1. “The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay” by Rebecca Sparrow
I can’t think of a more perfect premise for a contemporary YA novel. What would happen if the cutest/coolest boy in school had to come and live at your house! Rebecca Sparrow is such a clever writer and this novel is by turns sweet, sad, and hilariously funny. I was a teenager in the eighties so it all feels so wonderfully familiar. And I love a main character who makes you feel. Rachel made me laugh, cringe, worry and cheer.
2. “The Harp in the South” by Ruth Park
I was in grade nine when I read this novel and thinking about it, straight away, an image of Plymouth Street, Surrey Hills, appears before me. It’s amazing how the mind works and the power of words a good thirty years on!! Ruth Park bought the slums of Sydney to life, riotously, colourfully, teaming with tenements and razor gangs and brothels. She tells the story of the Darcy family in Surrey Hills, with two daughters Rosie and Dolour. I can recall being completely mesmerised by their tale. There is a thread that runs through the story about Mumma’s sorrow for a missing brother, Thady, who was taken from the streets when he was three which moved me so much. And I can still remember my horror at the treatment of Johnny, an intellectually impaired neighbour. I’m heading out to the library to find this one again!
3. “Tender Morsels” by Margo Lanagan
I have more than one Margo Lanagan novel that could make this list but I thought I better just go with my favourite, “Tender Morsels.” Even the name excites me. I think it is a wonderful thing to be so moved, upset, confused and compelled by a book. The story of Liga and her two daughters Branza and Urdda is a powerful one, about past hurts and healing and re-entering the world, and packed solid with Lanagan’s amazingly earthy, raw magic, and wild bears! Oh don’t get me started on the bears. After this novel was chosen as a Printz Honor book I remember reading lots of comments questioning how YA appropriate it was. Gosh I hope my daughter reads books like this when she is a teenager! These kind of books make you feel like you’re alive.
4. “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak
How can you not love a book that starts: “Here is a small fact. You are going to die”. I read Zusak’s book when it first came out and was hooked from that line. I love his writing. It is completely audacious, when you think about it, a book narrated by death, but never once does it feel wrong. His writing is so natural, so fresh, and so completely unique. It’s the tale of girl called Leisel and her acts of book thievery in Nazi Germany. It stares the brutality of war and death down the barrel, unflinchingly, while somehow, so wonderfully, celebrating words and all the beauty in our brief lives.
This was my introduction to Sonya Hartnett and I came to her writing late. She is a wonderful writer and her books always stay with me long after I put them down. I love her dark complex stories and this coming of age story is particularly dark and strange. Thursday’s Child is the story of a family, struggling to survive in 1930s Great Depression Australia, facing poverty and heartbreak. It is the tale of Harper Flute but also her little brother, Tin, who is different to the rest and slowly turning wild. He enters the earth beneath their ramshackle house, and begins to dig and burrow, leaving them behind. Hartnett’s descriptions of Tin’s subterranean wanderings, the Australian landscape and the harshness of life in that era, made me feel uneasy and anxious but this is also a story, thankfully, of hope. So different, I remember thinking. So wonderfully different!
Thank you, Karen!
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