Write of Passage
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From dystopian epics to ‘sick lit’ tearjerkers, supernatural romances to works of steampunk sci-fi; the scope of quality coming-of-age stories pitched at teenage readers has never been more diverse. With blockbuster young adult books skyrocketing to prominence – netting film adaptations and unofficial fan-fiction spinoffs – young adult novels are increasingly serving as focal points for communities of readers who find solace in remarkable characters and their journeys to maturity.
In a contemporary society marked by a lack of obvious rites of passage, the best YA novels can act as roadmaps, guiding us on the path from childhood to adulthood. But is providing straightforward models for growing up really the point of the most compelling coming-of-age stories?
John Marsden (Checkers, Winter and the Tomorrow series), Will Kostakis (The First Third) and Alice Pung (Laurinda) will speak about stories exploring the universal – and often peculiar, embarrassing, and remarkable – experiences of growing up. Hosted by YA author Emily Gale.
Emily Gale has been involved in the children's book industry for nearly 20 years and has worked as an editor, reviewer, talent finder and literary award judge. She spent several happy years at independent bookshop Readings as a children's book buyer, during which time she was instrumental in establishing their Children's Book Prize.
Emily's writing includes two novels for teenagers – Girl, Aloud and Steal My Sunshine – and Eliza Boom's Diary for younger readers. Living on the other side of the world from the place she grew up (and most of her family) means that concepts of home, belonging and displacement have long occupied Emily's mind, inspiring her to write The Other Side of Summer.
John Marsden has written more than 40 books, mostly for teenagers and children, including Tomorrow When the War Began, So Much to Tell You, and Letters from the Inside. He has sold over five million books worldwide, and has won every major award in Australia for young people's fiction. South of Darkness, written for adults, won the Christina Stead Award for Best Novel of 2015. John's passionate interest in education led him to start two schools, Candlebark, on a vast forested estate near Romsey Victoria, and Alice Miller, at Macedon, a Year 7-12 school with a particular emphasis on the creative arts. The two schools enrol 380 students in 2019.
Will Kostakis has written everything from celebrity news stories that score cease and desist letters, to tweets for professional wrestlers. He’s best known for his award-winning YA novels, The Sidekicks and The First Third. Monuments is his first fantasy novel.
Alice Pung is an award-winning writer, editor, teacher and lawyer based in Melbourne. Her books include Close to Home, On John Marsden, the memoirs Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, and the novel Laurinda. She is the editor of the anthologies Growing Up Asian in Australia and My First Lesson.
‘Maturity’, according to Kurt Vonnegut, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists’. So why are we all so eager to grow up?
The continued importance and popularity of coming-of age stories, hungrily devoured by readers of all ages, is perhaps testament to the journey being more important – and entertaining, wonderful, and terrifying – than the destination. Stories of young characters trying on new political opinions, philosophical ideas, and sexual identities (all while negotiating friendships, cramming for exams, or saving the world) continue to fascinate us. As the market for young adult writing continues to expand, coming-of-age stories have never been in greater demand.
What makes for a great rite of passage story, and how have classic coming-of-age novels influenced our ideas of what it really means to ‘grow up’? What does the flourishing of increasingly specific coming-of-age subgenres say about the state of contemporary young adulthood – and what exactly is the relationship between coming-of-age narratives and broader YA fiction?
In our Write of Passage series, we’ll look at this energetic field of writing from various angles – ‘adult’ coming-of-age stories, work aimed squarely at young adult readers, and writing that introduces young readers to adult themes.