Inspired by Ceilidh's post last week on notable books from her native Scotland, I got to thinking about books and the countries from which they hail. I'm an American girl, true, but – I apologize – today I'm not going to be harping about young adult books from the United States. (That may be a post for another day.)
Instead, I'm here to gush about Australian authors.
Let me confess: most of my favorite authors are Australian. If I have to recommend a jarring read that will likely crawl deep inside of a reader and nest into his/her heart – well, I'm likely going to be waving copies of books written by some fantastic Australian authors. Honestly, I don't know what it is about Australia. Maybe it's something in the water that has a tendency to make Australian writers into stellar authors. Maybe the beautiful landscape just ends up rubbing off on people in the forms of creativity, inspiration, and – dare I say it? – genius. All I know is that, as an aspiring writer myself, I can't help but think that I would be well on my way to a worthwhile career as an author if I could just manage to emulate some of the great authors who hail from that colorful, exotic land known as Australia.
You may have read some Australian authors' works and not even know it. You may know some of the household names like fantasy authors Garth Nix (author of the Abhorsen trilogy) and Isobelle Carmody (author of the Obernewtyn Chronicles) – or maybe you're more familiar with Australian authors who are making names for themselves in the United States such as Justine Larbaleister (author of Liar and wife of fellow YA author Scott Westerfeld) and newcomer Alexandra Adornetto (author of Halo). But I'm not going to stop there, dear reader: I'm going to give you five notable Australian authors whose works you should get to know in case you haven't already.
Of course I have to begin with Melina Marchetta, the author of five wonderful works that each end up leaving an individual imprint on many readers' minds. Whether Marchetta is tackling dramedy (Looking for Alibrandi), real-life issues (Saving Francesca and its companion The Piper's Son), or fantasy (Finnikin of the Rock), she shines with her storytelling, her characterizations, and the raw human emotions thrumming from the hearts of her books and straight into the hearts of readers. Though American readers have become more exposed to Marchetta through her third novel, Jellicoe Road (which garnered the Michael L. Printz Award in 2009), she still lacks a presence on bookstore and library shelves within the United States. You know how I got to know Marchetta? I had to track most of her books down in used bookstores or order them online. Though her books will likely never be 'mainstream' in the way of American commercialism, I find that to be a sad, sad shame since many readers will be missing out on a great author who knows how to tell a great story with meaningful power.
If Marchetta is the goddess of Australian literature, then I would vote for Markus Zusak to be the reigning god. Author of the much acclaimed The Book Thief, he is a master at storytelling while also having a great handle on beautiful prose and realistic characterization. Zusak does not have trouble representing harshness, cruelty, or depravity in his novels (particularly Printz Honor book I Am the Messenger) – but the way he does so is moving and stirring, never failing to tug at a reader's heartstrings. His trilogy of novels following the Wolfe brothers, Ruben and Cameron, are also worth a look because they contain the same level of writing and focus on emotion as his better-known works. (For interested readers who cannot track the novels down, Scholastic will be re-releasing said trilogy in an omnibus version entitled Underdogs come September 2011.) While Zusak's stories may not resonate the same way with everyone, he is definitely an author who will hopefully amaze more than disappoint.
Marchetta. Zusak. If they are goddess and god in the realm of Australian YA, then who are some of the demigods whose powers have not been wholly acknowledged in the United States?
First up would definitely be Margo Lanagan, author of the controversial Tender Morsels, a novel that doesn't fail to spotlight uncomfortable issues such as rape, abuse, violence, and bestiality. The novel has garnered praise and awards (among them being the World Fantasy Award) along with hate and disgust. However much readers may be divided on Lanagan's novel, she is definitely positively stellar when it comes to the majority of her short stories. Though her short story collections (Black Juice, Red Spikes, and White Time) have been released Stateside, I would never have thought to read Lanagan's works if not for her contribution to the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology in 2010. Talk about creepy writing and storytelling that managed to pack a punch! Lanagan definitely has a way with words – and I eventually read some of her other short story offerings. . .and fell so in love with her haunting way of telling a story that I actually felt a fair bit of envy for how she could meld words together. Her stories have a way of creeping inside of you and lingering, just lingering, and making you think about them. Is she an author for everyone? No, I wouldn't say so – but she offers quite a lot for readers who are willing to step outside their boxes, even if only for a short enough time to peruse and absorb a short story.
Who's the next demigod of Australian YA? I would definitely give a nod to Jaclyn Moriarty, author of the Ashbury/Brookfield series. The most well-known of the series is The Year of Secret Assignments (originally titled Finding Cassie Crazy), a novel written in notes, e-mails, postings, and letters relating to Ashbury and Brookfield students. The clincher? The Ashbury and Brookfield students don't like each other. Not one bit. Or, at least, they're not supposed to like each other. While you may think her books are delightful romps following Australian students, I must correct that assumption and say that Moriarty handles both comedy and drama seamlessly. You will laugh while reading her books, true, but chances are that you will likely cry (or at least tear up) during them as well. Though some readers might label her novels as 'too quirky' or 'a bit outlandish,' I would argue that Moriarty could easily stand on level ground with the likes of American authors like Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot if readers would give her novels a chance.
The final demigod of Australian YA is a bit of a newcomer compared to the above authors with a bunch of novels and short stories under their belts, but that doesn't mean that she isn't a powerful voice in YA literature. Enter Lucy Christopher, who hit American shores last year with her stunning yet shocking novel Stolen, the story of a kidnapped girl who ends up living within the Australian desert with her captor. Exploring the very real effect of Stockholm Syndrome, Christopher manages to do the impossible: make the reader experience Stockholm Syndrome right alongside the main character. The storytelling itself is gripping while the writing itself amazes and horrifies alike. And the characters – oh, the characters. Even though I read this novel almost a year ago, I'm still thinking about the characters in this novel. That is what makes Christopher a demigod in the making. That is the power of a great author.
Now, in case I didn't make myself clear enough with all my harping, I would highly recommend that you check these authors out if ever you have the reading time and/or curiosity to do so. You just might come away finding a new author to love – and a role model for any of your own writing aspirations. I know that these Australian authors have become guides and beacons for my own writing. . .and I hope that they will continue to inspire readers across all oceans for years to come.
Are there any other notable or memorable Australian young adult books that are favorites of yours that I have failed to mention (or, more likely, haven't even discovered yet)? The Book Lantern is always on the look-out for new books to devour and love, so please feel free to leave a comment if you have a recommendation!