We’ve all been teens. It’s this shared experience that allows us to empathise with the teens we work with. However, our experience and perspective does not reflect that of a teen right now in 2019.
This is the first in a series of interviews with Australian teens.
I have chosen to not disclose their gender or age so we can focus on their individual interests perspectives, rather than homogenising young people.
Note - teens were paid for their time and effort.
Where do you get your reading recommendations?
Most of the time, I read books from genres and authors that I am familiar with. Because I don’t read often, the books I do choose to dedicate my time to have to have a lot of value to me, especially in terms of having engaging writing and plot. I don’t have many people around me who read, so when I’m seeking out a new book I either go to the long list of to-be-read books or go back to a trusted author. Book bloggers or reviewers also play a big role; if I’m thinking of reading something, it’s likely I’ll search for a review before deciding to read it.
Do you see much of a difference between Australian YA and US YA?
There is definitely a difference between Australian and US YA. As someone who read only US YA for a very long period of time, the differences are very clear to me. OzYA is a lot easier for me to read; for me the language flows a lot better and the characters are almost always realistic and relatable, even if the book setting isn’t in Australia. There is less thinking involved because the situations and the way the characters speak are familiar to me. The humour is a lot more nuanced and utilises different elements you don’t find in US YA, such as self-depreciation, which is very prevalent in Australian humour. Especially in YA, I believe a good sense of humour can be the reason someone decides to pick up a book more often. Although there’s a lot more swearing in OzYA - at least in the ones I’ve read - I feel like it gives the book more character in a way that can’t be done in US YA, mostly due to the way the swearing is incorporated into the writing. Overall, OzYA is a lot easier to read and enjoy, and the small nuances make all the difference.
Did you ever struggle with reading?
The act of reading has never been a struggle for me. The struggle mostly stemmed from certain anxieties that came from my want to fit in and read all the new releases, back when I was deep in the YA genre. After taking a break from reading due to commitments, I recognised the problem and began reading for myself, and not pressuring myself to find, buy and read every book that caught my eye.
How do you look for books when you are at the library?
I have a mental list of books I know of in my head, and that list includes books from series’ I haven’t completed and books that have caught my eye online. I also look at the books on display and any new books that have just come in. My school librarian is the one I look to for advice on new books or whether or not to start a certain series.
What are the challenges in finding what you want in the library?
Small reviews on books are a great way for someone to find a new book to read, especially if they don’t usually read in their spare time. Other than that, having good displays and lighting is important so that people can find the books they need.
What makes you give up on a book?
Bad writing is an obvious reason, but other than that I put down books with bad representation. Not necessarily books with no representation, just books that represent minorities badly. Also, I’ll stop reading a book if they romanticise things like mental illness or toxic relationships.
What do you wish adults would understand about YA, reading and young people?
I wish they would focus on our perspective, and not write us off as generation obsessed with phones and social media. I also wish they would try and understand the positive impacts of social media, amd not just the negative side of it. We worry a lot about our future and the impact of climate change more than we should have to, and they become real issues we have to go up against. I also wish adults would respect our ideas and understand that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
What makes author events or visits better?
Food! Food is always a great way to attract young people. Also, making it engaging enough that people would want to come, and want to stay. Creating a welcoming environment is also important to not intimidate younger people, especially when the crowd consists of a lot of adults, too.
What is one of the worst YA books you’ve ever had to read?
I read a book about a young Muslim girl (like me) whose experience was so terribly incorrect and completely unrelatable. It made me sad because I don’t want other Muslim girls to read the book and think that’s how they should live. The book played out as if the only reason she was accepted into society was because she was pretty, outspoken and bold. It’s a dangerous and toxic message because as young Muslims we should be accepted just like everyone else even if we are quiet or introverted or not inclined to confrontation. The book insinuated that you must be ‘palatable’ in order to be seen as an equal and that made me very uncomfortable reading it. The book barely spoke about her Muslim identity outside of having to eat Halal food and having been born in a predominantly Muslim country. Overall, it was a bad experience and did not sit well with me at all.
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