Review: YA Superstars at Melbourne Writers Festival

YA Superstars featured Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan, and was chaired by Danielle Binks. Danielle started off the panel by declaring ‘We are living in the second golden age of YA’, and went on to talk about the dramatic increase in YA titles being published. Danielle pointed out that 80% of YA is read by adults, and asked the panellists if that statistic scared them or affected how they write. David joked that there were many old-looking teenagers in the room, while Rainbow went on to say that many of the books she loves are very difficult to categorise, and that the people who read YA are not hung up on the category (whereas, arguably, critics of YA are).

While the session covered a broad range of topics, conversation was often steered back to diversity in YA. Discussion on the need for inclusion and representation is timely, given proposed same-sex plebiscite. Danielle argued that in order to reflect the lives of teenagers, we need to be diverse, and asked Rainbow and Danielle how their readers have reacted to their depictions of diverse characters. Rainbow is often surprised how diverse characters are entry points for readers of varying ethnicities, gender and sexuality. David offered that writing books with diverse characters can help rewrite life narratives.

When questioned on why they think YA appeals to adults, Rainbow said it’s difficult to take stock of how you’re changing as you’re growing through your teens, and YA allows you to help process and reflect on these changes.

Ever the champion of Australian YA (and interim chair of the LoveOzYA movement), Danielle asked the panellists to recommend their favourite Australian YA titles. David recommended Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield (he also recommended international titles, including The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Kids with Appetite by David Arnold). Rainbow recommended Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

Danielle invited Rainbow and David to read sections from Carry On and You Know Me Well. I love hearing authors read their own work, as the nuance they bring to their reading can often unravel another layer of meaning. Rainbow and David were fun to watch, as they shared reading roles of characters for both novels, and often interrupted each other to joke and ad-lib.

YA Superstars was a great panel. Rainbow and David clearly enjoyed their time on stage (they also hung around for over 2 hours after the panel to sign books), which is in no small part due to Danielle. Question time was moving, as teens and adults alike thanked the writers depicting diversity in their work and giving readers access to queer voices.

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