In August, Hollywood’s annual Teen Choice Awards felt the sting of backlash when it was revealed they were excluding the event’s most vital element: teens. The annual awards show honours achievements in pop culture – from film and TV to music and sport – as voted for by teens (aged 13 to 19). But backlash came (along with a Twitter hashtag: #teensdonthaveachoiceawards) when it was revealed that the Fox Network had ignored the votes of viewers and prematurely chosen winners days before public voting polls closed.
The Teen Choice Awards’ PR faux pas highlights just how important authenticity and autonomy are to teens. The backlash also goes some ways to understanding why, in Australia, the Centre for Youth Literature’s Inky Awards are amongst the most important book awards in the industry.
The Inkys are the only youth literature awards of their kind in the country. Both the longlist and shortlist are selected by young adults, and the winners voted for online by the teen readers and reviewers (aged 12-20) of InsideaDog.com.au. There are two awards: the prestigious Gold Inky Award for a title by an Australian writer, and the Silver Inky Award for the best book of the year by an international author.
Anna Burkey is Centre for Youth Literature Manager, and says during the judging process, ‘the judges discuss not just what they personally like, but what they feel is appealing to their fellow young readers. They debate the quality of the storyline, the authentic nature of the characters, the tone of the dialogue.’ And these young judges are not to be underestimated – they can be tough, as Burkey has discovered. ‘Young people are fair, frank and honest about the books they read: brutally honest, most of the time, which is refreshing (although sometimes a bit challenging for the authors).’
Lauren (16) from Victoria is a 2014 Inkys judge who appreciated the rigors the judging process involved. ‘The skills I learnt when deciding what to write about the books made the Inky Awards something I will remember until I’m old.’ Above all else, her favourite part was, ‘the people, the books, the lively book wars discussions… We fangirled (definitely the best part) over heartbreak, used our best persuasive skills when we wanted a certain book on the shortlist and just generally bonded over our love of books, writing and the exhilaration of meeting new people.’
Are young readers really capable of recognising literary merit? Burkey thinks so. ‘Young readers are as qualified as any other readers to debate and discuss the books they love, and we want to ensure every young reader in this country has an opportunity to have their voice heard.’
Young readers don’t get to choose the books they’re assigned to read at school, and adults have been known to go to great lengths to keep certain books and authors away from them – sometimes entire subjects are barred by literary gatekeepers. This is another reason why the Inky Awards are so important. They give young readers the chance to have a say in the readership that is for them, but mostly controlled by adults. ‘Grown-ups may have letters after their name and make a living from words,’ says Burkey, ‘But young people who love stories, debate their merits and read voraciously are as discerning as those twice their age.’
Jacob (15) from Queensland, is also an Inkys judge this year. ‘Teens are clearly the right choice to judge young adult book awards because these books were written for them,’ he says. ‘Adults judge adult book awards, so it only seems fair and logical for young adults to judge young adult book awards. Another reason is that a teen judge would be able to determine whether or not a book would be enjoyable, for the teen, to read. A young adult judge would simply be able to do the judging better than an adult judge would.’
If adult literary gatekeepers – authors, publishers, teachers, and parents – want to engage young readers, they need look no further than the Inky Awards to discover which books young people are reading and loving right now.
Voting is now open for the 2014 Inky Awards until 5 October. Vote here: http://insideadog.com.au/vote
The winners of the 2014 Inky Awards will be announced on 21 October.