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By Georgia Harawira
Young Adult Fiction of Oceania
by Georgia Harawira
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Intern Exhibitions
  • We acknowledge the traditional land on which we live and work, and pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, their elders, past, present, and future.

  • Introduction

    Based on the shared experiences and achievements of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, Māori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) & Rarotonga, and Pasifika of the Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian nationalities, this exhibition seeks to highlight the variety of Young Adult fiction found across the Tasman and around the Pacific Ocean. All cover images in this exhibition have been sourced from the publishers' websites. This exhibition opens with a brief discussion of the genre, and the important role of Young Adult fiction in representing cultural diversity, followed by a selected collection of works from the Oceanic region. This exhibition was compiled and written by AustLit 2017 Winter Scholar Georgia Harawira, and will be updated regularly.

  • What is Young Adult fiction?

    Young Adult (YA) fiction is written for varying age ranges — teenagers, 13--17, 14--21-- the definition changes depending on who you ask (Knickerbocker et al. 3--5). As opposed to a singular genre, YA fiction encompasses the experiences of adolescence and spans a variety of areas. Most prominent among these include science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and romance. Popular topics are subject to the period in which they were published, but generally include coming-of-age, culture, mental health, drug use, and family issues, among others.

  • Audience

    Despite being defined by the age range of its audiences, Young Adult is read by adults and teenagers alike. Over 55% of YA books are purchased by adults 18--64, a phenomenon not quite as easily explained as their popularity (Publisher's Weekly). Certainly the books purchased by adults for their children make a considerable proportion of that percentage, but what of those purchased for personal enjoyment?

    One theory lies in the idea that, like other genres which transport their readers, YA provides audiences with the experience they'll never have again: being a teenager. YA gives a chance to authors and readers alike to relive those turbulent years with a more interesting take, a second chance to love, laugh, and cringe at it all.

  • History

    In the early 20th century, the YA genre as we know it did not yet exist; teenagers of the day were recommended books like The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew adventures, where protagonists were of a similar age to their readers.

    New Realism defined books aimed at teenagers from the 50s--70s, where themes such as classism, poverty, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and social issues were brought to the forefront. Unlike their predecessors of fantastic adventures, New Realism identified the problems of teenagers and aimed to resonate with them (Knickerbocker et al. 5-6). These themes were best marked by books such as S.E. Hinton's The OutsidersGo Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks, Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein, and Lipsyte's The Contender. In the 80s and 90s The Babysitter's ClubSweet Dreams, and Sweet Valley High followed.

    The 90s marked the revival of the genre with the emergence of the Harry Potter series, which many teachers and parents credited for their children's newfound interest in reading. The series was particularly noted for growing up with its audience and changing from an initially young target audience into a far more mature one by its completion. Also around this time various genres emerged onto the YA scene, especially science fiction and fantasy, including The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody, and the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden.

    By the 2000s, YA was becoming a more distinct genre. This decade also saw the wave of dystopian novels which came to almost define the category for a time, such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Uglies by Scott Westerfield, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullinaand Divergent by Veronica Roth. 

  • New Adult

    An age range commonly linked to Young Adult fiction is the newfound New Adult classification, featuring protagonists aged 18-30. While the themes and subjects might seem similar, including characters in university and the independence in leaving home for the first time, this is a markedly more mature range. This genre is not included in this exhibition, but it is important to note the distinction.

  • Why read Young Adult fiction? Why write Young Adult fiction?

    In spite of the rise of literature aimed at adolescents over the last decade and the large number of blockbuster films that grew around them, there still remains little consideration for the genre among audiences and writers both. It comes and goes in trends and trendiness, and is a category often given the shortest audience lifespan, where readers often tend to "outgrow" the style and use it as a gateway to more mature writing.

    But isn’t there a specific value to writing made just for the most tumultuous years of our lives? Isn’t there something special to finding the unique experiences of adolescence reflected in print? 

    The young adult genre caters to the singular experience of the search for identity in the development into adulthood. The diverse, respectful, and responsible writing for this audience is made valuable through sheer relevance to the lives of its audience.

    Young adult literature belongs in the classroom because it is about the human condition known as adolescence. And young adults, who are in the utter midst of the adolescent chaos, need to know that it is survivable. YA does that.

    S.A. Bodeen

    (qtd. in Roberts)

    Literature has always been both a window and a mirror that sees into and reflects individual experiences, a feature of utmost importance for a genre uniquely targeted to such a niche audience. It is a tool by which young adults can form their own personal opinion, find idols and role models, and build values by which they will enter adulthood and citizenship (Knickerbocker et al. 33). Characters in YA literature often tackle the same problems and issues faced by all teenagers, including conflict, challenges, and first love; most prominent and recurring among these themes is the concept of identity.

    Readers will note that in the Young Adult genre, and especially those by Indigenous authors, themes surrounding the search for identity are particularly prominent and often recurring. This theme takes place not only in the fiction these audiences might encounter but also in their own lives; YA fiction has the power to speak to the small but struggling readership, and providing these books, especially those written by and for a minority, can give a framework to pass the obstacles on the path into adulthood.

  • Why Indigenous literature?

    It is important for children and young adults to see themselves in the media they consume; as minorities in real life, on screen and on the page. This importance cannot be overstated for Indigenous people and other under-privileged people around the world. Not only for Aboriginal children but for those of European descent as well, the positive and truthful depiction of Indigenous people and people of all minorities can directly contribute to further knowledge of these groups; this knowledge can lead to understanding, and from understanding to acceptance with an open mind (Groenke & Scherff 95).

    For far too long we have seen the effect of negative stereotypes on ethnic and social groups, and media is more often than not to blame for reinforcing these unfavourable depictions. Tropes such as the heroic white lead, his damsel in distress, the noble savage, and the overtly sexualised women of colour are a few of the countless stereotypes which remain in mainstream media to this day, leading to belittled self-esteem in minorities and prejudice within privileged individuals (Metzger et al. 57). 

    Stories created by Indigenous people can generate genuine and trustworthy portrayals of contemporary and historical minorities, which have in the past been continuously misrepresented. In an attempt to give Indigenous Australians the representation they need and deserve, the Australian Curriculum is working towards addressing two distinct needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education:

    • 'that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum of each of the learning areas, can fully participate in the curriculum and build their self-esteem'
    • 'that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.' (Australian Curriculum)
  • The Place of YA in English Teaching

    Those teaching English hope to inspire a love of reading in their students, yet unfortunately it is the age range of young adults out of high school (18-24) which sees the sharpest decline in reading for pleasure. A study by Rycik and Irvin (2005) found that developmental, literary, and social significance were the three factors which resonated with and attracted young adults to literature (in Knickerbocker et al. 30-41).

    Research suggests that these background experiences and cultural influences affect the way students respond to literature; by providing a bridge between these diverse backgrounds and their education at school, students are more deeply engaged and find relevance and interest in their work (Knickerbocker et al. 35). When teachers use literature relevant to the lives and background knowledge of their students, readers gain a stronger engagement with the works, and are able to connect the fiction with what they know and have experienced.

    Diversity in the curriculum offers students the potential to gain further knowledge and understanding of previously unknown backgrounds (Groenke and Scherff 94). As young members of society, teenagers are open to the influence of media, and how media informs the way we understand other identities beside our own. Without truthful and authentic depictions of minorities in the media they consume regularly, there is no opportunity to challenge preconceptions and begin to appreciate differences.

  • Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction

    The following is a guide to selecting diverse fiction for the classroom, adapted from Groenke & Scherff's Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction (96):

    • Does the work feature members of minorities portrayed as authentic and complex people, not just stereotypical tropes? (Noble Savage, Mammy, Sassy Black Woman, Asian Child Prodigy)

    • Are historical events portrayed fairly and accurately? Are the perspectives of both sides given fair representation of the cause?

    • Are subcultures and lifestyles given respectful depiction?

    • Are characters of diverse backgrounds given the same form of dialogue as their white peers? Or are they written with stereotyped speech and misused slang? If they do use slang, is it used correctly?

    • Are the successes of non-white characters judged by white/European standards of success, or are they able to make their own perceptions?

    • Does the book provide positive role models for non-white students, LGBTI students, or students with a disability?

    • Is the author able to successfully write about these diverse topics, with their own background experiences to inform?

  • View the Works

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