YA Book Stack

YA Book Stack is an in-conversation series highlighting new and diverse voices and texts for students in the middle years.  In conversation with VATE’s Education Officer, Emma Jenkins, each author will discuss the application of their text in the middle years' classroom and the ways their text is reflective of the experiences of young adult readers and the world they engage with.  Through a focus on the text in the classroom, YA Book Stack aims to encourage educators to embrace the flexibility of the middle years and explore a broader range of texts in their curriculum.

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VATE members have exclusive access to interview notes and the video footage of Emma's conversations after logging into their VATE account.  YA Book Stack is available to listen to on this page, or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Deezer.


2023 YA Book Stack Interviews


Robyn Dennison on her text Blind Spot
Robyn Dennison joins Emma for YA Book Stack to chat about her debut novel, Blind SpotBlind Spot was shortlisted for the Text Prize in 2021. 'Intense' seems to be a fitting word to describe the novel but Blind Spot is not without moments of celebration and light. At its core, Blind Spot follows Dale, the male protagonist, who witnesses but doesn't intervene in the sexual assault of a girl from his school and the fall-out of his inaction as he grapples with why he didn't do anything. While this incident is the motivator for the narrative, the novel also provides the reader with warm and relaxed representations of queer relationships, positive demonstrations of consent and healthy relationships, and a cast of nuanced, dynamic, and complex characters.  In many respects, Blind Spot gives readers the opportunity and the script to explore difficult things "that hopefully don't happen, but maybe they have, or maybe they will."

Please note: this episode of YA Book Stack discusses sexual violence, disordered eating, and substance use.

Robyn Dennison's fiction has appeared in Australian literary journals, including as a runner-up for the Overland VU Short Story Prize. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she teaches creative writing. Blind Spot, her first novel, was shortlisted for the Text Prize.

Robyn Dennison - Blind Spot


Will Kostakis on his text We Could Be Something
In the first YA Book Stack interview for 2023, Will Kostakis shares his inspiration for his new novel, We Could Be Something. The book is marketed as a ‘rollercoaster’ about two young men, each on their own journey of discovery. The novel is just that – a heartwarming, fun and funny read for high school students following the lives of two young people, two decades part in Sydney's Darlinghurst. We Could Be Something sits on the cusp of students’ favourite genres – part coming-out story, part love story, part break-up story, and part family drama. Through the eyes of two characters, Harvey and Sotiris, the novel explores dreams, ambition, family and friendship, and how to manage the weight of possibilities when characters are standing on the edge of the rest of their lives. In this YA Book Stack interview, Will talks about his motivations for the text, including his thoughts on the spate of banning of LGBTQIA+ publications and his recent experiences during school visits, as well as the personal nature of his writing and the immense pride he feels for this publication.

Will Kostakis is an award-winning author for young adults, best known for his contemporary novels The First Third and The Sidekicks. An advocate for young readers and writers, Will was awarded the 2020 Maurice Saxby Award by the School Library Association of New South Wales for his service to children’s and young adult literature. We Could Be Something is his latest novel.

Will Kostakis - We Could Be Something





Previous YA Book Stack Interviews


Holden Sheppard on his text The Brink
The Brink doesn't shy away from delving into material that is relevant to the lives of young people. From mental health, masculinity, family, friendships, sexuality and love, Holden Sheppard depicts an authentic experience of what is feels like to grow up in a country town in Western Australia. Through the eyes of Mason, Leonardo and Kaiya, The Brink recalls the experience of a five-day camping trip to celebrate a group of friends' final year of schooling. The remote island exposes the friends, tests their loyalties and places strains on their identities as they learn to stand up for themselves and assert their true selves. The Brink is a rollicking read - Holden's writing style, the authentic voices of the teens of the story, the alternating perspectives and individual character arcs work in harmony to propel the reader through the text. In this YA Book Stack interview, Holden elaborates on some of the key ideas within the text, shares his writing motivations and explains the important role of literature in ensuring authentic and accurate representation for young, same-sex attracted people.

Holden Sheppard is an award-winning West Australian author. His debut novel, Invisible Boys (Fremantle Press, 2019), was published to both critical and commercial success. It won the WA Premier's Prize for an Emerging Writer, was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards and was named as a Notable Book by the Children's Book Council of Australia. Holden's powerful second novel, The Brink, was published in 2022 by Text Publishing.

Holden Sheppard - The Brink


Malla Nunn on her text Sugar Town Queens
Sugar Town Queens
takes female empowerment to the next level. Join Amandla, Lil Bit and Goodness as they make their own fortune, solve their own mysteries and craft their own identities in post-apartheid South Africa. Confronting devastating family secrets and the generational pain associated with them, Amandla and her mother, Annalisa, and grandmother, Mayme, pull together to tackle the prejudice they face as women, whilst understanding the ways in which the deep racial prejudices that exist in their country impact their successes, behaviour and decisions. In this YA Book Stack interview, author Malla Nunn explains her rationale for the girls' characterisation, the role of powerful matriarchs in her own life and the importance of creating a coming-of-age novel with young women at the core.

Born and raised in Swaziland on the far edges of the British Empire, Malla Nunn attended a boarding school specially set up for 'mixed race' children. The students at the school spent their time learning the Bible, breaking the rules, and then lying about it. In common with most colonial institutions, stealing, fighting, and violence were common. It was in this charged atmosphere that Nunn developed a fascination with bad behaviour, risk and punishment. After her family migrated to Australia to escape apartheid, Nunn graduated with a double degree in English and History and then earned a Master of Arts in Theater Studies from Villanova University. Faced with a life of chronic under-employment, she dabbled in acting and screenwriting. She wrote and directed three award-winning films, including Servant of the Ancestors, which won Best Documentary awards at film festivals in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Zanzibar, and was shown on national television in Australia. She married in a traditional Swazi ceremony. Her bride price was eighteen cows. She now lives and works in a weatherboard house with a tin roof and an olive tree in the garden in Sydney, Australia.

Malla Nunn - Sugar Town Queens


Poppy Nwosu on her edited collection Hometown Haunts
Hometown Haunts is a #LoveOzYA anthology entirely focused on horror and features an impressive range of stories from some of Australia’s best YA authors and graphic artists.  The stories from the collection highlight a range of writing styles, forms and interpretations of the conventions of horror fiction.  From the classic monster stories and traditional campfire horror tales through to psychological thrillers and body horror, the Hometown Haunts anthology takes readers on a journey to confront what is scary and what makes a tale especially horrific.  In this YA Book Stack interview, editor of the collection, Poppy Nwosu, hones in on some of her favourite stories from the collection and chats about how the texts could be best used in the classroom.

Poppy Nwosu is an author of young adult fiction. She has published three romantic contemporary novels called Making Friends with Alice Dyson (2019), Taking Down Evelyn Tait (2020), and Road Tripping with Pearl Nash (2021), and is the creator of the 2021 YA anthology Hometown Haunts: #LoveOzYA Horror Tales. Her work has been shortlisted for the SPN Book of the Year award, Adelaide festival Unpublished Manuscript Award and the Readings Young Adult Book Prize, and has been awarded the SA Writers Fellowship residency at Varuna Writers House, as well as an Arts SA grant. She has appeared at Adelaide Writers Week and Salisbury Writers Festival among others. Growing up surrounded by cane fields and rainforest, Poppy studied music at university before living overseas in Ireland. She is now based in Adelaide, Australia.


Poppy Nwosu - Hometown Haunts


Leanne Hall on her text The Gaps 
The first in the YA Book Stack series is an interview with Leanne Hall.  Leanne’s recent publication, The Gaps, pries into the vulnerability, strength, safety, danger and uncertainties that young women face in the world. When sixteen-year-old Yin is abducted, the news shocks the community of Balmoral Ladies College.  A gripping feminist novel about the racism, sexism and privilege that exists in the world of young adults, The Gaps is a perfect text for the middle years English classroom. In this conversation, Leanne will unpack her writing motivations and processes, as well as explore the text features that lend The Gaps to engaging and meaningful study.

Leanne Hall is an author of young adult and children’s fiction. Her debut novel, This Is Shyness, won the Text Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing, and was followed by a sequel, Queen of the Night. Her novel for younger readers, Iris and the Tiger, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature at the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Her latest novel, The Gaps, was published in 2021. Leanne works as a children’s and YA specialist at an independent bookshop.

    Leanne Hall - The Gaps

Rawah Arja on her text The F Team
When ‘The Wolf Pack’s’ school is threatened with closure due to poor enrolment numbers and a declining reputation, Tariq Nader and his friends are required by their new school principal to assist with cleaning up the school’s image through the participation in a rugby tournament. But there’s a catch. They must cooperate and work in a team with boys from a school in Cronulla, their sworn enemies. From family, racism, prejudice and to the power of friendship and acceptance, The Wolf Pack navigate the pressures of the responsibility to keep their school open whilst learning about their place in the world as young men. In this episode of YA Book Stack, Rawah reveals her motivations, inspirations and impetus for writing The F Team and shares her key messages and takeaways for young adult readers.

Rawah Arja is a writer and teacher from Western Sydney. Her first novel The F Team has been shortlisted for numerous literary awards including the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Young Adults. Her writing has featured in Second City: Essays From Western Sydney (2021), Arab, Australian, Other (2019), SBS Voices and at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. She has received a fellowship from WestWords Varuna Emerging Writers’ Residential Program, is a member of the Finishing School collective of women writers, and teaches creative writing at schools and workshops.

    Rawah Arja - The F Team

Gary Lonesborough on his text The Boy from the Mish
On the Mish, Jackson’s Aunty and his annoying little cousins spend another hot Australian summer.  This time, his Aunty brings a mysterious boy with a troubled past, Tomas, to stay.  Jackson and Tomas’ friendship evolves over the summer as they spend time together, work on an art project and bond over their shared cultural history and connections.  For Jackson, spending time with Tomas forces him to confront the relationships he has with his friends and family, as well as his place in the community.  A novel about love, identity and acceptance, Jackson learns to accept and embrace the young man he is becoming.  In this YA Book Stack interview, Gary delves into the importance of the intersectionality of his text, of highlighting the experience of young, queer men and shares his insights on the way he sees his text being used for study in the English classroom.

Gary Lonesborough is a Yuin man, who grew up on the Far South Coast of NSW as part of a large and proud Aboriginal family. Growing up a massive Kylie Minogue and North Queensland Cowboys fan, Gary was always writing as a child, and continued his creative journey when he moved to Sydney to study at film school. Gary has experience working in Aboriginal health, the disability sector (including experience working in the Youth Justice System), and the film industry. He was Bega Valley Shire Council Young Citizen of the Year, won the Patrick White Young Indigenous Writers' Award, and has received a Copyright Agency First Nations Fellowship. The Boy from the Mish is Gary's debut YA novel.

    Gary Lonesborough - The Boy from the Mish

Anna Whateley on her text Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal
Peta Lyre is far from typical but she tries hard to appear so; following a series of well-crafted rules and routines dictated by her psychologist to assist with blending in.  Through Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal’s stream-of-consciousness narrative, we accompany Peta as she navigates life seeking to be ‘normal’.  As readers, we explore what it means to be normal, who and what is normal and ultimately, whether being normal is all that it is made out to be.  With empathy and compassion, Anna unveils what life is like for Peta who has multiple diagnoses and has undertaken years of therapy in order to assist with managing her triggers and we are asked to challenge the typical ‘rules’ of behaviour.  Why would we want to be ‘normal’ and at what cost?  In this interview for YA Book Stack, Anna elaborates on the anxieties and uncertainties of living in a world that doesn’t suit how Peta’s mind works and shares the reasons for her many inspirations – from Frankenstein, to Romantic poetry, and Icelandic instrumentalist music.

Anna Whateley’s debut #ownvoices novel Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, Allen & Unwin, is shortlisted for the CBCA book awards. She also has an essay titled ‘Noisy Silence’ in Growing Up Disabled in Australia, Black Inc Books, edited by Carly Findlay. Her next novel, Tearing Myself Together will be released early 2022 with Allen & Unwin.  When coronavirus spread, Anna founded the bookish chat show #AusChat just to keep the community together, and the YouTube channel is now funded in part by the Australian Arts Council. She uses her YouTube and Twitch presence to collaborate and connect with the writing community and more broadly with composers, gamers, and interesting folk all around the world.  Anna has a PhD in young adult fiction (literary criticism) and has taught sociology and YA/children’s literature to preservice teachers. She loves to attend writer events, conferences, twitter storms, and book launches, and is also a strong advocate for the neurodivergent community.


Anna Whateley - Peta Lyre's Rating Normal


Thank you to the supporters of YA Book Stack, The Little Bookroom, Giramondo Publishing, Text Publishing and Allen & Unwin.