 novel matches on so many levels – and in fact when it was released the tagline for it was “the Australian To Kill a Mockingbird”. It’s set in Australia in the 1960s, in a regional mining town.
Our narrator is 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin who is called to his window one night by Jasper Jones – local troublemaker and mixed-race boy with a serious rebellious streak. Jasper has found something terrible and he needs to share it with someone – so he chooses Charlie. What follows is a town rocked by tragedy that starts closing in on itself to reveal a disturbing underbelly.
I like this as a readalike for lots of reasons – explorations of racism in rural towns, local outcasts living on the periphery and that it’s ultimately a coming-of-age tale. And I like that people debate whether or not Jasper Jones is even YA, the same way people suggest that if it were published today, To Kill a Mockingbird would be marketed to teens. For the record: Allen&Unwin publish it as “General Fiction”, but we all know metadata means nothing and plenty of teen readers have made their way to this book because it’s just so darn good!
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff→
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard
Yes, I’m cheating a wee bit. Well, not really - Meg Rosoff is an American author based in London. ‘How I Live Now’ is a huge book. It won the Printz Award in 2005, and was adapted into a great film in 2013, starring Saoirse Ronan. It’s a cracker of a YA book, and one of the few non-American YA books to hit it so big! So I’m including it here because I think it’s big enough, and because I want any excuse to recommend Australian author, Glenda Millard.
Both Rosoff and Millard were writing ‘Dystopic-realism’, I guess you could call it? When unknown invaders cause war to break out in England and Australia, respectively. In ‘How I Live Now’ the book takes place in the English countryside, and we see the impact of terrorist invaders on a group of far-flung kids. In ‘A Small Free Kiss in the Dark’ we see what happens when war breaks out in Melbourne, through the eyes of a young homeless boy.
They’re both incredible and spine-tinglingly good reads, and quite disturbing for being so realistic in current political climates.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky→
Letters From the Inside by John Marsden
I love both these books – I read both in my most formative years and they absolutely imprinted on me forever more. In choosing a readalike, I wanted another epistolary-told story that also had a big “aha!” twisting moment. These are also both fantastic character-driven stories, tightly told (‘Perks’ is just 213-pages, while ‘Letters’ is 160-pages).
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson →
Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar
These are both such powerful books, about young women who have been raped, and how they claw their way out of the dark places they’ve retreated to, and begin to heal by telling what happened to them …
I recently had a debate with a family member around books for young people that have rape storylines – she insisted that they wouldn’t get past parents for classroom/library reading. And I said how insane that was – how are we expected to address problems around consent/respectful relationships/slut shaming/victim blaming/violence against women ... if these stories can’t even be talked about in schools, where a lot of the groundwork for good can be done?
So I’m presenting these readalikes – they’re two of my favourite books because they got me thinking, and empathising and hurting for these characters and if I could I would put them into every classroom in Australia. I loved Laurie Halse Anderson at Reading Matters this year, saying that she writes “resilience literature”. That’s what these books are, and they’re wonderful.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle →
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
I think ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is a great book, but *whispers* I think ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ is better.
I read Ruth Park’s timeslip novel when I was in Year Six and I’ve re-read it countless times since. In fact, I’m a bit obsessed with it. Granted, it doesn’t have quite the same time travel trickery philosophising going on as L'Engle’s book, but protagonist Abigail does have to consider the consequences she could have on the future when she finds herself transported back to Sydney in 1873.
I think part of the reason I love this book so very much has to do with the fact that it is Australian – blending science fiction and historical fiction brilliantly. I still, to this day, get delicious goosebumps when I visit The Rocks in Sydney because of its significance in ‘Playing Beatie Bow’. Never underestimate the power of reading the YA books of your own country and being able to go there – to that exact place in the story! It’s a marvellous, marvellous thing.