Judging the ya books of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

I was watch­ing a news report of 96-year old artist Dickie Miny­in­tiri win­ning the National Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Island Art Award last week and couldn’t help but gawk wide-eyed when the cam­eras showed us his and a hand­ful of other art­works that had been nom­i­nated for the prize. They’re cur­rently on dis­play at the Museum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and you can view them online too – it’s worth tak­ing a few moments to browse through. They’re beau­ti­ful, strik­ing pieces of art and I remem­ber sit­ting there think­ing, I have no idea how the judges set­tled on one piece of art when each looks to be its own unique and won­drous beast.

And I realised I’d done exactly that myself only a month or so ago when I judged the Young Adult cat­e­gory of the Vic­to­rian Premier’s Lit­er­ary Awards. No doubt judg­ing indige­nous art seemed like a her­culean task to me because I don’t have the same expe­ri­ence and cul­tural ref­er­ence points that I do for teen lit­er­a­ture, although Aus­tralian YA also had its fair share of unique and won­drous beasts pub­lished over the past year.

The actual judg­ing of the Vic Premier’s awards with Mike Shut­tle­worth and Leesa Lam­bert of The Lit­tle Book­room was a blast. With so many books to dis­cuss, each meet­ing we had was like tak­ing part in a book club on steroids. There were opin­ions fly­ing every­where, books being waved pas­sion­ately about in the air and a truck­load of fun being had (by me any­way, who knows what Mike and Leesa thought of all my opin­ions and book waving).

One of the most pleas­ant things about judg­ing the awards was read­ing each of the 70 or so books we were sent and for each one think­ing: Yep, I can see who the reader of this book would be. It’s for adven­tur­ous boys with a sen­si­tive side, it’s for slightly with­drawn girls aged 13–15, it’s for ‘class clowns’ at around 14 years, etc. Not that match­ing a per­ceived audi­ence to a book is part of the judg­ing process, and maybe it’s the tiny bit of book­seller inside me, but I found it com­fort­ing as I read through the books to match each one up with a reader in my mind.

I read a lot of teen fic­tion over the course of two months and got a pretty good idea of the spread of YA pub­lish­ing in Aus­tralia at the moment. It was par­tic­u­larly cool to see the rise of the urban fan­tasy novel, as noted in our judges’ obser­va­tions, where we were also able to name drop some nov­els that didn’t make the short­list, namely Lili Wikinson’s A Pock­et­ful of Eyes, Mar­i­anne de Pierre’s Burn Bright, Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know, Rebecca Lim’s Mercy, Rebecca Burton’s Beyond Evie, Leanne Hall’s This Is Shy­ness, Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Golden Day and Laura Buzo’s Good Oil. Hooray for all of these books. They deserve to be bor­rowed from libraries, writ­ten on shop­ping lists and marked as ‘to-read’ on book­wormy social net­work­ing sites.

But of course the biggest to-dos must be saved for the three books on the short­list: The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher by Doug McLeod, The Three Loves of Per­sim­mon by Cas­san­dra Golds and Graf­fiti Moon by Cath Crow­ley. Three highly orig­i­nal nov­els, each more than wor­thy of win­ning the over­all YA award. I’ll be at the awards din­ner next month, cheer­ing all three of them on – even though I already know who wins.

Comments deactivated