By #LoveOzYA’s Dayna Smith
It can be difficult for parents and carers to raise sensitive, but important, topics with young people.
How do you ask your teen if they’re drinking at parties? Do they need contraception? Where are their boundaries with what they share online?
Co-reading a book that addresses challenging topics can be a great way to spark conversation, to explore some of those hypothetical scenarios so you can feel confident that you know where your teen’s head is at.
Here are a few of our suggestions for books to spark conversations — if you’ve got more suggestions, please get in touch, we’d love to hear them!
Title and author: Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard
Themes: LGBTIQA+, homophobia, bullying, online behaviour
Set in a small Western Australian town, three sixteen-year-olds are hiding secrets, despite having nothing in common. Charlie is a hardcore punk rocker with a crappy home life, who’s trying to appear tougher than he really is. Hammer is a local footy legend with AFL aspirations and an ego to match, who bullies the other students at the local Catholic school they all go to. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, constantly trying to live up to the shadow cast by his older brother. They should have nothing in common, but each are coming to grips with being gay and what that means for their relationships with family and friends and their future.
Gritty and raw, with confronting sexuality, this book is a vehicle to examine and discuss a huge array of topics, from sexuality, homophobia, bullying, pornography, consent, sexual behaviour online and in real life, suicide and depression, to peer pressure and feeling the need to appear a certain way in front of your mates.
Title and author: The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drew
Themes: Homelessness, autism, family abuse, violent behaviour
Sam is 15 and has been rejected by every family member he knows, except for his autistic older brother, Avery. On the run and searching for a home, he breaks into other people’s empty houses and lives their lives for a while, before absconding with a few of their assets. Things change when he breaks into the de Lainey’s house, accidentally falling asleep and waking up to a warm, chaotic family party where everyone thinks he’s a friend of a different sibling. He’s absorbed into the family for a while and never wants to leave. But his past is catching up with him and he must decide what his future will look like and who he wants to be.
This book could be used to discuss homelessness, violence, family abuse, autism, and decision-making. Sam’s made a number of questionable decisions, as has Avery, and yet we still sympathise with them.
Title and author: Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
Themes: LGBTIQA+, trans and non-binary stories, friendship
Babs was cursed by a witch to be invisible, at times. Supported by her family, she’s lonely because people at school rarely see her. Until she meets Iris. Iris sees Babs and they want to be her friend.
Iris grew from seed. They live with their mums and an array of faerie friends, but wish for a human friend. Then they meet Babs. Then Iris and Babs meet a new boy at school. A boy like them. A boy who doesn’t know his real name yet. Together they explore magic and decide to find the witch and demand she reverse the spell cast on Babs. But the journey may be dangerous and take them to places they never dreamed of. . .
This is a whimsical, modern fairy tale that uniquely explores non-binary identity and finding your tribe.
Title and author: The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge by Clare Strahan
Themes: sexuality, sexual abuse, divorce
Fifteen-year-old, high-achieving Vanessa spends every summer at Shearwater. This year, their family is different, after her parents’ divorce. Her older brother is bringing his mate, Darith, Van’s crush. She’s dreamt of them being together so many times and hopes that this summer will bring them closer. Can someone with sensible plaits and views on Plato also have secret, lustful fantasies?
A coming of age story that takes place over a summer and explores themes of divorce, female desire, sexual assault and environmental protection, this story packs an emotional punch!
Tara starts Sydney Uni with the intention of studying hard and getting into medicine. A relationship would be a distraction and where would she find a love to rival the epic romances featured in the fantasy novels she loves so much? She wears hijab, despite her parents’ objections, as a way of staying grounded in who she is and because it filters out anyone who doesn’t have epic love on his mind.
When she innocently leaves her bag in a lecture hall to take a phone call and discovers it’s been reported as a bomb threat, she is thrown in the path of both the resident activists in the student union, and annoying politician’s son, Alex. Soon Tara must decide if the only form of heroism she wants is in medicine or if she’s willing to take a stand against racism.
This book is a realistic portrayal of uni life and an exploration of activism. It portrays a reluctant heroine and her support crew, demonstrating that it takes all sorts of skillsets to make a difference.