I Heart Aussie YA #4 + Author Interview

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Title                    Measuring Up
Author               GJ Stroud
Publisher           Scribe
Genre                 YA Contemporary

Goodreads blurb:
Jonah’s life has been like riding the perfect wave—the wonderfully simple routine of school, partying, and surfing with his friends. With the stress of his senior year looming, he realizes all of that is about to change. Rattled by the fear that he is destined to live in the shadow of his legendary older brother, Link, Jonah’s self-confidence begins to waver, along with his mission to lose his virginity before turning 18. Just when he has decided things couldn’t get any more complicated, Link drops a bombshell on his unsuspecting family. Despite these overwhelming transitions, Jonah soon discovers that life has a funny way of sorting out the big issues from the small, and that the answers he’s looking for may be right in front of him. Frank and funny, this coming-of-age novel is a definitive tale of family, friendship, and the pressures of adolescence.

Measuring Up is written by the talented GJ Stroud. Full disclosure: Gab is also a good writing buddy of mine and one of my fellow hosts over at The Print Posse.
Measuring Up is an honest and witty look at growing up under the shadow of a small town mindset. The writing is sharp and at times, brutally honest. The MC, Jonah, is likable and relatable as he stumbles through the transition from larakin teen surfer into a young adult.

In Measuring Up, Stroud explores the perpetual struggle of youth in determining the Big Things in life from The Little Things. Stroud’s writing style is refreshing. No condescending stereotypes of teenagers, just real kids who might have sat next to you at school during lunchtime.

The Australian setting fits seamlessly into the story and is a gentle reminder of the different mindsets still prevalent in small towns. Measuring Up will have youth nodding in agreement and inspire a nostalgic smile in adults.

Try Measuring Up if you liked Puberty Blues,  The Flywheel or The Story of Tom Brennan.

GJ Stroud

GJ Stroud

Hi Gab, welcome to A Novel Indulgence. Tell me, where did the inspiration for Measuring Up come from?

There were two key things that inspired my ideas for Measuring Up. The first was a story my friend told me about how her sister calls her “Sib” short for ‘Sibling’ because before my friend was born, her mum told Big Sister that she was going to have a sibling and Big Sister was so intrigued by the word that she referred to the baby as Sibling forevermore! So my friend got “Sib” as a family nickname. That got me thinking about my own family – I’m the youngest. My eldest sister always always calls me Kiddo. There’s so much power in names. I explore that in Measuring Up.

The other idea came from my experience teaching Year 7. A girl from my Homeroom came to me after one lunch time of being harassed by Year 7 boys calling her ‘flat chested’. When I relayed the story to my sister she said “It’s so easy for boys because nobody can see their… you know – penis. So, we can’t call them “shorty” or “stumpy” – but for girls everyone can see their chest development. It’s not fair.” I thought about what this means for men and boys and asked myself – what would happen if a boy had a rapid and obvious transition into manhood? Just like girls, he would feel uncomfortable, awkward and possibly embarrassed. I explore this discomfort and the feeling of scrutiny throughout Measuring Up but it’s best reflected in the scene where Mel says to Jonah (the MC) “It’s like you got your first bra and your period all on the same day!”

The voice of your MC, Jonah, was authentic as a teenage boy. How did you prepare for writing from a perspective that could not be based on personal experience?

I think all my writing comes from something that’s beyond gender and age and all that… I like considering the human experience. What feelings and experiences do we share? Having said that, it was important that I really nailed the voice of Jonah. So, I did a lot of eavesdropping and note taking. And I befriended a guy around Jonah’s age at our local little supermarket. He worked in the deli and I would order a lot of ham and olives and soft cheeses just so I could interact with him and observe him. I remember watching him one day being torn between serving an old lady who had waited a long time and a gorgeous girl who had just walked in. The pain on his face was obvious!

Without spoiling the ending, some threads are tied and others are left open. As a writer, was there pressure to resolve all the story arcs?

Yes. My editor and publisher kept saying to me – is this story finished?

How long did the writing process take? 

Three years. Two years to draft and write and one year to edit and polish for publication. That included working full time and all the other stuff that life throws at you when you’re trying to write a book!

Were there any times when you nearly gave up on the project?

Yep. Heaps. But my dear friend Jess pushed, prompted, encouraged, shoved, prodded and just generally bullied me until the job was done.

You thanked Varuna The Writers’ House, what stage was your story at when you did your residency there?

My story was at a drafty draft stage. I didn’t know where it was going, I just had these great characters and the voice was strong and the words were flowing. I was wandering around inside my story while I was at Varuna. It was a bit special!

What processes did you undergo at Varuna The Writers’ House?

I was part of a residency and I was mentored each day by the mighty Peter Bishop who has worked with some of Australia’s best writers. This was an hour each day talking with someone who loved my story as much as I did. Peter has this way of making you think about things in new and unusual ways. He’s the kind of guy who if you gave him a jumper, he’d turn it inside out and look at the cuff of the sleeve and say “I wonder what the sheep was feeling when she grew this wool?” He asks you things that make you feel uncomfortable – things like “What’s the heartland of your story?” or “How will you know that your story is told?” or “Where are you in this story?” Conversations with Peter are both nourishing and challenging.
And each evening I met with the other writers and we talked, shared our stories, listened and sort of workshopped ideas together. There’s something magic that happens at Varuna and I’m sure the spirit of Eleanor Dark hovers in that lounge room helping writers to connect in very deep and personal ways.

How did you land a publication deal?

Just submitted it to Scribe. Simple as that. I was also going to submit it for the Text YA prize. Scribe rang me and said “Please don’t submit to Text.” It was the best day ever! I was pregnant and teaching full time and I was at school when I got the call from Scribe. I walked back into the staff room and clambered my big pregnant body onto the staffroom table and just stood there like a gold medal Olympian up on the dais. I was so darn proud of myself. Everyone thought I’d finally lost my mind completely.

Mrs Finlay – did you ever have a teacher like her?

*smile* I worked with a teacher like Ms Finlay. She was amazeballs.

What’s next for GJ Stroud?

You tell me and we’ll both know! I’ve got another YA fiction that’s looking for a home. Its pathway to publication has not been as straightforward as Measuring Up’s but I have confidence that the Universe will help that story find it’s place.

I’ll be at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival later this year as a guest on their 555 Roadshow AND at the Festival proper. That’s like a big WHOA moment for me.

I’m working on a novel about Post-Natal depression too – for adults of course. I blog regularly on my website, write freelance for some mags and journals. And endless other stories are constantly squirming inside me and vying for my attention.
I guess it’s just watch this space for me right now. I’m open to anything!

A huge thank you to Gab for joining me on ANI. Readers can visit GJ Stroud’s Goodreads page or head over to her blog to check out more of what she’s been up to.

I Heart Aussie YA #3

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title:  Life In Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Melissa Keil’s Life In Outer Space is one of my favourite Aussie YA books. I loved this book so much that I’m already imagining myself going back for a re-read. I finished reading it just before bed but didn’t want to go to sleep and lose all the ‘warm and fuzzies’ it gave me.

Keil’s writing makes every situation real – I kept pausing throughout the book to reflect on all the people I know who could actually be those characters.

Not being a boy, I don’t really know how accurate Sam’s POV narration was but to my limited expertise he was spot on. His teenage male cluelessness about girls was perfect. Camilla’s cool charm and self-assuredness made me adore her and wish I could have been her when I was at school.

This book made me laugh – not something I do very often whilst reading. It has some of the funniest lines I’ve ever read. Keil’s writing style is delightfully funny and absolutely real.

Title:    The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author:  Melissa Keil
Publisher:  Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

The familiarity of Keil’s characters quickly transported me. These were characters I’m certain have walked through my life at some stage. Keil has captured the timeless struggle of those finishing school and casting their eyes towards the next great life adventure. The excitement and dread of life irrevocably changing regardless of whether or not you want it to.

Like Life in Outer Space, TIAoCG was an easy read. It was like snuggling up in your favourite trackies – warm, comfy and safe. It felt as though my teenage years were giving me a hug.

This second offering proves she is an author with flair and one whose career I will be following with anticipation.

Try these books if you liked Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

I Heart Aussie YA #2

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title                             Liberated (Book three in The Guardians Series)
Author                        MJ Stevens
Publisher                   Self Published

Liberated_CoverFront_Proof2

Last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Liberated by MJ Stevens in exchange for an honest review. Aside from the joy of receiving books in the mail (is there anything better?) I was keen to discover what fate would befall Mellea in this final instalment of The Guardian Series.

I do adore stories about the average girl being swept into a royal world. There’s excitement, there’s nerves, there’s passion – what’s not to love? Books one and two in this series gave all that and hooked me in.

Similarities exist between MJ Stevens’ The Guardian Series and Marrisa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Both explore the reactions of society to those whose bodies have been mechanically altered to be stronger, faster, better. In the Lunar Chronicles, these people are called cyborgs. In The Guardian Series, they are MECHS. Both are shunned by society but, unlike Myer’s lead, Cinder, Stevens’ central protagonist in Mellea – an everyday small town girl who is thrust into the prestigious world of the ruling elite.

The final book in the series, Liberated, focuses on the building conflict between the MECHS, the Guardians and the ever changing, ever evil, Doctor. The people of Poridos are losing faith in the Guardians’ ability to protect them from the MECHS. Villages are being wiped out and confidence in the ruling elite is at an all time low. Threats on the Guardian’s lives are happening all to often. Mellea must navigate this new climate all the while learning how to be part of the Successor’s world.

The book explores the dangers of giving religious extremists a voice, acceptance and intolerance and of course, trying to find your place in the world. It’s a strong end to the series. It answers all the questions and takes some unexpected turns. The only area in this book that didn’t live up to the previous two was the development of the relationship between Mellea and Leo. I loved in the first two books how their trust in each other grew and the steps they took back and forth towards a caring relationship. In Liberated, the relationship took second place to all the drama and action the Guardians were facing. Okay, that may seem like a real-life reasonable thing to happen but I wanted to experience how that could relationship grow further. I wanted to see how Leo continued to struggle with his image, his role as a Successor and work out how to be a boyfriend. I admit it – I wanted more swoon!

The verdict? This makes the list of Aussie YA to check out. If you haven’t already, add the first book in the series, Bound, to your TBR.

Try this book if you liked The Selection Series and the Lunar Chronicles.

I Heart Aussie YA # 1

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title                                             State of Grace
Author                                         Hilary Badger
Publisher                                    Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre                                          YA Dystopia

9781760120382

There’s something exciting about delving into a novel you have know nothing about. State of Grace by Hilary Badger is published in Australia by Hardie Grant Egmont. That and the gorgeous launch party pics posted on the HGE twitter feed were all I had to go on. Knowing HGE are responsible for the publication of works such as Melissa’s Kiel’s Life in Outer Space and Erin Gough’s The Flywheel, I knew there had to be something special about it.

And there is. It is different. Part dystoian, part utopian, State of Grace explores perceptions of happiness and the lengths we will go to ensure a life of joy. Straight away, we are thrust into the world of Wren, where everything is completely perfect, dotly if you will. But why is it perfect? Why does it need to be? What is the perfection and joy hiding? These are the questions that kept me enthralled.

While the themes explored are certainly not new, they embrace issues the reader can connect with at any age. And though the issues are intense ones, it is not an intense read. In fact, there is much joy and beauty between the pages.

Read more about State of Grace on the Goodreads page.

I Heart Aussie YA

Aussie YA Books

Aussie YA is fantastic.

Over the past few years I’ve been working on spreading the word to some of my students about how great Aussie YA is. Some have embraced the titles suggested and have been pleasantly surprised. Others shake their heads and back away slowly.
This makes me ask, why?

These are students who love reading. They are excited to get together each week and share their latest YA love. Yet Aussie YA has them turning their noses up. On further investigation, most students haven’t read much Aussie YA, and what they have (usually only the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden, they loved. So why the fear? Why are young Australians so hesitant to pick up a home grown book?

This snubbing of Australian work is not new. When I was younger I worked in a cinema. Patrons would come and ask what a film was about and I would say, “It’s a new Australian film…” “Oh, never mind then,” would be the response before I could even say what it was about. We don’t even want to give it a go and we are seriously missing out!

We have excellent YA writers here in Australia and they deserve more attention. Their books deserve to be read just as much as their international counterparts.

This brings me to my mission. I am going to feature Australian YA books until I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Here are some of the books I will be featuring:

The Rephaim Series by Paula Western

Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Measuring Up by G J Stroud

Akarnae by Lynette Noni

Mercy by Rebecca Lim

The Guardians Series by MJ Stevens

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkenson

Every Breath by Ellie Marney

The Book of Days by K.A. Barker

Burn Bright (Night Creatures) by Marianne de Pierres

The Starbound Series by Amie Kaufman

 

I’m also open to suggestions. Know any Aussie YA books I need to read?