The Readings Young Adult Book Prize shortlist 2019

We are delighted to announce the 2019 shortlist for the Readings Young Adult Book Prize. Now in its third year, the prize was created to recognise and celebrate new voices in Australian Young Adult literature, and considers the first and second books of YA authors across Australia.

The six shortlisted books for this year are:

This year’s shortlist features a diverse chorus of powerful voices. Expect stories that are raw and poignant, unguarded and silly, hopeful and strong – most of all, expect characters who are unabashedly and unapologetically themselves, whatever they’re up against. These are books that will resonate deeply with readers, open conversations, and invite new understandings. Above all, they exemplify the extraordinary power books have to empower, evoke and inform.

The Readings staff members on the 2019 judging panel include Jackie Tang (Readings online), Dani Solomon (Readings Kids), Kate O’Mara (Readings Hawthorn) and chairperson Georgia Phelan (Readings Doncaster). We are delighted to have multi-award-winning author Cath Crowley as our guest judge for 2019. Crowley is a much-loved pillar of the Australian young adult literary scene and will join our staff judges to determine the winner. The judging panel will also take into consideration feedback from the Readings Teen Advisory Board, with the winner to be announced in July.

You can read the judges’ comments on each individual title below.


Highway Bodies by Alison Evans

Highway Bodies follows three groups of resilient teens who wake one morning to find the world they know is torn apart. A virus is ravaging Melbourne, twisting the population into feral, violent zombies in its wake, and as our heroes make their way across this new post-apocalyptic landscape, they are thrown together in a desperate struggle to survive.

Highway Bodies is a tense and visceral zombie thriller set against the backdrop of urban and rural Australia; you can sense the scrape of a bloody shovel on a cracked highway road, the cawing magpies and the crunch of dried gum leaves underfoot. Evans’ characters are fully realised – they are intelligent, resourceful, flawed and vulnerable. Featuring a range of queer and gender-non-conforming protagonists, each with their own distinct voice, Highway Bodies is a brilliant contribution to LGBTQIA+ representation in Australian YA literature. This is a thrilling, gory and gutsy zombie-slasher novel with a resonant message of finding family amid chaos and of surviving in solidarity.

For ages 15+.


What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillame

Maisie Martin has spent most of her life hiding her body. She won’t even wear her swimmers to the beach, and even though she’s supposed to be having the summer of her life, she’s stuck sweating on the sand in jeans and a t-shirt. But then, her dad was supposed to be with them, instead of going AWOL. And her best friend is supposed to be getting over her ex, not starting a summer fling with Maisie’s crush. Maisie is definitely not supposed to be taking part in the Miss Teen Summer Queen pageant, but this summer, ‘supposed to’ isn’t going to get in her way.

What I Like About Me tackles the issues of family tensions, unrequited love, and body positivity with frank realism and boundless sass. As DJ, or ‘Dear Journal', we witness Maisie’s side-splitting highs and bitter, scathing lows. Guillaume navigates Maisie’s struggles with her confidence without being trite or patronising, and – true to the novel’s breezy beachside rom-com spirit – there are also plenty of poolside parties, perfect kisses and big romantic moments. A joyful and raucous read about self-doubt and discovery, growing pains and owning yourself in front of the world.

For ages 13+.


Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

When 12-year-old Sophie finds her mother dead, her life slips out of her hands as she becomes a ward of the state. Behind the veneer of a system meant to help, she quickly realises that her new world is where children fall through the cracks, and rock bottom is a long way down. As she grows up kicking around from home to home, Sophie lands with Gwen, Matty and the beautiful, wretched Spiral, fellow casualties of abuse and neglect, struggling against the bureaucratic disempowerment that has consumed their lives. Maybe with them Sophie can begin to untangle the pain of her past.

Unforgiving and unforgettable, Stone Girl is a raw dose of reality for older YA readers. Hale grips onto the lives of her characters and pulls them to the surface, exposing the debilitating impact of institutionalisation on Australian youth, and the violence of a broken system which is equal parts well-intentioned and corrupt. Hale’s prose is precise and powerful, deftly balancing bleakness with glimmers of hard-won hope and inner steel. Stone Girl is a crucial and heartbreaking contemporary story for an informed generation.

For ages 16+.


Making Friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu

Alice Dyson’s number one priority is her future – nothing is going to get in the way of her concentrating on her school work, nailing her exams and achieving the future her parents always dreamed of. It’s easier to do when the people at school leave you alone, and you only have one friend. But when Teddy Taualai crashes into Alice’s life and catapults her into the centre of attention with a viral video and an onslaught of rumours, Alice’s best laid plans to get through Year 12 unnoticed are thrown into chaos.

This gentle and tender contemporary romance from Poppy Nwosu finds friendship, compassion and understanding under the weight of other people’s expectations. Alice is a true introvert, shy and a little naïve, closed off but never misanthropic, and her genuine kindness emanates from the pages. Nwosu bypasses toxic and high-stakes romantic tropes for a refreshingly nuanced and realistic dynamic, while still giving readers the slow-burn romance they crave: a gloriously heady mix of tentative self-consciousness, bittersweet longing and simmering tension.

For ages 13+.


Unmasked by Turia Pitt and Bryce Corbett

In September 2011, fitness junkie and mining engineer Turia Pitt competed in an ultramarathon out in the desert of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. During the race, she, along with a handful of other racers, were caught in a grassfire, which burned over 65% of her body and left her in a near-death state. In this young adult edition of her enthralling memoir, Pitt recounts the story of her painful and arduous recovery, her goal-smashing success in Ironman challenges, and offers heartfelt advice on topics such as kindness, gratitude, discovering one’s strengths, overcoming setbacks and finding the people who can lift you up and support you.

Unmasked is a memoir that demonstrates how a unique experience can have a universal message. Pitt recalls her long recovery with refreshing honesty and optimism. Her attitude is infectious – she is direct, down-to-earth, conversational, fun-loving and even goofy. There are chapters interspersed throughout written by her husband, parents and closest friends which also serve as a tender reminder of the importance of support networks. Pitt is a tremendous voice for teens, modelling a type of resilience that is achievable and relatable to readers, while supporting them in turn.

For ages 12+.


The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge by Claire Strahan

Fifteen-year-old Vanessa Partridge spends every summer holiday at her wealthy family’s estate in beachside Shearwater, visiting her best friend at the caravan park, practicing her cello, and keeping up with her father’s demanding standards. This year, however, things are different. For one, her brother is bringing his best friend Darith, and Van is positive good girls in plaits aren’t supposed to have the thoughts she has about him. Then there’s Bodhi, the older environmental activist who takes a keen interest in her and in her father’s development plans for the town.

In this funny and frank coming-of-age story, Clare Strahan addresses issues of consent, shame and agency. Van is a delightful character, insatiably curious and hilarious, with an endearing tendency to rattle off esoteric facts to mask her (sometimes confused, often embarrassing) inner thoughts. Strahan is a keen observer of the messy inner lives of teenagers, with a sophisticated grasp on the uneven power dynamics of attraction, and she handles the very light and very dark moments (which may be triggering for some readers) with grace and compassion. This is a vital and entertaining contemporary novel, punctuated with humour, entertaining sibling and friend dynamics, and the aching poignancy of growing up.

For ages 15+.

We’re pleased to offer all six books on the shortlist in a specially priced pack for $99.99 (was $119.90).

The winner of this year’s Readings Young Adult Book Prize will be revealed in late July, and will be featured in the August issue of the Readings Monthly. They will receive $3,000 in prize money. You can find out more about the prize here.

Georgia Phelan, chair of the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize judging panel, in consultation with and on behalf of the 2019 judging panel.

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Highway Bodies

Highway Bodies

Alison Evans

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