BY RHIANNON TOWELL
It is the genre that has grown dramatically since the dawn of Harry Potter and Twilight and has a reach far beyond its suggested age range. Young Adult (YA) literature has exploded in recent years, bringing us ‘blockbuster’ novels like The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent and The Maze Runner, and it all started with a boy wizard who lived in a cupboard under some stairs and a girl who fell in love with a vampire.
The genre has had such success that even a quick image search of the term ‘popular books’ produces a variety of YA novels. These novels have become so influential they now reach a host of readers well outside the 12-18 age range.
Amidst present times of drastic social change, however, the question has been raised: are YA books diverse enough? Beginning with a movement called We Need Diverse Books, in the USA, the call to address diversity in YA novels has evolved and become significant in the Australian literary world.
If you are a bookworm, who frequents bookstores and prides themselves on their masterful bookshelf, then you will probably notice that most dominating titles belong to authors from outside Australia, particularly the United States. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that Australian authors and their stories struggle to be heard over the likes of Suzanne Collins, John Green, Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, Stephenie Meyer and J.K Rowling.
Many Australian authors of diverse backgrounds, face the even greater struggle of getting published in the first place. While there are now numerous stories with diverse and unique characters, they are not as often written by authors who share the characters’ backgrounds. In a country as unique as ours, there should be no limit to the number of stories written and published by authors, no matter their origin, religion, sexuality or gender, in Australia.
In the USA, best-selling author Rick Riordan has taken a massive step in ensuring a wider variety of stories and characters are brought under the spotlight. His works, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard and The Trials of Apollo, have become prominent ambassadors of diversity in young adult literature. His unique characters, one a Chinese-Canadian Roman demigod with Greek ancestry, and humorous take on mythologies, including Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse, have cemented his acclamations as a young adult author.
Recently, Riordan announced his new imprint, or brand, with Disney-Hyperion, called Rick Riordan Presents. The imprint has arisen from the demands of adoring and persistent fans who can’t get enough of his diverse characters and endlessly entertaining worlds. Overwhelmed with requests to write more novels about other mythologies, Riordan has designed the imprint to enable up-and-coming authors the opportunity to share their takes and personal affinities with other mythologies and cultures. He announced the first three books to be published under the imprint, which centre on Hindu, Mayan and Korean histories, to be available from July 2018.
This push to have more diverse stories on the shelves, from a variety of unique authors has been driven into the Australian industry, too. LoveOzYa is a campaign devoted to young adult works. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion surrounding YA novels and promote Australian works to the local, and international market.
The campaign has made a point of its endeavours to shed light on all young Australian authors and their stories with the tag #LoveDiverseOzYa. Their web page, devoted to addressing social issues, lists several articles, reviews, book launches and suggested readings. Entirely focused on local readers and writers, the page highlights the diverse underworld of Australian literature.
While the plea for diversity in YA novels is being heard and, slowly but surely, books are welcoming a variety of characters from all backgrounds, there is still a need for Australian voices to be louder. Our bookstores are essentially dominated by titles from the USA and UK, which makes no difference to readers who love books for their stories, not their place of publication, but it’s time we give the Aussie industry a chance.
Bringing Australian authors into the spotlight will not only boost the local market but give aspiring and published authors, of all backgrounds, a greater chance to be heard. So, next time you’re in a bookshop or library, rummaging through those shelves, dig past the Number One Bestsellers and devour a few local stories instead.