What YA is all about: our recommended March reads

From a feminist psychological thriller to a debut novel about first love, community and identity, our business and operations coordinator, Jessica, shares her recommended YA reads for March.

The Gaps, Leanne Hall 

Content warning: This novel explicitly mentions violence, gendered violence, racism and sexism. 

When I finished reading The Gaps, I thought I had finished reading it. Part thriller, mystery, coming of age and YA, I thought it would be like any other whodunnit novel where I’d close the final page and not think of it again. Oh, was I wrong. So, so wrong.

When 16-year-old Yin is abducted from her home in the middle of the night, it affects more than just her friends and family. It affects the whole Year 10 level at Balmoral Ladies College, including one of the two main POV characters. Chloe has just moved to the school on a scholarship, and her shy and introverted nature means that she tries to avoid drama. Natalia has been at the college since junior school and is bold, loud and brash. Over time, they develop a friendship, using Chloe’s major art piece as a tool to help them manage emotions. Both characters had distinctly unique voices, and Hall adeptly swerves around all of the tropes of girls-of-different-classes-befriending-through-tragedy.

Surprisingly, this novel isn’t a procedural that focuses on finding Yin; instead, it looks at how society frames young women and how it can let them down. It looks at how Yin’s disappearance affects a whole community. It locks horns with power, race and identity and doesn’t back down, doesn’t apologise for itself. Because in the end, while one person abducted Yin, it was the whole society that allowed it to happen: the same one that let grown men cat-call a teenage Natalie; the same one that lets the racism towards Chloe pass with no real consequence.

The story itself is unsettling because it is a little bit too real—I could see this novel’s events playing out in real life. I’ll be coming back to this one, not only because it’s still stuck in my brain, but because I know there was so much I missed. Next time though, I’m going in prepared with tissues. While I wholeheartedly recommend this novel, parts of it hit very close to home, so I would suggest being in a good headspace before reading this one. This is an important book, and you should read it, but take the time to check yourself first and be safe.

The Boy From The Mish, Gary Lonesborough

Content warning: This book contains depictions of homophobia and racism.

If there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s for shouting from the rooftops about queer romances. So strap in, team, because here we go.

From now on this will be the only book I read. Thank you.

I read The Boy From The Mish in two sittings, curled up on the couch with the sun on my back. Every time I put it down, I ended up picking it up again; it was addictively heartwarming and adorable. The story follows a 17-year-old boy Jackson, who is Aboriginal and lives on the Mish. It’s that weird time between Christmas and New Years where both everything is possible, and nothing is possible. Planning to hang out with his friends and girlfriend all holidays, his plans are upended when his Aunt and cousins come to stay, bringing along Tomas, a kid just out of juvie. Jackson doesn’t want to deal with the feelings Tomas is bringing up; he’s already dealing with racism from both white people and the police, trying to work out what to do with his future if he leaves school and listening to his friends casually make homophobic comments.

I can’t imagine how all of that would feel, and Lonesborough does an exceptional job of portraying it. Jackson has mood swings and blows up over small things in such an authentic teenager-way that I could feel his stomach twist in my own one. Teenage angst is rarely done well, but here it’s top-notch. While I can only speak for white queer teenage angst, queer teen angst is a whole other thing, and again, Lonesborough hits the nail on the head.

There are so many other reasons to love this book: the setting felt so deeply Australian that you could smell the trees off the page, and the writing was so tight that not a single word was wasted. The sheer honesty of the story jumped off the page. The characters were so 3D that they could be real people. Come for the prose; stay to be emotionally wrecked by the love story. In the end, I can guarantee that you’ll devour this one and leave it with a glowing heart.

If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out and talk to somebody: Lifeline 13 11 14

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