Today we’ll take a look at the Inky Awards, whose winners will be announced next week (October 13). The Inkys are an annual celebration of quality young adult (YA) literature, hosted by the State Library of Victoria. Teen readers are actively involved throughout the judging process – from selecting the longlists and shortlists out of the nominations, to voting for the winners. While shortlists are chosen for their quality, originality, readability and age-appropriateness, the winner is chosen by popular vote. Two prizes are awarded each year – the Gold Inky for an Australian book, and the Silver Inky for an international book.
This year’s Gold Inky looks set to be tightly contested. The five shortlisted books are all compelling reads. They are diverse in style and themes – there’s something for everyone. I have found it hard to pick one standout book so I have highlighted a special quality of each one. Enjoy!
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil
Why it’s good: so funny, you wish you were part of the gang
For Alba and her friends, high school is over, and Christmas and a leisurely summer beckon. However, their plans are interrupted by an obscure prediction for apocalypse, resulting in hundreds of “believers” descending on their sleepy little town. There’s nothing like imminent doom and an influx of strangers to focus the mind on big Life Decisions, such as: What do I want to do in life?, and: Is heading to the City for uni and a career inevitable?, and: How do I really feel about my best friend – is it friendship … or love?
Alba is an appealing heroine – bold, sassy, technicolored like her comic-book creations; but beneath that chutzpah there is angst and vulnerability. The easy camaraderie between Alba and her wise-cracking gang is endearing and hilarious. They may not be “conventionally cool” people, but they are having so much fun that you’ll wish you were one of them. The book’s cover art – in retro comic- book style – complements the story perfectly.
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
Why it’s good: a tense page-turner that transcends the “YA” tag
Sydney, 1932: the inner suburbs are a hotbed of crime and poverty, such that the tabloids dub Darlinghurst and Surry Hills “Razorhurst” and “Sorrow Hills”. Razor gangs rule these areas with violence, and everyone lives or dies by their wits. When Dymphna and Kelpie discover the aftermath of a brutal murder, they realise they are in great danger. Over the next 24 hours, they run, plot, mask their fears, and constantly recalculate their best strategies for survival. As the truce between rival gangs crumbles and power shifts, will they live till tomorrow?
Razorhurst is anchored by a pair of feisty, street-smart heroines: Kelpie, a street urchin who never misses small details; and Dymphna, beautiful, intelligent, a (literal) femme fatale nicknamed “Angel of Death”. They may seem poles apart but they share similarly traumatic pasts and an ability to see and hear ghosts – a twist that adds unexpected richness to the plot.
Razorhurst is a tense noir thriller. Larbalestier’s meticulous research shines through in the vivid evocation of that glamourous-yet-gritty era. It definitely deserves a wider readership than the YA tag would suggest.
Laurinda by Alice Pung
Why it’s good: schoolyard intrigues that get under your skin
John Marsden praises Laurinda as “funny, horrifying, and sharp as a serpent’s fangs” and he is spot-on. Laurinda’s depictions of the insular world of an exclusive girls’ school are likely to bring back memories – especially the uncomfortable ones – to anyone who has ever experienced the bitchiness and power plays of teenage girldom.
Lucy Lam, Asian and from a poor neighbourhood, wins a scholarship to Laurinda: “no ‘Ladies’ College’ after it, of course; the name was meant to speak for itself”. Far out of her comfort zone, her confidence falters; she becomes a quiet but keen-eyed observer of the power dynamics of her new environment. Her outsider status offers her the perspective to critique Laurindan society and see its rottenness – condescension, casual racism, bullying. When the most powerful clique at Laurinda makes overtures to Lucy, she becomes torn between her aspirations for sophistication and middle-class values, and her disgust at the duplicity inherent in privilege and “good manners”. Will she retain her identity and stand her ground, or will she join in, in order to leave the poverty and lack of opportunities of her current life?
Alice Pung’s first foray into fiction elaborates on the themes of identity and belonging prominent in her earlier work. She offers a valuable voice for immigrant youth everywhere, who are trying to navigate issues of race and class in their adopted homeland.
The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer
Why it’s good: a breezy holiday read with important life lessons
Sweet, earnest, gawky Josie has tumbled into an internship at a top women’s magazine. This isn’t her first choice – she wants to become a newspaper journalist – but a prize for the Best Intern keeps her motivated. Each week, Josie’s internship offers a glimpse into an exciting and glamorous adult life – living in a big city, meeting celebrities – although it also shows its dark side, with body image issues and online bullying. As she focuses more on her internship, she loses touch with her family and friends. Soon she has to make tough decisions about what matters most, and how to maintain her integrity.
The Intern is a fun read with coming-of-age themes. Josie is not perfect, but likeable and relatable. Gabrielle Tozer uses her own experience in magazine publishing to create an authentic setting, with just the right touch of ridiculousness. Josie’s fish-out-of-water story invites comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada; what sets them apart is the Intern’s background detail- the struggles of Josie’s mother and sister since her father left the family; the exploration of issues surrounding body image, eating disorders, the definition of success and cyberbullying. Many supporting characters are drawn with depth, and I look forward to meeting them again in the sequel, Faking It, which is now available.
The Protected by Claire Zorn
Why it’s good: a harrowing but un-putdownable read
The Protected has already won this year’s CBCA Older Readers Book of the Year, will it win an Inky as well? The Protected is not “fun” or “entertaining”, but it is mesmerising and unforgettable. It reads like a mystery – the events that lead to the current tragic situation are slowly revealed. The Protected draws readers in, empathising with Hannah, hoping against hope that she will have a happy, or at least hopeful, ending.
Hannah is a quiet, withdrawn fifteen year old, who has been shuttled from psychologist to psychologist following the death of her sister Katie. The accident that killed Katie also left Hannah’s father seriously injured, and her mother clinically depressed. When Hannah starts to connect with the school’s counsellor, the full tragedy of her situation is finally revealed. Hannah’s pain is caused by years of relentless bullying – while her cool, beautiful sister watches on. Katie’s death leads to a tangle of guilt and grief and anger that Hannah, nurtured by the glimmerings of new friendships, finally learns to deal with. The Protected is a powerful story with complex characterisation, all the effective because it is quietly, gently told.
For more information, including the shortlist for the Silver Inkys, see https://insideadog.com.au/page/inky-awards