CBCA Older Readers Short List: Waer, Yellow & Frankie

There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.

Overview

Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.

Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.

In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.

Waer by Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)

Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.

There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.

War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.

Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.

Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)

Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.

The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.

Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.

Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…

Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)

Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.

Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).

The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.

There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.

Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.

The other three shortlisted books are:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.

Readers can explore a related Virtual Letter Library http://loveozya.com.au/love/the-letter-library/ .

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn (UQP) was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner award.

Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.

Why You Need To Read Yellow by Megan Jacobson

I was ridiculously excited to read Yellow by Megan Jacobson.  Because a) ghosts, b) beachy Aussie setting, and c) the promise of a 14-year-old having a mid-life crisis. Sounds like my kind of book completely. And it was BRILLIANT. Which brings me to list some important reasons you need this book in your life.

Before we jump to it, here is a brief glimpse of what the story is about!

 

9780143573333If fourteen-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now, then it doesn’t bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth. Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She’ll prove who murdered him almost twenty years ago if he makes her popular, gets her parents back together, and promises not to haunt her. But things aren’t so simple, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.

 

1. Kirra is a fantastically relatable protagonist.

Kirra is definitely the kind of protagonist you can easily root for! She’s 14 and small and spindly and struggles to fit in with her “friends” at school. Plus, on top of that, she has an alcoholic mother and an oblivious father. Nobody cares about Kirra. IT’S HEARTBREAKING. And her character development?! It is phenomenal. I love how she matured over the story.

 

“I’m still shy,” I admit, pulling the sleeves over my hands, “and I might always be, I don’t know, but I think you can be shy and still feel okay about yourself at the same time.”

 

2. It excellently blends realistic contemporary with a smidge of paranormal.

Kirra “meets” this ghost (Boogie) in a phonebox (that shouldn’t be working). He is a big part of the story because Kirra is running around trying to solve the mystery of his murder. BUT! It’s not heavily paranormal. She’s struggling with school and bullies and just life in general. So if you’re not a huge paranormal fan, this book is still for you! It honestly reads like a contemporary, but I thought the ghost-aspect made it just that little bit more special.

 

 

3. It’s brutally honest at times.

Kirra is poor. Her parents are on welfare, her dad’s run off with another woman but is still living in town, her mother never. stops. drinking. It’s really SAD. I absolutely ached for Kirra. The book doesn’t shy away from saying that life is not all sunshine and rainbows for some kids.

 

4. The writing is gloriousness.

It’s very visual and punchy and cleverly written. Plus it easily put me in the shoes of a fourteen year old. (Aka: NO ONE LIKES BEING 14.) As an older reader, sometimes I find younger YA irritating? Definitely not so here. Plus there was one instance, towards the beginning, that had me SHRIEKING with pain. How dare you be so mean to me, book, agh. And the ending is solidly well done. LOVE IT!

 

5. Plus the Australianness was entirely refreshing.

loved the surfing and beachy vibes and the nod towards how multicultural Australia is! Everyone talked so naturally and easily that it honestly felt like a REAL story with REAL people. And this is only the author’s debut?! Sign me up for everything she writes ever.

 

Do not define me by my gender or my socio-economic status, Noah Willis. Do not tell me who I am and do not tell me who society thinks I am and then put me in that box and expect me to stay there. Because, I swear to God, I will climb the hell out of that box and I will take that box you’ve just put me in and I will use that box to smash your face in until you’re nothing more than a freckly, bloodied pulp.”

 

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