Words || Pip Harry
I read young adult books voraciously, particularly our incredible local Australian #LoveOzYA books. At any given time, I’ll have 5-6 YA books on the go – from fantastical otherworldly tales, to gritty realism and light escapism. They all have something to teach me, not just as a writer, but as a person, too. Here are seven ways reading YA changes my life, and can transform yours too …
- Always question the status quo.
YA tends to ask big questions of its young audience. Why are things the way they are? Is it right? Can they be changed for the better? In this year’s breakout bestseller, The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas examines police shootings in America, inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. On the home front Megan Jacobson explores domestic violence in The Build Up Season, Take Three Girls by Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell and Cath Crowley looks at the impact of social media trolls, and Randa Abdel-Fattah’s When Michael Met Mina examines both sides of the refugee debate. If you’re looking for socially aware, challenging books, do what I do and head to your nearest YA section.
- Embrace being a weirdo.
YA has long been a love letter to misfits – and don’t we all need that affirmation that it’s okay to be different? In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, protagonist Charlie’s realisation he’s not the only oddball at his high school sets him free. Meanwhile Inky award nominated Frankie by Shivaun Plozza is set apart by refreshingly weird Frankie; a rage-filled, snarky teenage girl who refuses to fit in, while Creepy and Maud by Diane Touchell looks at two socially isolated teens who realise they’re not alone.
- Don’t put up with toxic friendships.
Sometimes it’s tough to recognise that our friends are emotionally draining and negatively impacting our lives. Thank goodness YA literature reinforces that it’s okay to end toxic friendships and put healthier ones in place. In Fiona Wood’s CBCA winning Wildlife, protagonist Sybilla must survive the wilderness, decide what to do with her twisted, poisonous friendship with Holly and discover if she can be true to herself. No prizes for guessing which path she takes in the woods.
- Unhappy? Change your life.
We all need a regular reminder that we have the power to change our own lives and the young adult novels I read do this frequently and ingeniously. Former friends Milo and Layla in Remind Me How This Ends couldn’t be more stuck in their small-town life, but Gabrielle Tozer’s beautiful novel unsticks them. By ditching their dead-end jobs and going nowhere relationships, they each find their happy ending.
- Do something bold and follow your dreams.
Taking a chance in life and following your heart is something YA characters do with aplomb. We could all take a cue from Kate in Take Three Girls who dreams of mixing her beloved cello with tech sounds instead of being the ‘good at science’ classically trained musician. She boldly chases a future that’s far from what’s expected of her and as a result, her life starts to sing. In Claire Zorn’s multi-award winning The Protected main character Hannah literally leaps into the deep end to start her life anew.
- One friendship can change everything.
YA stories often revolve around that one truly great friendship that can make a difference and it helps readers be more open to life-changing connections and magic people. When destructive teen Ava meets shy poet Gideon in Claire Christian’s Beautiful Mess, their friendship helps them overcome grief, anxiety and low self-esteem. In Cath Crowley’s Word’s in Deep Blue, former besties Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie start a new chapter in their relationship that mends Rachel’s broken heart.
- Embrace diversity and difference.
YA has embraced diversity in recent years, in part thanks to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices campaigns. If you’re looking for a more realistic version of the world in all its colours and flavours – YA books have you covered. In Steph Bowe’s gorgeous Night Swimming, country teen Kirby falls for mandolin playing Iris in an affirming gay relationship. Laurinda by Alice Pung examines being Asian in an intense private school setting, Becoming Kirrali Lewis looks at an indigenous teenager who takes on a law degree in Melbourne in the 1980s and Darren Groth examines disability in his novels Are You Seeing Me? and Exchange of Heart.
Pip Harry is a freelance editor, copywriter and author. UQP published Pip’s debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, which won the 2013 Australian Family Therapists’ Award for Children’s Literature and Head of the River, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature and longlisted for the State Library of Victoria Gold Inky award in 2015. She currently lives and writes in Singapore. She is author of Because of You (UQP), a book she hopes will change reader’s perceptions of the homeless community and what it means to find a true friend.