It’s true dedication (or a type of madness) to endure the four-hour round trip for an often one hour or one and a half hour event in Sydney, but while some can be a letdown, others are truly wonderful and this was one of those times.
On Saturday, Jeann from Happy Indulgence hosted a panel called Writing Herstory: Today’s female experience in contemporary YA in the fabulous bookstore, Kinokuniya. It was a great afternoon listening to five fabulous women discuss important issues in YA novels and how important they can be to readers.
I often feel guilty, or feel like not a “true YA reader” (whatever that is even supposed to mean) for not knowing some of the authors on panels, but then I remind myself that I’ve been given a chance to discover some new authors. And of course, now I know of them I can read their work and fall in love with them.
Making up the panel of excellent women were Kirsty Eager (Summer Skin), Sarah Ayoub (The Yearbook Committee), Gabrielle Tozer (The Intern), Tamar Chnorhokian (The Diet Starts on Monday), and Erin Gough (The Flywheel). Having already fallen in love with Sarah and Kirsty, I was eager to discover these other YA authors and it didn’t take long for that to happen or for my admiration to follow.
Jeann did a great job as host, she asked wonderful questions and the discussion ranged from bullying, diversity, minority representation, and why the Aussie YA community is so wonderful. She asked the panel why they thought diversity was important and there were excellent responses such as needing your experience represented and seeing the less represented shown in a different light than they may be on TV or in films. Gabrielle made a wonderful point about it how it makes people feel included; they pick up a book and see themselves on the page. I also loved Sarah’s thought that it gives people a sense of self-worth and value when their experiences are in stories. Gabriella also pointed out that you can’t include everyone which is why there is a need for diverse writers and books.
The panel also discussed the various issues portrayed in each of their novels; peer pressure in The Yearbook Committee, sexual preference in The Flywheel, feminism in Summer Skin, body image in The Diet Starts on Monday, as well as the big issue of bullying and why it’s included in so many YA novels. The fact is, as Sarah pointed out, is that it is happening, and continues to happen not only to young people, and to ignore it is often detrimental and damaging. Erin mentioned the reason YA features bullying is because it happens and it sucks. And as Tamar pointed out, even when you are brave enough to stick up for yourself, it doesn’t mean it isn’t bullying, and it affects you in some way. As Sarah said, we tend to have a hopeful outlook on bullying, never looking at the consequences it can have.
The discussion was real and profound; it was wonderful to hear an open discussion about things like the different opinions of men and women in terms of sexual activity, and what body image is and where pressure can come from. I loved that Kirsty told us women don’t have to be role models and that Erin highlighted that there are more pressures out there than just from ones peers.
It was lovely to hear the panel talk about why they love the Aussie YA community, praising our passion and how engaging we are. Kirsty loving our open mindedness and how open-hearted we are, while Sarah loved how vocal we are about the books we love. Tamar mentioning along the same lines how she loved seeing readers react with books and characters. The common opinion from all five was how accepting the YA community is, which is a wonderful thing to have recognised by other people.
I came out of the event with five new books which I’m classing as a win. I’ve discovered new authors who were a delight to meet, so very friendly and cheerful, and I got to hear an important discussion about women and literature. I’m glad I made the trip down and so stoked to have discovered some more Aussie YA ladies to enjoy!