What is Aus YA?
A brief YA history
Young Adult fiction (YA) refers to books written for teens and young adults, but the readership varies pretty widely. Plenty of 20-and-30-somethings like myself absolutely love it (and probably your mum!).
Australian or Aus YA is a rich tapestry of stories written by local authors. It tends to explore the Australian context and landscape through social, cultural, political, religious and historical lenses. However, the Australian-ness of these stories isn’t always obvious. Many of them are set in strange fantasy lands and eerie dystopian futures.
These days, Aus YA is a hugely varied and ever-expanding genre. It continues to push boundaries, with Aussie authors delving into new and experimental forms, writing styles and themes, and receiving international acclaim for their work.
Happily, more and more Aus YA authors hail from diverse backgrounds, supported by the #LoveOzYA, #QueerAusYA and #WeNeedDiverseBooks literary movements. To find out more about diverse books and queer Aus YA, I highly recommended checking out the great resources on the #LoveOzYA and Get YA Words Out websites.
Aus YA first emerged in the 1970s, but it wasn’t formally recognised until the ’80s. In 1982, the Children’s Book Council of Australia introduced the first award for ‘Book of the Year: Older Readers’, which still exists today. Prior to this, there was no distinction between children’s fiction and teen fiction.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the rising popularity of John Marsden (the Tomorrow series, Ellie Chronicles), Isobelle Carmody (the Obernewtwyn Chronicles, The Gathering) and Melina Marchetta (Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca) brought Aus YA into the spotlight.
In the Western world, YA probably first emerged in the mid-1800s in the USA (think Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn). In the 1950s, novels such as J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies became classic tales of dysfunctional youth (not much has changed!).
YA became more ‘official’ in the 1960s and ’70s. One of the first American YA novels to be published was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967), which contained themes of poverty, class divide, tribalism and mateship.