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Not only do Australians not get thrown into lockers or have slushies thrown in their face during high school; they don't all trough their way through Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird and As I Lay Dying in pursuit of great SAT scores (we do, however, read a lot of curricular Steinbeck en route to the HSC).

What, then, are our home-grown YA lit classics about? Well drop bears, obviously, but also war and dystopia and dry-humping, just like American books! These are some of the most widely read Australian classics for teen-bots, if you're interested in dipping a toe...

If you loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins...

read Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

Before we all got our knickers in a knot over the complexity and kickassedness of Katniss, Australian teens were busy imagining themselves as Ellie, the tough, pragmatic hero of this dystopian series.

Australia is invaded overnight during national celebrations, with most of the population locked up in prison camps. Ellie and a crew of teenaged country buddies are camping out in the bush at the time, and return home to their farms to find dogs unfed, houses deserted, and broadcasts reduced to occasional cries for help over the wireless. The gang sneak into town and glimpse their families locked up at the fairground, returning to the wilderness to formulate a plan for guerrilla warfare.

The Tomorrow series is seven books long, over which time Ellie kills (and suffers the moral fallout), falls in love and out of love, loses friends, and learns to lead. What the book does so well is show a character who doesn't always make the perfect decision, who can be prickly to her lovers and her friends, and ultimately has to overcome the incompetency of adults (she is far less manipulated than her Panem equivalent). The gang also consists of one of the most diverse and realistic set of friends I've seen in YA lit—there is the fierce Robyn, sweet, waifish Fiona, godly Homer, easily hurt Lee, the courageous Corrie, fallible Kevin, and loner Chris. Plus, it stars the beautiful Australian bush!

The first book was made into a movie in 2010 if you don't believe it's something worth getting hooked on...

If you loved Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger...

read Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolf Stowe

Unbelievable as it might seem, not every Australian teen has read seminal YA novel, Catcher in the Rye, and bedrooms are not covered in J.D. Salinger cover art. However, we do have the beautiful, melancholy Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, written by Randolf Stowe about the experiences of a young kid, Rob Coram, in WWII Western Australia.

Geraldton, WA, is far from pretty much everything—even Sydney is a continent away—and so when war breaks out in Europe, it seems like a remote problem to six-year-old Rob. He is insulated by his extended family, including his favorite cousin Rick. Over the course of the novel, Rick explains that he has to go to war, and while his departure is a shock for Rob, Rick's return is far more wounding. The much-loved cousin who arrives back in Geraldton is damaged, hopeless, and Rob's safe view of the world breaks along with him.

Listen, this is straight-up one of my favorite books of all time. Rob's voice is so sweet, so clear, it is almost as though you are reading The Catcher in the Rye according to Phoebe, Holden's precious little sister, and the only good thing in the world. Lastly, there is the writing:

The merry-go-round had a centre post of cast iron, reddened a little by the salt air, and of a certain ornateness... The planks were polished by the bottoms of children, and on every one of the stays was a small unrusted section where the hands of adults had grasped and pulled and send the merry-go-round spinning.

If you loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson...

read Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

This is not by any means as psychologically probing as Laurie Halse Anderson's novel, but it provides us with a gutsy teen to root for—Josephine Alibrandi is an Italian teenager in Sydney dealing with a tractorload of baggage. Her mighty sixteenth year is the one in which she meets her biological father, goes for her first "motorcycle ride" with a boy, loses her crush to depression, and contends with a spot of racism and identity politics at her Catholic high school.

The book was written by Melina Marchetta as a teen, and seems to have been everyone's favorite book at one point. Josephine's tough-as-nails-edness and sense of humor (the spying Italian relatives, hurray!) make this a super fun read, and realistic look at all the complicated "co-curricular" junk that you deal with in high school.

If you loved Persuasion by Jane Austen...

read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

If it were published today, the subtitle of this book would be My Brilliant Career: *sarcasm hand raised*. Miles Franklin is a big deal in Oz, mostly because of this shouty book written while she was still a teenager. The main character, Sybilla, is marooned out on her alcoholic father's farm, and is over-freaking-joyed when she receives an invitation to go live at her aunt's property (think of it like a trip to Bath; this book is set in the 1890s, so its written to seem somewhat Victorian). There, a handsome, older farm fellow proposes to her, but Sybilla (who is a bit of a tomboy) doesn't want to be stuck out on some farm with a hunk of man meat for the rest of her life, so turns him down.

Franklin's debut looks at the limited options available to wimmin "back then," and the process of growing up and realizing you have finite options. Sybilla's rejection of an okay suitor that she's "just not that into" is also, I note, an early instance of "the ick" in literature—Marianne's rejection of Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility would be another. Read this book and you'll see Miles Franklin had a pretty good spine.

If you loved How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff...

read Taronga by Victor Kelleher

The despairing post-WWIII England of How I Live Now could almost work as a prequel for Victor Kelleher's fantastical YA hit about a dystopian Australia. The book starts two years on from the "Last Days," when society as we know it collapsed. Teenaged Ben has managed to survive in the bushland west of Sydney, used by hunters for his ability to "call" animals telepathically. Sick of betraying the animals, he decides to return to Sydney, to see what remains of the charred city, arriving at Taronga Zoo. There, life goes on almost as before: the zoo keepers continue to feed the animals, shuttling them between their dens and enclosures from day to night. It is deceptively safe, with food for everyone inside, provided they can earn their keep. Ben is tasked with using his talents to handle Raja, the tiger, but knows that every time he "calls" the animal, Raja gets more P.O.'d. Meanwhile, outside the zoo, survivors want a piece of the sanctuary...

Kelleher is known in Australia for his YA fantasies (Brother Night and Del Del, among others), and this book packs a killer punch not from an action standpoint, but through its bleak look at humanity's return to pointed sticks and torches.

If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee...

read Fly Away Peter by David Malouf

Appearing here under the "precious novel with a social cause" category, Fly Away Peter is another Aussie book concerned with war—this time, it's World War I—and class. Jim and Ashley become friends when Ashley purchases the land containing Jim's bird estuary. Ashley is your fancy, and somewhat classist, city slicker, while Jim is a rural dude sensitive to the billions of different species of birds in their push patch of Queensland, who over time teaches Ashley to spot the various wildlife surrounding them and track the migrations. They both head off for the Western Front after war breaks out, where Jim (more so than Ashley, who is an officer) is exposed to the sundry horrors of trench warfare. He runs into Ashley in the midst of Europe's meltdown, and resumes tracking the movements of birds. One of the men doesn't complete his migration home...

Have you read any of these recs? What are your Aussie must-reads?

Topics: Books, Entertainment
Tags: books we love, australia, authors we love, drop bears, if you like this, you'll love this other thing, not on your reading list

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About the Author
Janet Manley

Janet is the Sparkitor who most resembles a common field potato, and isn't opposed to pineapple appearing on a pizza. She is proof that dreams can come true, as long as your dream is to share a love seat with Benjamin Barnes for nine and a half minutes after standing him up for five because you can't work out hotel elevators. Janet once had a smexy dream where Haymitch Abernathy hugged her meaningfully, which I think means they are married now. She would like to third-person you on Twitter @janetmanley

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