I’d like you to think back to the last five books you read. How many were YA books? How many were YA books written by UK authors? One last question: How many of your answers did you have to consider for more than thirty seconds?
The YA Book Prize is helping to promote UKYA – YA books written by authors born or currently residing in the UK – and it’s essential that we understand the importance of supporting and cultivating our British talent.
UKYA has had a big boost recently, with wonderful projects set up by Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. Supporting UKYA isn’t something we have to do, but it is something we should do for a variety of reasons: we have a wealth of authors right on our doorstep, waiting for their books to be read in the hands of voracious readers.
At a time when teenagers need as much encouragement as they can get to read, it’s important that there is a book out there for everybody. UKYA offers a familiarity and deals with issues that offer an understanding and guidance as teenagers reach a crossroads in their lives; it’s much easier to feel sympathy towards a character or situation when the culture is well known.
The stand out UKYA of the moment demonstrates just how important UKYA can be. Trouble by Non Pratt (Walker Books) discusses teenage pregnancy in a mature and relatable way. In contrast, Banished by Liz de Jager (Tor) offers a fantasy escape similar to that of Game of Thrones, the hit TV show that has been adapted from the book series by George R. R. Martin. UKYA fits the needs of the reader and educates in a non-invasive way.
Diversity in fiction is a topic talked about deeply at the moment. For many years, UKYA has been ahead of trends, and books such as Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday) and Cruel Summer by James Dawson (Indigo) highlight the diversity and array of subjects covered. UKYA represents the multicultural country we live in, and each and every person who lives within it.
It’s not all about the themes in the books, though – the authors themselves are incredibly influential, making appearances at events and interacting with their readers. It gives their fans something to aspire to; the authors are role models, with the authors of the future looking up to them. Social media interaction bridges the gap between author and reader, and makes authors more accessible than ever before.
The UKYA community does not consist of solely authors, but booksellers, publishers, bloggers and readers too. The sense of community brings everybody together and creates a unity in the publishing community that isn’t seen in many places elsewhere.
Things are changing at the moment. Holly Smale, author of Geek Girl (HarperCollins) is one of the top children’s authors in the UK, and that success means that more publishers will take a chance on up and coming UKYA debut authors. High-profile authors – Dawn O’Porter, author of Paper Aeroplanes (Hot Key) – are opening up the market and attracting a new, wider readership.
Once you read one UKYA book, there’s no turning back. Next time you’re in a bookshop, seek out a UKYA book. You won’t regret it.
Lucy Powrie is a teenage book blogger at queenofcontemporary.com.