JADE ON: the second annual YA Prize shortlist

Article published on March 11, 2016.

What a week it’s been for literary awards nominations – blink and you most likely would have missed something – first the Baileys Prize announced its 10-strong longlist, followed swiftly by the Man Booker International Prize longlist of 13 titles and the Stella Prize 6 shortlisted nominations. Finally we had the announcement of the shortlist for the second annual YA Prize and what a great way to round off what have been some fascinating prize lists.

Last year’s inaugural YA Prize set the bar remarkably high, not only with its fully deserving winner Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, but across the board with its ten nominees tackling everything from a dazzling literary concoction of genres in Marcus Sedgwick’s The Ghost of Heavens to Non Pratt’s contemporary novel, Trouble, about teen pregnancy, with of course a feminist dystopian novel taking the overall accolade. The quality of the line-up was of course a reflection of the quality of YA, and it is therefore no surprise, or fluke, that this year’s line-up is just as impressive. Indeed, given that last year’s Costa Prize went to the winner of the Children’s Award, Frances Hardinge for her novel The Lie Tree – one of the ten nominees to make up the YA Prize shortlist – beating off competition from the First Novel award winner Andrew Michael Hurley, the Novel award winner Kate Atkinson, the Biography award winner Andrea Wulf and the Poetry award winner Don Paterson, has led many to comment on the current strength of children’s and YA fiction – a fact that has been increasingly evident in recent years.

Hardinge whose novel is set in Victorian England and centres on a prodigious female protagonist shares a similar feminist spirit to last year’s winning title by Louise O’Neill, albeit in a very different context in which the question of gender roles and conventions are still firmly in place. The Lie Tree is another strong example of the empowering feminist writing that is growing in YA. And speaking of feminist writing, Louise O’Neill makes it two out of two, with her second YA Prize nomination this year for Asking For It, which tackles existing debates about rape culture. Already the book has landed both the senior Children’s Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards as well as taking the overall title of Irish Book of the Year 2015.

Carnegie Medal Winner Patrick Ness is shortlisted for his title The Rest of Us Just Live Here, [Ed: who Jade interviewed for nb magazine and nudge!] which is a clever, quirky novel that puts the so-called ordinary teens at the centre of the novel, whilst the ‘chosen ones’ are moved to the periphery. He is joined by the only other male author on the shortlist, William Sutcliffe, whose novel Concentr8 envisions a stark future where troubled teens are routinely medicated.

Catherine Johnson’s The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, set in the early nineteenth century, is based on the true story of the historical figure Mary Wilcox. Whilst the fantasy genre is represented by Melinda Salisbury’s first book of her trilogy, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. Contemporary novels feature significantly, with the likes of Holly Bourne, Jenny Downham and Lisa Williamson dealing with a cross-section of issues pertinent to teens today with powerful coming-of-age stories, and most notably, in the case of Williamson’s novel, transgender concerns. But Sarah Crossan’s One is amongst the most ambitious and exciting of the titles on the entire shortlist, a novel written in blank verse about conjoined twins. Having read only half of the nominated titles, it would be foolish of me to stake my claim on a winner, but Crossan’s novel certainly has all of the attributes. However, and without wanting to sound like a patronizing headteacher, I think it’s fair and appropriate to say given the strength of YA and the quality of this line-up, that all of the authors are winners already.

Jade Craddock
March 11, 2016

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