Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Literary Treasures from the Land Down Under

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!


  1. Juliet Marillier is a fabulous Australian author! She writes beautiful fairy tale retellings with a Celtic flair. Heart's Blood (Beauty and the Beast retelling) is one of her most popular books.

    Go Aussie authors!

  2. geezus! Way to mention every single one of my favourite Aussie authors, now i have nothing to leave in the comments! A million yeses to Marchetta, Zusak, and Jaclyn Moriarty. I really adored Lucy Christopher's writing in Stolen too. love the post!

  3. You already mentioned Garth Nix, but I'd like to point him out again, just for the sake of it. "Sabriel", now that I think about it, might just be the first YA book I read and what an initiation that was!

  4. I didn't know he was Australian. He writes fantasy doesn't he?

  5. Juliet Marillier is definitely fabulous! (I adored Heart's Blood -- though it's the only book I've read from her thus far. I must remedy that soon.) With all the fairy tale-esque fantasies she has written, she definitely is a household name right alongside Nix and Carmody! :)

  6. Thank you for mentioning Marchetta although I don't know how you'd be able to write a post without including her! ;)

  7. I'm so glad you mentioned Margo Lanagan - her books and stories are exactly as you said - haunting and lingering and just simply stunning. She has long been a treasured favourite of mine.

    I would also have to echo the thoughts of other comments - Juliet Marillier has also carved a lovely little niche for herself with Aussie YA/ fantasy.

  8. You forgot Sonya Hartnett, the best of them all and winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

  9. I loved The Book Thief! (Though I never knew the author was Australian.)

  10. You had me at "most of my favorite authors are Australian".

    You had me at that.

    I'm and Aussie, and I came here from Persnickety Snark, and have just added this blog to my Favorites - with taste like this, I can tell it's great.

    If I had to pick one author to read for the rest of my life, it would be a toss-up between Garth Nix and Margaret Mahy - who is technically a New Zealander, but Australians don't let facts get in the way.

    As well as the Old Kingdom trilogy, Garth has written the Keys to the Kingdom series. There are seven books, and they are best-suited for middle grade readers (which is upper primary school, lower secondary school here). They are an alternate world, where a young boy becomes part of a quest to carry out the last will and testament of The Architect, the creator of Earth, and lots of other places too, including The House, whose Denizens are tasked with watching and recording the lives of the people on Earth.

    Margaret Mahy is just amazing and is really prolific. My favorite book of hers is The Changeover, a story about a young girl who recognizes a boy at her school as a witch, and has to decide whether to join him to save her brother's life. Thrilling! She also does beautiful short stories, many of which are magical and excellent to read out loud to kids at bedtime. She did a few collections which are for specific ages - they were all called something like 'A Chest-ful of Stories for Seven-year-olds'. They're great too.

    Oh, I'm just so delighted with the people you picked, and I'd heard so much about Stolen, but you've prompted me to search out a copy and read it myself, although I'm sure I'll be creeped out. But that's what the best books do, isn't it? They get into your head and your heart.

    Thanks so much for this great post, I'll be checking back often to read archives and more!

  11. Another Aussie here popping over from Persnickety Snark, and following. Great post :-) I highly recommend reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey - utterly brilliant. Much like The Book Thief I'm not sure it's really appropriate to call it YA, but the protagonist is a child so that seems to be the defining factor. Kate McCaffery is another brilliant author who writes for teens, I highly recommend checking her work out too.

  12. As a long-term lurker (and Australian YA aficionado) I love EVERYTHING about this post. I want to hug it! I wanted to add in a couple of recommendations, though.

    John Marsden's books are amazing, and it's always really surprised me that he never made it across the ocean. They're very gritty and explore quite controversial themes, but he always handles them responsibly. He's most well-known for the Tomorrow series, which imagines that Australia has been invaded and a group of teenagers form the main resistance to the invading force. Rather than glorifying war, however, it focuses on how war destroys the lives of ordinary people, and was apparently written basically in reaction to all the horrible things going on in East Timor and elsewhere (in the 90s) and the fact that people in Australia didn't seem to care. He also said he wrote it because he was tired of hearing people say how teenagers were lazy and deliquents and so on, and wanted to show how teenage characteristics (idealism, strong friendships, adaptability) could be heroic. What I loved about these books, growing up, was how popular they were. I'm not exaggerating when I say they were bigger than Harry Potter, and when a new book came out, we'd all be speculating about who'd die, what would happen and so on. I was a bookish teenager, and none of my friends were, and it meant so much to me to have books that I could discuss with them.

    He practises what he preaches. He used to be a teacher in a posh boys' school and wrote his first novel basically because he felt that none of the books they were reading were engaging. He criticises the Australian school system a lot and set up his own alternative school in the Australian bush. I think he's amazing.

    I also would recommend the science-fiction works of Gillian Rubinstein (especially Space Demons, Skymaze and Shinkei, which are a trilogy, and Galax-Arena and Foxspell) and Victor Kelleher (Parkland, Earthsong and Fire Dancer in particular). They're just so ambitious, especially Kelleher, in what they write about. I've never encountered an SF book aimed at adults that tackled as difficult or complex ideas as Kelleher.

    Randa Abdel-Fattah is also great. She writes books that are sort of like Muslim versions of Looking For Alibrandi, and she's absolutely hilarious.

    Sorry to rave on, I just really love Australian YA and it's rare that I find someone who's not Australian who's encountered it.

  13. Almost all my faves have been mentioned here. But there's a few I'd like to add. David Metzenthen has written some brilliant books that I recommend you check out, including Boys of Blood and Bone, Falling Forward and Jarvis 24. A newish writer on the scene is Dee White and I can highly recommend her book Letters to Leonardo, released in 2009. Marianne de Pierres writes for both adults & YA across a range of genres and her latest YA offering, Burn Bright, is definitely one to pick up. I loved Aboriginal Australian writer Belinda Jeffrey's Brown Skin Blue and if you haven't read any of Alyssa Brugman's work you are definitely missing out on some excellent Aussie YA. There are probably more but that's probably enough to keep you going for now. cheers, Maree

  14. I love so many of these authors. I'm so glad their books came to the States! My favorite Australian author you missed: Juliet Marillier. I love fairytale fantasies, and while most of Marillier's books are adult fantasy (including my favorite of her novel's, Heart's Blood, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast), she does have two YA titles. The first is Wildwood Dancing, based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses (my favorite fairytale, um, ever) and a companion novel, Cybele's Secret, which just came out in paperback.

  15. I just saw this thread. I just posted about Marilier (and Heart's Blood) myself! :)

    Even if you don't read adult fantasy, check out her two YA novels!

  16. Markus Zusak is definitely worth a read! I used to work in a secondary school library and one year, we didn't agree with the results of the CBC Book of the Year Awards, so we put a "Librarians' Choice" award up for The Messenger. That's a fantastic book.

    I'm rather fond of James Moloney's Black Taxi, too, although I haven't read any of his other books.

    Catherine Jinks is worth adding to the list. A couple of her books aren't quite up to par, but the rest are great, especially her Pagan series.

    And even though she's from New Zealand, I have to add Margaret Mahy to the list because everyone should read at least one of her books.

    P.S. I was directed here by Dolorosa on LJ and I really enjoy the way you write. Your blog is definitely going into my google reader as soon as I've posted this comment.

  17. what a BRILLIANT post!

    All my fave authors are Aussie :)

    My top 5 (who are long time faves of mine ~ been publishing for over a decade) are Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Sonya Hartnett (OMG she's brillliant), Steven Herrick and John Marsden.

    My newer absolute faves include Kirsty Eagar, Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood, Gabrielle Williams & Laura Buzo. All shine very very bright :D

  18. Thank you, thank you, thank you for mentioning John Marsden. He was essentially my god during my teen years when I first discovered him. It's always made me sad that no one overseas has really heard of him, because all of his novels deserve recognition. Letters to the Inside is still one of my favourite books to this day. :D

  19. You have no idea how much I love you for writing this blog post. I'm a Sydney girl, and so many of the authors you mentioned were ones I grew up reading.

    Even now, when people ask me to rec YA books there are three series that I immediately recommend before any others: Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield series (I adore Feeling Sorry for Celia), Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles and John Marsden's Tomorrow series (the only one of my fav authors that you didn't mention).

    If you haven't read any of John Marsden's books you should check them out. He is such an amazing writer, and he deals with each of his subject matters so well. If I can one day be even half the writer he is, I will be satisfied. :)

  20. I was just ging comment that Juliet Marillier wasn't  mentioned! I LOVE her books, she's my all time favourite author, and nothing has managed to push Daughter of the Forest off the top of my favourties list! (and I've read alot!) :-D Everyone has to read her books!!!!