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Authors Libba Bray, Gayle Forman, and many more gathered in Melbourne, Australia this weekend for Reading Matters, a conference dedicated to the discussion and celebration of Young Adult fiction.

While BookExpo America was charging on in New York, a smaller but equally exciting conference was kicking off in Australia. Reading Matters is presented by the Centre for Youth Literature, and ran from Thursday 30 May to Saturday 1 June, with an accompanying roadshow to share the love around. Hypable writer Marama Whyte was in attendance, and has all the highlights from the Saturday programming.

Reading Matters 2013

The most controversial panel of the day was ‘Gender Less,’ a discussion of gender roles and divides in Young Adult fiction, featuring authors Libba Bray (Beauty Queens, The Diviners), Myke Bartlett (Fire in the Sea), and Fiona Wood (Wildlife). Referencing author Maureen Johnson’s wonderful Coverflip experiment, the panelists questioned how far a book cover can go in determining the book’s readership (Their answer: seriously far).

Bray noted that by categorising a novel as a ‘girl book’ or a ‘boy book,’ “what it says to boys is you don’t need to be concerned with the female experience,” and vice versa. Bartlett admitted that his novel was a response to Bella Swan, the Twilight protagonist who he found so depressing: “I really wanted to write a female character who seemed more realistic”.

On the final panel of the day, Gayle Forman (If I Stay, Just One Day), Morris Gleitzman (After), and Keith Gray (Ostrich Boys) returned to the question of gender. Gray took a converse approach, saying “I think boys are underrepresented in YA,” while Forman asked “why is it acceptable for girls to go into the boys’ world, but not for the boys to go into the girls’ world?”

Before dropping some big news about the If I Stay movie, Forman also brought back the ever relevant idea – had Harry Potter been about Hermione, would it still have been a phenomenon?

In other programming, Gabrielle Williams (The Reluctant Hallelujah) stole the show on a panel about adaptation and inspiration with Alison Croggon (Black Spring) and Andrew McGahan (Ship Kings). Authors Garth Nix (Shade’s Children), Tim Sinclair (Run), and Vikki Wakefield (Friday Brown) teamed up for ‘Outsider, Outside,’ a discussion of (you guessed it) outsiders in YA.

Raina Telgemeier, the New York Times bestselling author of graphic novels Smile and Drama was also in attendance, kicking off the Saturday program with her upfront and entertaining presentation. Her new book Sisters will be published in Fall 2014, and is an accompanying novel to Smile.

Endearingly, it seemed that all of the authors who appeared on panels together had taken the time to read each other’s books, and so were able to critically discuss their work in conjunction with each other. The conference also reminded us that while we may love reading YA, there is more to talk about in this fantastic genre than merely our favourite characters or ships. Sometimes we need to take the time to think a little harder, and delve a little deeper.

For more in-depth discussions of Young Adult literature, be sure to check out Hypable’s Book Hype podcast

  • Julia

    After seeing some very disturbing comments on Hypable concerning gender and gender roles in various fandoms, I am glad you have reported on this panel specifically.

  • Merina

    Oddly enough, I think that Harry Potter /would/ have still been a huge success if it revolved around Hermione (consider what a fantastic character she is) or a female!Harry (considering how many hit series there are out there that revolve around female protagonists).

    It’s (sadly) a very good point though, that perhaps male readers would not have felt they should gravitate towards it, in that case. Hm. Food for thought.

  • alazear

    I don’t think I agree with Mrs. Forman’s conclusion about Harry Potter. Male readers have been shown to be drawn to female protagonist driven series in the past. I know plenty of guys who like The Hunger Games or His Dark Materials (However I don’t know if the latter is classified as young adult. I’m not sure, all I know is that I read it in the 5th grade) and both of them have Female Protagonists. I think the difference is in the themes of the novel. Both of the books listed above have themes which deal with right and wrong, the Human Spirit, and other universal things. More recent Young Adult fiction like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, or Divergent, deal with things that are not universal (Don’t quote me on Divergent, I haven’t read it). The main themes and plot devices from them often deal with things like romance, which is something which doesn’t appeal to a Male audience.
    My point is that it isn’t really the gender of the character which matters, its the overall point of the books. The Hunger Games deals with Death and perseverance in the face of diversity, while Twilight deals with “True Love” (or the joy of having a boyfriend, whichever you choose). So I think that if Harry had been Harriet, or if the series had dealt with Hermione, it still would have been a hit, based solely on the fact that the themes are universal.

  • Karen

    It’s probably not a question of being popular or not, but more a question of the numbers. A “girly” series like Twilight has a massive amount of female fans and is inarguably popular. However, I agree with the authors that had HP been about Hermione, boys would not have read in the numbers they did/do and the series wouldn’t have the same “legitimacy” it has, because as we see time and time again, if girls embrace something then it cannot be taken seriously. And I’m not just talking about Twilight: look at the box offfice predictions for a female friendly film like The Great Gatsby. The studios, not knowing how to market the film to its target audience, admit to more or less writing it off and then admitted to be surprised that it did better at the box office than they had predicted. Movie critics will heap praise on male scewing films like Transformers, but will inevitably be bored with and pan similar popcorn fare for females, often openly admitting that this film is stupid because it is about love or whatever.

  • Dee

    Fiona’s novel is WildLIFE, not fire.

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