In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Marchetta also wrote the screenplay for the book’s film adaptation, which won her a Film Critics Circle of Australia Best Screenplay award in 2000, as well as an Australian Film Institute Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Without a doubt, the story of Josephine Alibrandi’s tumultuous final year of high school is deserving of the Children’s Classic title (and the new edition, designed by Allison Colpoys, is drool-worthy).
But, if I’m being perfectly honest, it makes me feel old to hear that one of the young adult books which marked my own young adulthood is now considered a ‘classic’.
I am well past my teenage years, but I still (and will always) read YA. I may not be the target audience anymore, and each year takes me a little further away from that demographic, but it was books like Looking for Alibrandi that got me hooked on reading in the first place. And it’s the authors from my own young adulthood who ensured that my love for reading, particularly this readership, would endure. Authors like John Marsden, Melina Marchetta, Margo Lanagan, Brigid Lowry, Kirsten Murphy, Scot Gardner, Margaret Wild, Maureen McCarthy, Jaclyn Moriarty, Scott Monk… There are too many to name, but I owe them all a great deal of thanks.
There’s also a part of me that wishes I’d grown up with the incredible books available to teen readers these days. I wish I’d grown up reading Cath Crowley, Gayle Forman, Gabrielle Williams, A.S. King, Rainbow Rowell, Kirsty Eagar, Courtney Summers, John Green, Simmone Howell, Marcus Sedgwick, Trish Doller and Fiona Wood. That list goes on and on too.
It’s easy to forget that the books of your own young adulthood play a big part in shaping the rest of your reading life (mainly by ensuring that you become a reader for life). It’s easy to forget about some of those books – like old friends you haven’t read in a while.
I forgot the brutal male characters Scott Monk eventually turned into heroes for me to love.
I forgot John Marsden’s short books that packed a punch and left me wounded.
I forgot that Anna Fienberg’s Borrowed Light is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books about teen pregnancy I’ve ever read.
I forgot that I reread Kirsten Murphy’s Raincheck on Timbuktu about a million times because I was Lucy as much as I was Josie Alibrandi, especially with this sentiment:
‘There’s a line that separates being a teenager from being an adult. I’ve been teetering on the edge of it for a while. The beauty of it is that up until now, I’ve been able to be an adult when I’ve wanted to be and a teenager when it’s easier’.
I also forgot how much Australian YA I consumed, and how high its quality was. Before Amazon or Book Depository brought international titles within reach, I shopped local and read local – reading mostly Australian and New Zealand YA authors (many of whom are still writing today, getting better and better with each new release).
Don’t ever let me say: ‘kids these days don’t know how good they have it,’ because (well, bullshit for one) but also because I had it pretty darn good too. And while I love the YA books I’ve since discovered in my post-young adult years, I wouldn’t change my reading history for anything. Each one of those books (and about a hundred others) helped shape my tastes and ensured I’d keep reading YA well into adulthood and beyond.
These are the books that ensnared and stuck with me, and I love them all.