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It is times like this that Melbourne truly does feel like the city of literature. The entire city has been buzzing about books as festivals collide in and around the city. In the past week, we Booked Outers have been soaking up the literary rays of Reading Matters, The Emerging Writers Festival and the National Young Writers Month.
At an EWF event on Monday night authors Fiona Wood, Tim Pegler and CYL program coordinator Adele Walsh discussed YA fiction with author and blogger extraordinaire Andrew McDonald. There can be no doubt that young readers are reading voraciously when multiple city venues play host to the multitudes of local and visiting authors without missing a beat. At several events recently, the notion of ‘young’ readers has been raised. Why do we classify young adult as a genre unto itself? Does this somehow patronise a readership that is reading well-written, quality fiction and is attracting more and more adult readers?
Tim Pegler suggests that we ‘own’ the genre. A good if slightly controversial idea. Perhaps the YA genre is a way to classify books that are relevant, pacey, emotionally raw and often subversive rather than a way to knock back talented authors from the shelves holding ‘general fiction’ in bookshops. This line is blurred more frequently, especially with the introduction of ‘adult’ and ‘junior’ cover for the same book. Zoe Sadokierski’s brilliant session at Reading Matters looked at this and more, and she would know, having illustrated over 200 YA book covers. Perhaps the classification is unnecessary altogether as crossover titles find their way onto shelves and reading lists for readers of all ages. Reading Matters guest (and the visitor that inspires the ‘Marcus sigh’ when his name comes up in later conversation) Marcus Zusak is an excellent example, as ‘The Book Thief’ has grabbed readers from every age and background imaginable, making them talk excitedly about the power of the written word.
YA fiction is a place for vibrant role models to leap out from pages, encouraging all kinds of readers to identify with characters and explore the world around them between the safety of two covers. A “Damsels in Distress” panel at Reading Matters saw authors Lucy Christopher, Leanne Hall and Ursula Dubosarsky talking about their female characters. A prime example of fiction that can stand proud against many pieces written for ‘adults’, the work of these authors is built around characters that later become vibrant discussion points in classrooms and schoolyards.
YA authors know what readers want. How often do you hear an adult author say that they spent all night in the park (and getting asked by youths to pose as their mother and sign a tattoo permission form) to really get out of their comfort zone to identify with their characters? Cath Crowley can truly say that she knows what it is like to walk the streets of Melbourne now at night. The fact that many adults don’t read, read very little, read fluff, or read YA fiction (!) could be seen as a thumbs up from reader to writer. Perhaps it’s because they think about their audience and what they want from a book. This issue was discussed at the Reading Matters between Richard Newsome and Oliver Pommovanh and echoed in a similar discussion by panellists at the EWF on Monday.
So perhaps it’s time to give these authors the credit that they very well deserve, and admit that we all enjoy quality fiction, regardless of the shelf it’s placed on in the book shop.