Do you love international YA literature? Kiwis do it just as well!

Since Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, people have become more aware of the quality of our local fiction. Which is amazing. But did you know that our YA fiction is of the same quality as much that is produced overseas? No? Well let me educate you about a few of our top YA novelists writing right now.

Trilogies and series’
First of all – trilogies and series’. Internationally, trends have driven our teens through magical boarding schools (Harry Potter), paranormal and vampires (Twilight), dystopias (The Hunger Games), and extreme political situations (Divergent). Note that not only did these trilogies sell incredibly high volumes, they have also become films.

cv_juno_of_tarisLet me begin with one of my favourites. Fleur Beale wrote an incredible trilogy from 2008, beginning with Juno of Taris, about the life of a girl who was born into an isolated island community. This community is under a bubble, to protect them from the environment which they are led to believe by their ruling elders has been polluted to unliveable standards. The book questions the accepted, it has a gutsy heroine, and it has just a glimmer of magic to boot. The three books are Juno of Taris, Fierce September, and Heart of Darkness (all published by Random House).

cv_dreamhunterIf you want magical realism (think Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Margaret Mahy), you cannot go past Dreamhunter / Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox. The world of Southland draws you in, and makes you feel like anything is possible. I remember reading this for the first time, and wishing so much that I was reading it aged 13 or 14, simply to be closer to what I was like then, ready to believe that dreams were catchable, that magic was real. This has more recently been supplemented with Mortal Fire (Gecko Press), which is itself due a sequel one day!

cv_the_crossing_tnMandy Hager writes trilogies and stand-alone books with equal aplomb. The trilogy that comes to mind as an excellent dystopia based on an extreme political situation, is ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ series. Composed of The Crossing, Into the Wilderness, and Resurrection, the trilogy is prefaced on a ‘last survivor’ cult that operates from a ship in the Pacific Ocean. The storyline covers racial inequality, political persecution, and other broad dystopian themes. It is hard-hitting, and wonderfully written.

Our own John Greens
In terms of stand-alone, issues-based novels, there are few hotter right now than John Green. With his abilities on social media, and his hard-hitting topics, he is a hard one to beat. But I would say that there are several of our very own authors who come close.

cv_see_ya_simonFor instance, David Hill. One of David Hill’s first massive publishing successes (in 1992) was See Ya, Simon, in which the narrator’s best friend is a boy with muscular dystrophy, who doesn’t have long to live. This book was picked up around the world, and has been translated into many languages. David has written around 30 YA titles, all with strong believable characters, dealing with recognisable teenage emotions and dramas. (Others I would recommend are Duet, and My Brother’s War).

cv_the_nature_of_ashMandy Hager also comes to mind when thinking about health issues, with books like The Nature of Ash, which sees a teenage boy struggling with caring for his Downs Syndrome-suffering brother, while navigating the apocalypse. More recently, Dear Vincent, deals head-on with death of a sibling; as does Anna Mackenzie’s The Shadow of the Mountain.

Let me also mention Kate De Goldi, with her crossover award-winner The 10pm Question. Also Penelope Todd, with the trilogy Watermark (still available in e-book format), which itself is faintly reminiscent of something more otherworldly, classic children’s trilogy The Halfmen of O, by Maurice Gee. While on the topic of Gee, let me just recommend the Salt Trilogy – it is rather wonderful.

Can you tell how much I love kiwi dystopian YA trilogies?

The Children and Young Adults’ Book Awards
WhenWeWake_CVR_128x198x21.5_FA.inddThe YA section of the New Zealand Children’s and Young Adults’ Book awards is always strong, and I always wonder how the judges can possibly choose a winner. This year, Karen Healey was one of the contenders. Healey is somebody you cannot fail to mention while discussing and recommending current kiwi YA fiction. Author of four books, two of which are part of the When We Wake trilogy, she is one to watch for her very real teenage voices. Pick it up.

If you like your YA set in the past, Tania Roxborogh and Anna Mackenzie are both ones to watch. Each have written broadly about teen themes, so they aren’t one-trick ponies, but I would recommend Banquo’s Son and the others incv_cattras_legacy Roxborogh’s trilogy for those who like their teenage problems with a 12th-century dramatic twist; while Mackenzie has two titles in the Cattra’s Legacy trilogy out so far, set in medieval times.

For action along the lines of Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series, but keeping it kiwi, you can’t go far wrong with Brian Falkner. He has been publishing great action books for teens for many years now, and is currently in the midst of a series called Recon Team Angel. One stand-alone that I must recommend, from a few years ago, is Brain Jack. I seem to remember reading it over a few hours when I got my hands on it. Another author to check out both current and past titles of along these lines is Ken Catran – he writes stand-alone books packed with drama and excitement.

The wonderful thing about writers of YA in New Zealand is that I haven’t met one I didn’t like. They are humble and generous, while writing these incredible books that transport teenagers all over New Zealand into different worlds. Let’s hope that the melding of Random House and Penguin doesn’t interrupt this incredible industry. Or perhaps it will prompt the creation of a new company: does anybody fancy starting a new publishing house dedicated to good-quality kiwi YA?

By Sarah Forster

People I haven’t mentioned, who are also worth looking up (i.e. I think this piece is long enough): Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else, R.L Steadman, David Hair, V. M Jones, Jack Lasenby, Ted Dawe, Joy Cowley, Adele Broadbent, Melinda Szymanik, Alison Robertson, Maryanne Scott, Sherryl Jordan (I loved her writing as a kid), and newcomer Rachael Craw. If there are more I have missed, please add your recommendations in the comments!

Book Review: Brave Company, by David Hill

Brave Company sees our main character, cv_brave_companya teenage naval recruit, travelling aboard a New Zealand naval vessel towards an increasingly hostile Korean War in 1952. Amongst his baggage is the intangible need to prove his worth. Worth that is both bolstered and challenged by a family tradition of bravery in the armed services.

Russel, the main character, lives with his mother, and the memory of an uncle who was a decorated war hero. Or was he? Did he die with honour? Or was he a coward? Russel finds evidence to convince him of the latter, so he joins the forces in part to reinstate the honour his uncle has destroyed. Russel is a young man with a point to prove.

Russel finds himself in foreign territory that he knows little about. He knows the enemy are communist and that the world needs to be saved from their power so he is willing to fight for freedom. Mostly, the role of this NZ navy ship is a support one, and little active fighting is encountered.  Which is a good thing, as Russel realises quickly how inexperienced and ill-prepared he really is.

When Russel finds himself in the midst of active warfare, he quickly learns the truth – the truth about his uncle, the enemy and himself.

Drawing on the “not everything is really as it appears” approach, David Hill has written a pacey story with action and adventure. Along the way, the readers will become attached to the characters, especially Russel, and his story will feel authentic and real. Readers can’t help but wonder why Russel and his NZ naval crew were even in this war, and about the fine line between cowardice and bravery, and between right and wrong.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Brave Company
by David Hill
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143307570

Book review: My Brother’s War – by David Hill

This book is in bookshops now

Two brothers, two stories, one war. David Hill’s new young-adult book My Brother’s War is a very cleverly written story about two New Zealand brothers’ very different views and experiences of World War One. William doesn’t wait to be conscripted; he enlists for the army, ready to fight for Mother England, proud to be doing his “bit against the Hun”. His younger brother Edmund is a conscientious objector to the war, and, when ordered to report for military training, refuses to do so. The book follows the two brothers on their divergent paths that sees them both ending up on the battlefield in France.

English teachers will love this book. It is well written, easily digestible, and has ample scope for class discussions and essay questions.

It’s been many years since I was in a high school classroom but I still vividly remember having to compare and contrast the jingoistic Rupert Brooke (“If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England”) and the traumatised war-weary Wilfred Owen (“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, …My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.”)

David Hill’s book fits neatly and naturally into such discussions. William’s excitement at being off on a great adventure quickly pales when faced with the horrors and realities of war. Edmund’s passionate refusal to follow military orders and be part of a killing machine waivers in the face of the suffering and heroism he witnesses in the trenches. David Hill was a teacher for fourteen years – and it shows. This book would be an excellent addition to the English syllabus.

History teachers, however, may not be quite as enamoured with the book. The story is light on facts and details. I assume, from my own knowledge of WWI, that the brothers are caught up in the Battle of the Somme but there is no mention of place names, dates, or personalities to confirm that. The book’s cover says that “It’s New Zealand, 1914 and the biggest war the world has known has just broken out” but the story mentions, in passing, events at Gallipoli (1915/16) and Edmund is arrested pursuant to the Military Service Act 1916. The letters the brothers write home to their mother are frustratingly undated.

Although I would have appreciated more factual background and historical detail, I concede that may have distracted from the aim of the book which is to tell the story of New Zealanders’ experiences in the war from two opposing perspectives. The book nicely achieves that objective. I’ve read many (adult) books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the world wars and it is rare for the plight of conscientious objectors to be even mentioned, much less dealt with as compassionately as this young-adult book does. My Brother’s War is a very readable, thought-provoking story from one of New Zealand’s best young-adult writers.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

My Brother’s War
by David Hill
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143307174