The best own voices young adult fiction that authentically represent marginalised communities

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent my adolescence reading young adult novels that featured characters who were nothing like me, and yearned to read about characters who shared my struggle in mediating my community’s cultural expectations as a first-generation Australia. This is the inspiration for writing own voices stories as these are the books I wished I’d been able to read. I draw on my Bosnian-Muslim cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like me, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. Own voices books are an opportunity to learn and celebrate culture and diversity, and to show young people that they are not alone in the world.

I wrote...

Sabiha's Dilemma

By Amra Pajalić,

Book cover of Sabiha's Dilemma

What is my book about?

From award-winning young adult author Amra Pajalic comes a #ownvoices, found family, coming of age YA novel for fans of Melina Marchetta and John Green.

Sabiha and her mother Bahra are more than mother and daughter, they’re best friends. But when their extended family comes to Australia, Bahra becomes a Born-Again-Muslim to impress them, and expects Sabiha to step in line as the perfect daughter. Can Sabiha play the part of the good daughter so that her mentally ill mother is accepted back into the Bosnian community?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of One Hundred Days

Amra Pajalić Why did I love this book?

A fractured fairytale recreating the Rapunzel effect with 16 y.o. Karuna trapped in the tower, in this case a high-rise-commission flat, by her mother when she discovers her pregnancy.

This is beautifully written novel about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and especially the fracture of being parented by migrant parents who hold to cultural expectations with their Australian-born offspring, a story that I could relate to on so many levels.

Reading this novel, I felt slightly claustrophobic and lost with Karuna’s mother being so well characterised; the things she was going were almost cruel, but you could feel the thick love just pouring from her, while Karuna’s struggle of independence and autonomy was so poignant and understandable.

This is a novel with so many layers and so much heart. 

By Alice Pung,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Hundred Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of Australia's most celebrated authors comes a mother-daughter drama exploring the faultlines between love and control.One hundred days. It's no time at all, she tells me. But she's not the one waiting.In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna's mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world - and make sure she can't get into any more trouble.Stuck inside for endless hours, Karuna battles her mother and herself for a sense of…

Book cover of Invisible Boys

Amra Pajalić Why did I love this book?

Drawing on his own experiences Sheppard has written about three invisible boys who are dealing with being gay in an unforgiving country town that reminds me of the culture I grew up in with the lack of understanding and support for LGBTQI youth.

This is a page turner that deals with everything real: identity, belonging, family dysfunction, and masculinity. It is a book that will be a beacon of light to young people who are dealing with their own coming out journey, and a handbook to those who are allies and wish to support LGBTQI youth on their journey. It broke my heart and healed it again and Sheppard is an author that is on my must read list.

By Holden Sheppard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Invisible Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An emotional tale of identity, sexuality and suicide derived from personal experience about three teenage boys who struggle to come to terms with their homosexuality in a small Western Australian town. On the surface, nerd Zeke, punk Charlie and footy wannabe Hammer look like they have nothing in common. But scratch that surface and you’d find three boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible. Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel that explores the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequences and, ultimately,…

Book cover of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Amra Pajalić Why did I love this book?

This is a great dystopian young adult novel with red herrings and revelations that kept me reading to the end.

Kwaymullina draws on her Aboriginal heritage to create a world in which people have lost touch with nature and digital technology is forbidden because it led to disconnection of society.

Citizens with special abilities are called Illegals and are assessed and locked up because government officials view them as a threat, with the treatment of Illegals symbolising the mistreatment of Indigenous people by the Australian government.

It reads like a prophecy about our possible future with themes of environmental destruction due to climate change even as it stands as a testament to the scars left by Colonisation. This is a perfect dystopian novel with all the tropes that readers love: the young female inspirational leader, a heartfelt romance, and found family.

By Ambelin Kwaymullina,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In a post-apocalyptic world, Ashala Wolf must lead her Tribe in their fight for freedom and justice. But first she must survive an interrogation at the hands of the authorities who are determined to destroy her and everything she stands for.

The world has ended, and the society which emerged from the ruins of environmental catastrophe is obsessed with maintaining "the Balance": preserving harmony between humans and nature. But there is one problem. Anyone born with an ability is deemed an Illegal, a threat to the Balance. They are feared, controlled and detained. Ashala Wolf has run away to escape…

Book cover of The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

Amra Pajalić Why did I love this book?

As I am of Bosnian heritage, I always love reading books about my culture.

The name Amra is very common in Bosnia and yet is very uncommon everywhere else, so it was a particular thrill for me to read a book by another Amra. This memoir is about Amra's experiences living under siege in Bihac during the Balkan War of 1992-1995 which gives an amazing insight into the hardship and heartbreak of war.

Maci, the cat that Amra and her family adopted who arrived at their town as a refugee, was such a beautiful soul and helped give Amra hope and fight for life, when it seemed that none was to be found.

The writing was beautiful and evocative. I keep seeing Maci in my mind's eye. I also have to say that the cover was absolutely stunning, and I loved the use of the image in the novel to bookmark different time frames.

This book is both a coming-of-age story during war and a heartfelt story about a loyal animal companion.

By Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, Laura L. Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cat I Never Named as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

It is 1992 and Bihac, Amra's hometown, is a multicultural city with Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. But when tensions escalate, the Serbs turn on their Bosnian neighbors. The Serbs control the army, and now they have peaceful Bihac surrounded. Soon Amra and her family are dealing with starvation and the threat of brutal violence; school, friendships, and the attentions from a new boy have to take a back seat to finding food and the tragic fallout from rising bigotry and ethnic hatred. Through it all, a stray cat, Maci, serves as a guardian spirit to the entire family.

Book cover of Living on Hope Street

Amra Pajalić Why did I love this book?

A stunning novel that represents the true beating heart of Australia I grew up with cultures that represent all the different waves of migration in Australia.

Divaroren has created such distinct voices for each of her characters which is a feat as each perspective is written in first person, from seven-year-old Sam who is terrorised by his father, to 70-year-old Mr. Bailey who is a Vietnam vet and struggling with the changing face of Australia.

I fell in love with the characters and loved that there was so much reality and heart, but most importantly hope in this beautiful novel that celebrates multiculturalism and belonging. 

By Demet Divaroren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Living on Hope Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

'Living on Hope Street is a big-hearted, compassionate work. Divaroren is a ferociously good storyteller and every character breathes life, every character convinces. This book is an absolute joy to read.' CHRISTOS TSIOLKAS" We all love someone. We all fear something. Sometimes they live right next door - or even closer. Kane will do everything he can to save his mother and his little brother Sam from the violence of his father, even if it means becoming a monster himself. Mrs Aslan will protect the boys no matter what - even though her own family is in pieces. Ada wants…

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Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

Book cover of Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

Ralph Hickok Author Of Vagabond Halfback: The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Green Bay and my dad was the official scorer for the Packers, so I was immersed in pro football history even as a child. During my careers as a newspaper feature writer and editor and as an advertising copywriter, I also became a sports historian. My magnum opus was “The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History,” 650,000 words. But my favorite by far is my biography of Johnny Blood. I was 12 or 13 when I decided I wanted to write it, 33 when I began working on it, 38 when I finished it, and 78 when it was finally published.

Ralph's book list on the history of pro football

What is my book about?

From Kirkus Reviews: "This debut short-story collection paints the wistful life of a newspaper journalist as seen through his sexual and romantic encounters...

Throughout, Hickok writes in an assured style, pulling readers along. The narrow sexual focus results in a distorted picture, yet other aspects of Art's life emerge at the edges—his intelligence, his career as a journalist, and even the sincerity with which he gives in to his male urges and construes sex as love... 

Subdued yet alluring; a pensive reflection on the male psyche."

Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

What is this book about?

A man arrives in a new city, hoping to start a new life, but he’s still haunted by memories of past loves…
A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages…
Two teenagers enjoy sexual experimentation when she babysits for her little brother while her parents are out drinking…
A high school boy has a crush on an older woman who identifies with Molly Bloom…
A college freshman falls in love with a high school freshman and is amazed at the depths of her passion…
A guy wins…

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