Tag Archives: Shaun Tan

YA zeitgeist

I recently finished reading entries for a secondary schools short story competition. The list of topics covered, by young writers aged from 13 to 17, is ranked by frequency as follows:

  • Horror, including scary Sci Fi (a clear leader)
  • Crime/Murder
  • Fear/Anxiety/Depression/Loneliness
  • Fantasy
  • Historic
  • Domestic Violence/Alcohol Abuse
  • Bushfires
  • Child death
  • Pet death
  • Childhood
  • Bullying
  • Homelessness
  • Suicide
  • Near death experiences
  • Fun
  • Romance
  • War

Compared to last year, there was a big jump in the number of horror stories. I attribute this to the Meyer Effect as dashing vampires certainly made their presence felt.

There were few surprises – although I was taken aback by the level of detail in one of the Year 8 suicide stories.

What I’ll never know is the extent to which the February 7 bushfires influenced the themes and mood of the writing this year. The entrants all come from areas close to or directly affected by the fires and a few wrote powerful personal stories of fleeing the inferno. Let’s hope that writing these dark stories was cathartic and eased the trauma these kids are living with.

The students’ topics make an interesting comparison with the Publishers’ Weekly list of top YA fiction titles (US) for 2009, which you can see here.

Massive congratulations to Shaun Tan, who made this list and has been gathering awards around the globe. I’ve read Tales from Outer Suburbia and it’s a beautiful and thought-provoking book. I do have queries over it though. Is it really YA fiction? Crossover? Too hard to categorise?

Tales really is a remarkable book but is it something teen readers would gobble up? Who is reading it?

I could see it providing teachers with a wealth of material to work with in classrooms. However, my gut feeling – and I’ll happily be educated otherwise – is that it’s not the sort of book most teen readers will readily embrace. Does that mean it doesn’t belong on the YA shelves? Absolutely not. But it could sit comfortably in an art gallery too.

I look forward to hearing thoughts from those who have read it.