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17 Aussie YA Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once

Classic stories you can enjoy at any age.

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Begin, End, Begin is a new short story anthology dedicated entirely to Australian Young Adult literature.

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The book was born out of the #LoveOzYA movement - a community of readers, writers, and publishers dedicated to producing, supporting, and promoting local stories. It began after a survey by the Australian Library and Information Association found the most-borrowed YA books in Australia were dominated by American imports.

Danielle Binks, the editor of Begin, End, Begin, says the anthology is all about showing that Aussie YA is just as good as anything coming out of the US. "Our aim was to showcase how versatile Australian YA authors are ... and to show that Australian literature is a lot more expansive than it’s often given credit for."

In the spirit of #LoveOzYA, we asked Danielle to share with us her top picks of Aussie YA everyone should definitely read (after Begin, End, Begin, of course):

1. On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

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"Marchetta has a seriously impressive backlist of books ... But my pick is still On The Jellicoe Road as a must-read.

Marchetta is one of my favourite authors of all time, and I legitimately think On The Jellicoe Road is nothing short of a masterpiece. Even now, the industry doesn’t seem to fully appreciate what a finely crafted piece of literature this is – but in years to come, I’m absolutely certain it will be recognised and revered as a modern-day classic. If I can quote a line from the novel to summarize my feelings; 'I fall in love with these kids over and over again and my heart aches for their tragedies and marvels at their friendship.'"

2. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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"Randa Abdel-Fattah is one of Aussie YA’s best and brightest authors, and has been for a while. Does My Head Look Big In This? was first published in 2005, but it is still – as it was then – a timely, seriously funny, and sensitive observation of a very big topic ... The book explores everything; from faith and bullying, to resilience and romance – but overall it’s a beautiful representation of the world Aussie teens are growing up in right now, and wonderfully reflective of their communities."

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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"Technically in Australia, Markus Zusak’s bestselling phenomenon was marketed as General Fiction, but in the US, it was sold as YA ... I’ve seen how the young adult community embraces this novel– which is why it’s thoroughly #LoveOzYA for me ... The Book Thief is not an easy book to love, because it will literally break your heart – but it’s a book with a necessary and important message to tell, and to this day I can’t think of a more perfectly crafted parting line than; 'I am haunted by humans.'"

4. Laurinda by Alice Pung

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"I think plenty of adult readers will be familiar with Alice’s older books – Her Father's Daughter and Unpolished Gem among them – but I really hope that readers of all ages find their way to her first young adult book, Laurinda, too.

Alice often talks and writes about what an impact authors like Robin Klein, Ruth Park and John Marsden had on her reading life – and how their YA books shaped her as an author too. I think the YA Alice writes now is a tough but tender modern ode to their legacy of honesty when writing for teen readers."

5. Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

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"All of Ruth Park’s novels are iconic and beloved classics (Swords and Crowns and Rings is another hands-down favourite!), but Playing Beatie Bow was one of the first Aussie YA books I can remember reading and feeling genuinely proud that it was so iconically Australian. To this day, I can’t visit Sydney without making a trip to the gorgeous stone laneways of The Rocks, and half expecting to see 'furry girl' Beatie Bow round every cobbled corner … Sydney really is another character in this book, and Ruth Park infuses the city with a magic and history that has been dearer and realer to me than any school lesson on colonial Australia."

6. Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

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"Dreaming of Amelia is the final book in Moriarty’s (and, yes – that’s Jaclyn – sister to Liane Moriarty of Big Little Lies fame!) ‘Ashbury/Brookfield’ series of four books that ends with Amelia (called The Ghosts of Ashbury High in America).

The entire series is brilliant and inspired – not least for all the creative ways that Jaclyn Moriarty weaves complex and compelling teen tales around things like notes left on the fridge between a mother and daughter, or a student’s English essay on the Gothic Horror genre … but I particularly love Dreaming of Amelia because there’s a mysterious teen romance at the heart of this novel, that is at once fuelled by gossip and high school urban legendry, but is also a modern-day head-nod to the classic Gothic genre (it’s like an Aussie Emily Brontë-does-YA take!)."

7. Came Back To Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein

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"Most people would probably put Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley on this list – and that’d be a fair call (controversial opinion: I actually loved the 2005 movie adaptation starring Delta Goodrem and I will defend it with my last breath!). But I think Klein’s 1989 novel Came Back to Show You I Could Fly is the more necessary Aussie YA read ... Angie remains one of the best female characters I’ve ever encountered in YA, because Klein wrote her with so many cracks and complexities. She’s imperfect, but the compassion you feel for her is the most invaluable take-away from the book."

8. Tomorrow, When The War Began by John Marsden

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"The premise is pretty intense; A group of teenagers return from a camping trip to find themselves in the middle of an unexpected war. Among only a few Australians still free, they must learn to defend themselves against the hostile invaders.

What I love about this is – depending on world politics at the time (and right now, it feels particularly possible) – the book swings back around in popularity and still feels so contemporary for how Marsden hits on our fears and international insecurities. It’s not revelling in some deep and dark nationalistic/jingoistic underbelly either – just the opposite – it’s about the destruction and senselessness of war, and how young people are often the ones who have to pay for it."

9. Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

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"Please take a moment to appreciate that when Isobelle Carmody published the first book in her Obernewtyn Chronicles series in 1988, she was just 16 years old ... It’s got all the thematic-outsider tension of the mutants from X-Men, but with delicious high-fantasy sensibilities. Obernewtyn and the Chronicles are a speculative love-letter to anyone who lives on the periphery, and teens today are beyond lucky that they can now read the entire finished series in one-sitting, without having to wait nearly 10 years between books four and five!"

10. Sabriel by Garth Nix

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"Garth Nix and his long-running Old Kingdom / Abhorsen series started in 1995, and much like Carmody’s Obernewtyn, it went a long way to defining Aussie YA as an out-of-this-world, genre-bending tour-de-force on the international stage ... Teens who love Game of Thrones will adore this series – and will especially love the fact that the author has an extensive backlist to fall into!"

11. Mandragora by David McRobbie

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"If I say the word 'mandrake' the first thing that will come to a lot of people’s minds is a vision of Professor Sprout, teaching her Herbology students how to pot young Mandrakes in Harry Potter … but in David McRobbie’s 1991 horror/fantasy novel, possessed mandrake dolls wreak havoc on the residents of a seaside town.

This book beautifully plays up Australia’s maritime history and eerie Victorian coastal landscape, to tell a duel-narrative set in the past and present – of a cursed town, and a wronged woman ... this is like an Australian YA version of a Stephen King paranormal horror, or Lois Duncan horror-mystery."

12. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

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"There is so much contemporary Aussie YA that I could point to as MUST-READS (anything by Will Kostakis, Simmone Howell, Vikki Wakefield, Gabrielle Tozer, Fiona Wood, Steph Bowe, Melissa Keil … the list is endless) but because I have to, I’ll recommend just one in Cath Crowley.

Graffiti Moon was Crowley’s fifth novel and second stand-alone YA – it’s a duel-narrative novel set over the course of one night, following a girl called Lucy who is determined to find her mysterious favorite street-artist Shadow, and a guy called Ed who is trying to avoid making one giant mistake that could ruin his life, more than it already is. This is a gorgeous young adult romance, but what really elevates it is Cath Crowley’s voice."

13. Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

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"There may be some debate as to whether Sonya Hartnett writes YA or adult fiction … but the confusion generally stems from some people’s unwillingness to believe that 'literary fiction' exists within the YA readership. For anyone who doesn’t think YA is capable of being dark, complex and literary – I’d like to gift them a Sonya Hartnett novel, and this Sonya Hartnett novel in particular. 'I am dying: it’s a beautiful word. Like the long slow sigh of a cello: dying. But the sound of it is the only beautiful thing about it.'"

14. Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson

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"Published by Magabala Books - Australia's oldest independent Indigenous publishing house – Grace Beside Me is set in 2008, and follows a year in the life of Fuzzy ‘Fuzzy Mac’ McCardell. Not only is this Fuzzy’s final year of high school, it’s also the year of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples.

I think Grace Beside Me is one of the most profound and stunning examples of what Aussie YA can, and should be – more inclusive, representative and critical of our society. To read about the year of Rudd’s ‘Sorry’ through the eyes of fictional teenager Fuzzy – and how that acknowledgement of Australia’s atrocious history has repercussions on her family, some of whom were directly affected by the Stolen Generation – it’s a stark reminder of how little there is in our pop-culture that’s based around this momentous moment in our history."

15. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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"I want to include this one – not only because Illuminae could provide a direct connection for Australia to Brad Pitt (who is set to adapt the movie) – but because I think Amie and Jay’s series is a great snapshot of how Aussie YA is growing and adapting on the international stage.

Not only has this sci-fi series broken the mould in giving the genre an epistolary novel, told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents ... But Illuminae is examining megacorporations and war, and is asking young readers to think about who they can trust when the unreliable narrator in the story may just be the government itself (sound unsettlingly believable? Even for a series that’s set in outer-space?)."

16. Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

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"Summer Skin has a lot of heart, but even more backbone. It's the opposites-attract love story of a neo-riot grrl and a rugby-playing sexist pig, that offers a whip-smart exploration of both female desire and slut-shaming, set on an all-too-familiar college campus.

This isn't just one of the best YA romances I've ever read - it's one of the best romances, period. If there are two readerships that bear the brunt of literary snobbery more, it's probably young adults and romance readers - but I think Kirsty's Summer Skin would put any nay-sayers in their place, and have anyone who disavows romance and YA (or a YA romance) seriously rethinking their ignorant stance."

17. Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

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"'Singing My Sister Down' was published in 2004, in Lanagan’s first collection of short stories called Black Juice ... Over the years, the short story has developed a bit of a cult following, purely for its written finesse and heart-clutching conclusion. So popular and revered is this short story of Lanagan’s, that her publisher has released a new collection with 'Singing' as the titular tale – along with ten more of her most celebrated short stories, and three new ones.

All of Lanagan’s backlist is absolutely necessary reading – particularly the Printz Honour book Tender Morsels and selkie story Sea Hearts – but her short story collections are especially magical, and will show teenagers all that there is to love about the form."

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