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Diversity prominent in new Oz YA titles

Diversity is a hot topic in young adult book titles set for release in Australia in 2016.

Two hundred people received a crash course in upcoming YA releases in Australia.

Publishers travelled from all over the country to Melbourne last night, spruiking their upcoming releases with the five-minute time limit strictly enforced by the tambourine of doom in a crazy reverse Literary Speed Dating session where the publishers were pitching to the punters.

Run by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and held at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, the group of teachers, librarians, writers and fans were one collective spinning head after two hours, fifteen publishers and about a hundred books.

This was my first time at this Year Ahead in Literature event (tweeted under #YAMatters), which CYL reader development and learning programs manager Anna Burkey said had been expanded from last year, and I was amazed by the diversity and breadth of narratives due for release in the subject matter, authors, genres and groups represented.

HarperCollins announced it will publish an anthology of Australian young adult authors, edited by blogger and reviewer Danielle Binks, is one of the driving forces behind the #LoveOzYa campaign. Initiated after a survey in early 2015 that showed a lack of local books in a film-driven YA market, #LoveOzYA exists to spread the word about the amazing Australian talent and titles in this exciting marketing segment.

From fantasy to hard realism, the publishers last night had us salivating over the smorgasbord of upcoming releases - and there wasn’t a single cookbook among them. Titles include reworkings and reinterpretations of fairy tales and classic stories; new and rereleased fantasy favourites; romance and bromance.

Two titles that summed up the diversity and inclusivity of Australian YA were presented by Broome-based Magabala Books, which published Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors. Alison Whittaker’s 2015 black&write! winning collection of poems 'Lemons in the Chicken Wire' (March 2016) explores a young Aboriginal woman coming out in a small rural community; and the coming out theme is also prevalent in Jared Thomas’s 'Songs that Sound Like Blood'.

Asylum-seekers and refugees feature in Claire Atkins’s 'Between Us' (Black Inc) and Mark Smith’s 'The Road to Winter' (Text, July 2016), while racial tensions and Australia’s multiculturalism – and ‘Australianism’ – are among themes covered in Helen Chembette’s 'Bro' (Hardie Grant Egmont, February 2016), 'Promising Azra' by Helen Thurloe (Allen & Unwin, September 2016) and others.

'What I Saw' by Beck Nicholas (Harlequin, May 2016) is a romance set around a ‘king hit’, or coward punch, incident, while masculinity and what it means to be male in Australia are explored in Will Kostakis’s 'The Sidekicks' (Penguin), Scot Gardner’s 'The Way We Roll' (Allen & Unwin, March 2016) and Steven Herrick’s 'Another Night in Mullet Town' (UQP, July 2016) – which was my pick for novel title of the night.

Mental health issues also get a run, with the protagonist in Kylie Fornasier’s 'Things I Didn’t Say' (Penguin) living with anxiety and selective mutism; 'When We Collided' by Emery Lord (Bloomsbury, April 2016) including a bipolar character; and others including characters with dementia or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other must-reads include Shivaun Plozza’s debut novel 'Frankie', 'The Special Ones' by Em Bailey (Hardie Grant Egmont, April 2016), 'One Would Think the Deep' by Claire Zorn (UQP, May 2016) and Kate Mildenhall’s 'Skylarking' (Black Inc, August 2016) – based on the true story of one friend who shot another, and whether it was accidental or more sinister.

This is only a small selection of the list because my note-taking hand was so cramped I can barely read my own notes, so feel free to add any other recs or make corrections in the comments below!

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