It started back in November.
At the 2012 YALSA YA Lit Symposium (another fine year at the Sympoisum, let me add! I’ve been to all three. I’ve loved, learned, and networked at all three more than any other professional event I’ve ever attended. Oh, and I’ve presented at every one too! I am double plus excited it’s happening every year now. Rock on, YALSA.) the very first program I attended was Globalize Me! Young Adult Literature from Outside the U.S. presented by Catherine M. Andronik and Adele Walsh. The first time I heard the title, I thought it was going to be about all global literature for teen (which I am totally interested in, by the way. Do teens in Japan also read paranormal books? Does YA lit exist in other countries the way it does here? And long-time readers know of my deep affection for Canadian YA/middle grade.) but reading the description I saw a specific mention of Australia as the focus which was ALSO interesting to me, since there seems to be so many amazing YA books coming out of Australia.
LITTLE DID I KNOW THE AMAZINGNESS THIS PROGRAM WOULD BRING INTO MY LIFE.
Catherine Andronik spoke first. She had a break-down of Australian (and foreign) winners of the Printz Medal/Honor. Frankly, until I’d seen it all laid out in her post, I hadn’t really thought about the percentages that way. (It also reminded me about the wonder that is One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke. Well done, 2008 Printz committee!) It was an interesting stat to think about and to really marvel that the Printz allows for international submissions – I’ve discovered some wonderful writers that way. Andronik is an academic doing research about this and I hope it gets published, I’d love to read it. After Adronik was Adele Walsh. Adele is the program coordinator for The Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria. Adele had come all the way from Australia to talk to us about the Australian publishing industry and, specifically, some of the authors being published in Australia who aren’t widely read or even published in America and the UK. How could I have known the amount of money Adele was going to cost me in Australian shipping costs? HOW COULD I HAVE KNOWN!
Adele talked primarily about four authors: Gabrielle Williams, Vikki Wakefield, Leanne Hall, and Kirsty Eagar. Gabrielle has one book published in the US (Beatle Meets Destiny, 2009) and Vikki has one forthcoming. (Friday Brown, Simon & Schuster, 2013). Leanne Hall and Kirsty Eagar don’t currently have US publishing deals. Adele talked about the books that hadn’t been published in the US. Each one sounded fascinating to me. She booktalked:
- Vikki Wakefield’s All I Ever Wanted – an intense contemporary about a girl living with a drug dealing mother and trying not to become her.
- Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness – magical realism infused with urban fantasy and something unnameable, a truly disquieting and original book that takes big risks with form.
- Gabrielle William’s The Reluctant Hallelujah – about a girl who discovers family secrets she never imagined and falls in love while defending on a wild and dangerous cross-country road trip taken to protect an important religious icon that just happens to be… no, I just can’t say any more.
- Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue – the story of a young woman recovering from intense trauma through her love of surfing.
Adele talked about other titles and authors too, as well as the literary awards these authors had received. By the time Adele was done with her presentation I had a list a mile long of books I planned to order from Australia. (Thanks, Fishpond!) The plan was to start with the four she had booktalked … until I discovered Kirsty Eagar had a paranormal book called SALTWATER VAMPIRES. My friends, I am only human. No human can resist SALTWATER VAMPIRES. So, I ordered that one instead and before I’d even left the symposium, four books were on their way to me from Australia. Meanwhile, Adele insisted I also had to read Raw Blue, so I found it used on Amazon and it to my pile.
Now, I really liked all of the books Adele recommended. Honestly and truly. US Publishers, you need to hop on them right away. This is Shyness – I don’t even know WHAT that book was. I’ve never read ANYTHING like it. But it was awesome. All I Ever Wanted? You wouldn’t be able to booktalk it fast enough for your reluctant readers and fans of Ellen Hopkins. The Reluctant Hallelujah – is the soul-twin of Going Bovine and is perfect for your teens who love literary fiction with a little twist. I liked these books to the point where I’d buy them for my library and recommend them to my teens. But when it comes to Kirsty Eagar … I love Kirsty Eagar.
Saltwater Vampires is unlike any vampire book, any paranormal book period, I’ve ever read. Saltwater Vampires makes the brilliant and dark choice to use the wreck of the Batavia (a horrific true-life tragedy wherein survivors of a mutinied shipwreck descended into utter savagery and madness) as the centerpiece for its dark happenings. ONE reason this really works is because it imbues its villains with some genuine, deep-seeded menace.
Saltwater Vampires, through a sea of vampire books (teehee), managed to remind me why there is something elemental about horror, particularly YA horror. There is some bad shit out there, YA horror says, and the adults in this world might help or they might be behind it and this bad shit? It’s got fucking claws and it’s coming after you – and it can look just like the person you’ve been best friends with your whole life. It can look just like you.
Saltwater Vampires is a dark, violent, twisty horror novel full of surprises and boy, is it FUN. Yes, there are some more complicated, literary elements of it (the historical elements, lots of evocative descriptions of surfing, an Eagar hallmark) but make no mistake, it’s a page-turner that’s handily packed with blood, sex, raves, violence, and VAMPIRE SLAYING. Believe me, American teens would read that even if it uses slang and is set on the Western coast of Australia.
The second I was done tearing through Saltwater Vampires I started Raw Blue. Yet again, I had no idea what I was in for, because this book blew. me. away. Raw Blue is the story of Carly, who has dropped out of university, left her hometown and is “wasting her potential” by surfing all day and working at a restaurant. Readers know there’s something truly traumatic in Carly’s background and Eagar, in an unbelievably delicate and well-crafted way, lets readers into the full story of this trauma much in the way Carly might recall it; slowly and with no small measure of agony. This is not an easy book to read. But, God, it’s a rewarding one, an unforgettable one. This is a book that will stay for me for always, that makes me so glad I do what I do.
Look, Raw Blue needs to be published in America if for no other reason than I can shove it in the face of all those NEW ADULT people. Raw Blue, featuring a character who is out of high school, working a full-time job, healing after an intense trauma and, eventually, establishing a real relationship, is… STILL A YA NOVEL. It does not need another label, a NEW ADULT label, because it is a YA book – a YA book for mature and older teen readers, yes. A YA book with adult appeal, yes. But this book is a YA book in every way, the themes are YA themes: negotiating a relationship with your parents, taking shaky steps into a new kind of romantic relationship, and learning to define your identity on your own terms. Through and through, this is a YA book, a helluva YA book, an original and daring YA book, about a 20 year old and that’s that.
Kirsty Eagar has one other book, Night Beach. I have it all loaded up on my Kindle and ready to read and I’m sure it’s going to be just as stunning, ethereal, and original as her other two books. Yes, that’s the good news, Kristy Eagar’s three books are now all available for Kindle.
This is a good start, America! BUT US PUBLISHERS, YOU CAN DO SO MUCH MORE. Publish Kirsty Eagar’s books. Take a chance on them with US audiences. You want to find the next big thing in YA? Try looking a little farther afield. These books are something different, I won’t lie. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have teen appeal, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readable and awesome. They are different and that is glorious. Something different (something different that is also something GOOD) is how you avoid a glut in the market and declining reader interest. US PUBLISHERS, IT IS TIME: PUBLISH KIRSTY EAGAR’S BOOKS! Just pick one up and give it a read and I KNOW you’ll see in her work what I saw and, like I did, you’ll want to share her work with a wide American audience of readers.
As for me, Night Beach is my next to be read then it’s off to plot for a way to visit Australia and load up on books in person. . .