11:00 am EDT, June 2, 2013

Libba Bray, Gayle Forman lead YA gender discussion at Reading Matters conference

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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

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