Monday, August 15, 2011

Aussie August: Australian Favourites

Welcome to my second featured post for Aussie August. You can go here to see my first -- an international giveaway -- and here to see all the other awesome features and a schedule of the rest to come.

I was going to talk just about one of my favourite Australian novels, but we probably don't have the same tastes, so I've asked around for some other recommendations. So aside from just me sharing my favourite, wonderful Australian authors Leanne Hall, Rhiannon Hart, Aimee Said, and Sue Saliba will also be sharing theirs!

Rhiannon Hart is the debut author of the amazing upcoming fantasy novel Blood Song. Her pick is Obernewytn by Isobel Carmody:

 Obernewtyn Chronicles are almost as old as I am. But of course, I didn't discovered them until years after the first was published--probably around the time The Keeping Place appeared in 1999, when I was in year 10. The books are set thousand years or so after a nuclear holocaust, called the Great White, has destroyed the land. Technology is forbidden, for it is feared that any sort of advancement might bring about more destruction. Those who have mutations are also feared, and persecuted by the Herder Faction, the religious order appointed by the ruling Council.

Elspeth Gordie is a Misfit, and has a mutation that she must hide that gives her advanced mental abilities. In the first book, she is discovered and sent to a place called Obernewtyn where it is claimed that people like her can be cured. All is not as it seems, and Elspeth uncovers a truth far worse than she or any of the other Misfits there expected.

These are brilliant adventure books. You might call them dystopian or fantasy, or even science fiction, but it's the adventure that I love, along with the simple world building and interesting characters. I have happy memories of getting lost in this series, and it makes me sad to think that it will finally be coming to a close. Especially as I haven't read The Stone Key yet! I have a signed copy sitting on my shelf, just waiting for me to re-read from The Farseekers onward. I heard Isobelle Carmody speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival two years ago and I was particularly taken by her role in animal activism--something that comes through in her books as well.

For some reason I've never been taken with any other of Carmody's books. But the Obernewtyn Chronicles will always be close to my heart. 

Leanne Hall wrote the richly imaginative This Is Shyness and is currently working on a sequel. Her pick is Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar:

I was going to pick something really old and classic, so you could admire my obscure tastes in Australian fiction. But in the end I decided to tell the truth. My favourite Australian book is a recent one, and a book that has been admired especially by YA bloggers - Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. Everything about Raw Blue rings true for me. I've read it several times now, and each time I find myself sucked into Carly's world of working at a cafe, surfing whenever she can, and trying to keep her demons at bay. I'm not a surfer, in fact I don't think I've ever even held a surfboard, but Eagar (a diehard surfer herself) really takes you into the surfing world in this book. I feel like I know the water and the waves and the regulars of the northern beaches of NSW through reading it. I had no idea before reading this, how beautiful and complicated the ocean could be.  

Carly is a vivid, unique character going through tough times as best she can. I love it that she's taciturn, I love it that she takes her work at the cafe seriously, I love it that she acts foolishly at times. Eagar paints a really accurate picture of someone trying to get over a very traumatic event. Carly has a lot of strength, but it's still not easy for her to be happy. The story of her learning to trust and be close to people again is an important story to tell.

Aimee Said is the author of contemporary novels Finding Freia Lockhart and Little Sister. Her pick is Clara In Washington by Penny Tangey:

Asking me to talk about my all-time favourite Aussie YA is like asking a mother to pick her favourite child: impossible! Instead I’ve chosen my favourite recent release, Clara in Washington by Penny Tangey. 

What it’s about: Clara, who’s just finished high school, accompanies her mum on an extended business trip to America’s capital, hoping for new experiences and a chance to step outside her studious-geek persona. It’s also a way to avoid some things (and someone) at home that she’d rather not deal with. But Clara’s time in Washington doesn’t quite live up to her expectations, mainly because she’s terrified to leave the house. Then she meets brooding Campbell and his anarchist group and begins to question the beliefs by which she defines herself and her plans for the future.

Why I love it: Clara is an insightful narrator with a dry, self-deprecating (and very Australian) sense of humour. I empathised with many of her fears and insecurities, and the great weight of expectation that comes with her post-school transition. I also found the setting – around the time of Obama’s inauguration – fascinating, especially viewed through Clara’s eyes.

Sue Saliba wrote Watching Seagulls, Something In The World Called Love, and the gorgeous recently-released Alaska. Her pick is Saltwater Moons by Julie Gittus:

One of my favourite Australian young adult novels is ‘Saltwater Moons’ by Julie Gittus. Sun will soon be finishing Year 12 when she meets two older guys: Mark, who has just broken up with her best friend and Tycho, a university student who surfs, paints and reads poetry. Sun feels an attraction to and affinity with Tycho and when he asks her to spend the weekend with him and his family at their beach house, she is excited and nervous and all those things you would expect of emergent first love. But then Mark appears and Sun ends up taking a late-night walk with him – and things get
very complicated.

There’s such honesty to the way this story is told, I found myself having an incredible sympathy with Sun. While she’s an intelligent and sensitive person, things seem to happen in her life at this time that are just beyond her grasp of fully understanding or controlling. There’s betrayal and love and heartbreak and, all the time, a yearning for something or someone who seems unreachable.

This novel is written with real wisdom and kindness and the characters are complex and layered. I felt like I was being given a privileged look back at my own young adult years by someone who understood all the confusion and yearning and ‘wrong’ situations I had found myself in – and who did not judge me but encouraged me to look again, this time with real compassion.

And me? My favourite Australian novel is On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It tells Taylor and Hannah's highly emotional stories of loss, but ends with hope. Marchetta introduces a plethora of plot threads -- romance, war games, friendship, and family -- that the sympathetic characters will work painstakingly hard to tie together into a neat conclusion. It's not even just my favourite Australian novel, but one of my favourite novels outright.

So, what are your favourite Australian novels?