24 Nov 2015

Dive Into Diversity: OzYA Recs

Diversity in lit is taking strides. We’ve seen some great titles released just this year and it’s a movement that is still going strong since We Need Diverse Books was launched in 2014. But here in Australia, there is still a gaping hole when it comes to diversity and we still have a way to go. I’ll be the first admit that Australian authors are some of the best, but this is one area where we need to improve on. Aussie authors including Ambelin Kwaymullina, Sarah Ayoub, Rebecca Lim and Gabrielle Wang have previously spoken about this issue. Book reviewer Danielle Binks has also written posts on the subject, hearing from Erin Gough and Eli Glasman.

We’re having conversations and getting people thinking, and that’s a great place to start. In the mean time however, we have some brilliant diverse titles published and we need to do our bit by supporting the books we do have at our fingertips. So today I’d like to welcome my good friend Rachel (blogger @ The Tome Travellers) to the blog, who has a list of awesome recommendations to share with you all. Get your TBRs and wallets ready and don’t forget to link up you reviews below. Happy reading!

P.S. Attention Int'l friends: If you're having trouble finding these, Fishpond ships internationally, so you can shop to your hearts content! (I am a terrible enabler...but supporting the Aussie industry. I'm sure it all balances out.)
Whisper by Chrissie KeigheryAugust 2011
Whisper is about a teenager, Demi, who went profoundly deaf about 18 months prior to where her story starts off. I can’t even remember why I decided to read it, but I’d never read a book about deafness before and I wanted to fix that. I’m so glad I did, because I was so invested all the way through and it makes me sad that this book is so underrated. It’s a moving story about Demi navigating all the things teenagers struggles with – there’s some family and friend issues that are beautifully dealt with - and coming to accept herself as a deaf person and realising that it’s not a bad thing, it’s just who she is now. I really, really liked it (in fact, writing this little paragraph right now is making me want to re-read it something fierce) and I think it’s a perfect candidate for the quietYA hashatag. Chuck it on your TBRs, please and thank you.

Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson - 2012
Fuzzy McCardell ‘Fuzzy Mac’ is an aboriginal girl being raised by her grandparents in the small country town of Laurel Dale. Her story starts off in the year 2007, the year of Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the stolen generation. So while I personally didn’t connect to the story all that much, I loved Fuzzy. Her voice was so unique and fresh – I adored her observations and descriptions of the people in her life, the quirky and unique people of Laurel Dale. In fact, I’d say the final page of this book is probably the best final page I’ve read all year, so I want you all to read it, and experience it for yourselves.

** Nona and Me by Clare Atkins was published this year, but as it’s told from the perspective of a white girl living in an Aboriginal community, I thought Grace Beside Me was more appropriate for this post as it’s written by an Aboriginal woman with an Aboriginal MC.

Alex As Well by Alyssa BrugmanJan 2013
Alex is a 15 yr old who was born with both female and male parts. Her parents chose to raise her as a male but she has always felt like a girl. After an incident at her current school, she decides to start fresh in more ways than one - she moves to a different school and also starts dressing as a female. It’s been a few years since I read this book now, and I’ll be honest when I say it wasn’t one I loved. I liked and enjoyed it at the time, but much of the story has faded from my memory and I don’t know if I want to read it again (please keep in mind this is only how I feel – other bloggers I know loved it). I want you, dear reader, to read it though, because it features an intersex MC. I’ve never EVER read a YA featuring one, which only emphasises that we NEED books featuring MAIN characters that are representative of every sexuality that LGBTQIA encompasses. I believe Alex As Well has been published in the US and it’s of course available in Australia, so please seek it out and read it, it’s an important one.
The Boy’s Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew by Eli Glasman - July 2014
As you might guess from the title, Yossi, our MC, is Jewish. He’s also gay and desperately doesn’t want to be. Mix that with Yossi meeting Josh, the new, not-very-religious (and also gay) boy at his school and you will get thoroughly sucked into this endearing YA story about a boy figuring out how his sexuality fits into his faith and vice versa. Although I know next to nothing about Judaism and I was a little confused at times, I ended up devouring this book in one day (it’s in no way preachy, by the way, more that it’s just a lot of information to take in) and I’m so happy that this book exists because it’s a book about sexuality and faith, particularly Jewish faith and again, it’s something I’ve never seen in YA. I want everyone to know about this book and I feel like so few do (both in Australia and internationally) and that frustrates the hell out of me. So if you’re reading this, please, GET YOUR HANDS ON IT HOWEVER POSSIBLE AND START READING IT NOW.

Laurinda by Alice PungNovember 2014
Lucy is a Vietnamese-Australian teenager growing up in the relatively poor suburb of Stanley in Melbourne. At age 15, she is granted a scholarship to an exclusive private school for girls, Laurinda, and is drawn into the world of the elite upper class and into the web of the Cabinet, a trio of girls who rule the school. So essentially, Laurinda is an exploration of class and racial prejudice; it’s about Lucy existing in an environment where people constantly seek to remind her that she is lesser/doesn’t belong because of where she lives and who her parents are, and it’s so well done. I enjoyed the interesting format – the book is split into the four school terms and it reads like Lucy is writing a series of letters to her friend, Linh. Two other things:
1. If you’ve read Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers - for me, Laurinda brought back some of those feels.
2. There is no romantic element, which I find to be so rare in YA these days (not saying there’s anything wrong with romance in YA, of course, because I can’t live without romance in my YA).

The Flywheel by Erin Gough - February 2015 
Okay basically what you need to know about this book is that it has A LESBIAN MC. Do you know this is the first lesbian MC I’ve come across in Aus YA and it’s 2015? THAT IS TERRIBLE. I mean, I’m sure there is others, it’s just that I haven’t read them/come across them yet (Bec did tell me about Pink by Lili Wilkinson when we were discussing this) but holy lesbians in Aus YA, Batman, we need more of them. Anyway. This book is so, so charming and adorable and sweet and funny (I loved the Marx Brothers references) and is essentially everything you want in a contemporary YA. It’s about Del, who has an all-consuming crush on Rosa, a flamenco dancer from across the street. She basically drops out of high school after being bullied and ends up running her Dad’s café, The Flywheel, when he decides to stay away longer than planned on an overseas trip. Chaos ensues. I think one of the things that’s so great about The Flywheel is that Del is already out and comfortable with who she is. That’s important for queer teen readers to read, just as reading about characters that are still struggling with their sexuality and identifying with them in that way, is. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I believe it’s being published in the US next so year so if you come across it, please please please read it.

Cloudwish by Fiona WoodSeptember 2015
Vân Uoc is a Vietnamese-Australian teenager attending Crowthorne Grammar school on a scholarship. She’s a dreamer. She dreams about making it into an arts school and Billy Gardiner. She makes a wish. And suddenly, Billy starts to notice her. Is it magic? Can wishes really come true? I can’t decide which of her three books my favourite is, but I think it’s this one? And to be honest, it’s hard for me to properly articulate why I loved it so much. I think a lot of it comes from how much I adored Vân Uoc and the achingly real portrayal of first love Cloudwish explores. I was surprised at myself actually, because I was well and truly swept away on a wave of FEELINGS (and normally. my cynicism butts in and ruins things). I love that Fiona wrote a book with Vân Uoc as our MC, because I absolutely loved her voice. Trust me when I say that you want this book in your life and you want it in your life NOW.

Other books that deserve a mention: 

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