What YA is about: two debuts to pick up next

Our business and operations coordinator and big young adult reader, Jessica, shares the recent Australian and international YA debuts she loved the most this month.

Please Don’t Hug Me, Kay Kerr

Erin is writing letters to her brother, Rudy, who left almost a year ago. Her boyfriend is a walking red flag, she’s lost her job and failed her driving test. Really, she’s just trying to get through her final year of high school to go to Schoolies.

In the recent debut by Aussie author Kay Kerr (pictured), Kerr does something amazing: she guides us through a whole, fully fleshed plot through letters. Old friendships are negotiated, and new friendships are forged, and while you don’t really experience them within a scene, you can feel the intensity of them through Erin’s letters. When Erin and one of her longtime friends have to navigate fluctuating friendship landscapes, it’s done with care, and in a genuine and heartbreaking way.

The best thing about this novel is that it’s an #ownvoices novel. Erin has autism, and so does the author. It never defines Erin, even if it does shape her, a true testament to the power and necessity of #ownvoices stories. It’s intimate, raw and authentic, and this is what YA is about: teenagers seeing themselves in books; teenagers working through that horrible cusp-of-adult time; introducing readers to different perspectives.

Watching Erin grow, accept herself, and find new friendships made my heart burst, in a way that is so much more intense than normal. The peppering of thoughts about the future and climate change and racism brought a solidity to the letters—all those anxieties that teenagers have that they don’t talk about. I’m a big YA reader, but this one just hit differently.

And in that scene, I completely understood why ‘Straight Ahead’ is a confusing phrase at a roundabout.

Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas

Irrespective of any argument about ebooks, the great thing about Kobo is that it provides reading estimations. This book should have taken me eight to nine hours to read. This estimation did not allow for the fact that this debut is addictive, and outright demands to be read quickly. From the first sentence, I was hooked.

‘Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life.’

Yadriel, the main character, is a 16-year-old Latinx trans boy living in LA, and all he wants is to prove himself as a brujo, somebody who has been granted powers by Lady Death to guide spirits to the other side. His family will not let him become a brujo; instead, they lean into traditions to make him become a bruja.

Cue a murder mystery, the accidental summoning of the spirit of the local high school bad boy and a slow-burn romance. And did I mention it’s an #ownvoices novel? My kryptonite.

But what I loved most about this novel was the start. Yadriel and his best friend, Maritza, sneak into a church to complete the ritual to become a brujo. (Minor spoiler for chapter 1). When Yadriel completes the ceremony, Lady Death accepts him as is, and such a confirmation of his gender in the FIRST chapter made me become the star eye emoji. While some of the characters are working through it and do misgender him at times, it was never in question to the reader. Refreshing.

This will be one of the books that I will be shoving into everybody’s hands, and recommending to (cis) people when they want to learn more about gender, or you know, just want to read a cute romance.


Image: Jess Kearney

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