I take my hat off to the real judges of the CBCA Book of the Year Awards.
Not just because they short-listed my Henry Hoey Hobson For Book of the Year for Younger Readers (though, let’s be honest, I LOVE them for that), but because they do such a difficult job, for little pay or thanks.
As a Qld Clayton’s judge, I managed to read less than half of the 95 books entered in the Older Readers category of this year’s Children’s Book Council Awards.
(Though in my own defence, I was given less than a month to do the job – thank the high heavens I’d already read ten before they asked me!)
The real judges read more than 400 books across four categories and then had to nut out Notables and Shortlists in each.
I enjoyed picking my Clayton’s Notable Books for Older Readers (the twenty-plus books that I thought were just terrific last year), but really struggled to decide the final six.
In the end it was a teenager’s plea that swayed me: “Pick some books that we might love, instead of the ones that oldies like you love.”
He had a point; I’m not 15 anymore. So in trying to be true to both myself and the intended audience, I went with the following six books because I loved them AND I couldn’t wait to press them into the hands of teenage readers.
Cath Crowley – Graffiti Moon
A lyrical, beautifully-crafted novel told seamlessly through three voices: Ed, a functionally illiterate high-school drop-out who moonlights as the mysterious graffiti artist Shadow; Lucy Dervish, the smitten teenager who is determined to track Shadow down; and Poet, the edgy wordsmith who is Shadow’s partner-in-crime.
The action unfolds over a single night at the end of Year Twelve, bringing to life the street art of Melbourne and illuminating the lives of its teenage protagonists. An invigorating read that proves art and poetry are definitely not too cool for school.
Anthony Eaton – Daywards.
This final instalment in Eaton’s Darklands Trilogy completes a landmark undertaking in Australian speculative fiction writing.
The landscape is evocatively Australian, a thousand years into a dystopian future, where the only hope for a dying world lies in the bloodlines of the few surviving descendants of its oldest inhabitants.
Dara, her brother Jaran, and cousin Eyna are ‘viable” members of their hunter-gatherer clan. With clan elder Ma Saria, the children flee the invading Nightpeople, by walking Daywards, into the deadly sunlight.
In their fight for survival, the children’s spiritual connection to the land is their only defence and greatest weapon against the technologically-driven survivors of the doomed Sky Cities.
This is political writing in the best tradition of science fiction, pitting a spiritual affinity with the land against the transgressions of technology and the contamination of nature.
While Daywards can be read as a stand-alone novel, this trilogy has been ten years in the making and cries out to be introduced to a new generation of readers.
AJ Betts – Wavelength
Oliver’s world has shrunk to the point where he can’t see past the 80 percent he needs to get into Uni with his mates.
But the study break he takes away from the noise and distraction of his Mum’s crunchy muffin business turns sour 300 kilometres from home.
He lands at the Sunny Haven Old People’s home without text books, clothes, phone, or money. The only person anywhere near his age hates him, nobody is on his wavelength, and his chances of achieving the all-important 80 percent seem to have disappeared with his luggage.
But somehow, between the incorrigible elderly and the girl he can’t impress, he learns what no text book can teach: life is long, choices are infinite, and there is always time to change your mind….
A must-read for teens stressing out over OPs and HSCs.
Cassandra Golds – The Three Loves of Persimmon
The shy and solitary Persimmon Polidori is an unlikely rebel.
Cast out by her family for favouring the frivolity of flowers over a more respectable career in vegetables, she labours alone, dreaming of love, in her heart-shaped florist shop on the top level of a vast underground railway station.
Five levels below, under the railway line to Platform One, a tiny mouse called Epiphany dreams of a world free of the rattle and screech of trains arriving and departing at six minute intervals.
They embark on their separate quests, not knowing that they are destined to meet in a life-changing encounter that will win them their hearts’ desires.
An exquisitely layered tale that will appeal to girls who appreciate the magical in life and reading.
Fiona Wood – Six Impossible Things
Fourteen-year-old nerd-boy Dan Cereill (pronounced surreal) has lost everything.
His family is bankrupt, his dad gay, his Mum is sabotaging her own wedding cake business by talking potential customers out of getting married, the new house is freezing, the new school a living hell, and then there’s the impossible crush on Estelle, the girl next door.
Dan sorts the whole unspeakable mess into something quantifiable; to make his life better he needs to achieve just six impossible things.
Fortunately, Dan Cereill is an anagram for Cinderella…And yes, there is a climactic dance scene, a midnight curfew, and unexpected helpers who come out of the woodwork to save Dan’s adorable dorky hide.
This fresh and funny reversal-of-fortune story about love and loneliness in Year 10 is perfect for early-to-mid secondary schoolers with undeniable appeal for older readers as well.
Melina Marchetta – The Piper’s Son
This stunning stand-alone book picks up the lives of a group of friends from Saving Francesca. It’s five years down the track, and this time it’s Tom Mackee who needs saving.
Tom has lost his way, seeking oblivion through drink and drugs. Trying to forget the London bombing that claimed his uncle’s life, trying to survive without the friends he has pushed away and a family torn apart by grief, alcoholism and loss.
His journey back from the edge is a heart-wrenching read, leavened with a warm humour and lovingly crafted by an author who understands the flaws and strengths of family and friendship, and how they weave a safety net capable of saving us all. Powerful and unforgettable, for mature readers.
And that’s my six. No doubt they will differ from your six in various important ways – and so they should. As Kate Grenville once wrote “Each of us brings our own experiences, memories and prejudices to a work of art and looks at it through that unique lens. We all read the same words…but we all see different things.’
[This is an abridged version of the talk I gave to celebrate the Qld CBCA Shortlist announcement at St Aiden's College on April 12. Please click here for a full list of CBCA Notable and Short Listed Books in the 2011 Book of the Year Awards.]