Juno Dawson has won the YA Book Prize 2020 with her “gritty and compelling” exposé of the fashion industry, Meat Market (Quercus Children’s Books). The title triumphed from a 10-strong shortlist that also included books by Malorie Blackman, Frances Hardinge and Dean Atta.
Brighton-based Dawson was revealed as the winner of the £2,000 award by body positivity campaigner, influencer and author Megan Crabbe in a digital announcement on Thursday (28th May). On her win, she said: “The YA Book Prize does such a good job of shining a spotlight on the diversity of both young adult novels and authors in the UK, and it’s always an honour to be shortlisted. Winning, however, in a year when the competition was so strong, truly is a delightful surprise. I’m over the moon!”
Meat Market tells the story of a girl from a south London estate, Jana Novak, who is uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she is unexpectedly scouted to work as a model and catapulted into superstardom. However, Jana soon discovers that the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous, and there are unexpected predators at every turn.
Dawson has described the novel as her “most challenging book to date” because of the difficult subject matter. Talking to The Bookseller about the inspiration for the story, she said: “Meat Market was originally inspired by the brave women who spoke out against Bill Cosby, but I also have a strange love/hate relationship with fashion and I wanted to explore that.” She spent two years conducting research for the book, talking to models, model bookers, magazine editors and designers to learn about the fashion industry from the inside.
Nine other titles were shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2020: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Crossfire by Malorie Blackman, The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne, Furious Thing by Jenny Downham, Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James, The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and William Sutcliffe’s The Gifted, the Talented and Me.
Dawson has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize twice before, first with horror title Say Her Name (Hot Key Books) in the award’s inaugural year, and again last year with Clean (Quercus Children’s Books). Dawson’s win coincides with the release of her latest YA novel Wonderland, a radical retelling of Alice in Wonderland, published by Quercus Children’s Books on Thursday (28th May).
Crabbe, who was one of the YA Book Prize 2020 judges, said of this year’s winner: “I was blown away by this book. Jana had a clear and unique voice throughout, the relationships were believable and heartwarming, and there was a beautifully satisfying ending. I’m still wondering what the characters would be doing now—it’s thoroughly unforgettable.” Fellow judge, author and Wales Children’s Laureate Eloise Williams, described the winning novel as “gritty and compelling” with “such important things to say, which it says so well”.
In addition to Crabbe and Williams, this year’s YA Book Prize-winner was selected by a panel including: the School Library Association’s 2017 School Librarian of the Year, Lucas Maxwell of Glenthorne High School in Sutton; Stacey Croft, blogger and brand and digital marketing manager at National Book Tokens; Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of Hay Festival; teenage judges; and chair of the judges, The Bookseller’s deputy features editor Caroline Carpenter.
The YA Book Prize was launched by The Bookseller in 2014 to celebrate great books for teenagers and young adults from the UK and Ireland. It is run in partnership with Hay Festival.
In the run-up to the winner’s announcement, the YA Book Prize hosted three days of live-streamed panels with all of the shortlisted authors. Both Dawson’s acceptance speech and the panels are available to watch on the YA Book Prize website.