Posted by: Debbie Kahl | October 17, 2010

Contemporary YA

I can’t deny it, I’m a huge fan of contemporary YA fiction. From a writer’s perspective, it’s definitely a market I would like to ‘crack’ one day. And from an English teacher’s point of view, it’s brilliant to teach. There are so many issues in contemporary YA that sometimes it’s hard to know which one to start with, and that can be the best part. To me, they’re like unwrapping a present, with each layer being more intricate than the one before.

One book that I adore teaching (and reading) is The Story of Tom Brennan by J.C. Burke. Burke, a trained nurse, states on her website that ‘I loved nursing. The people I met and cared for were an endless source of inspiration enabling me to develop an empathy with the human condition, its frailties and spirit. Nursing probably made me a better writer. ‘ It’s this empathy that Burke brings with her into the pages and character of Tom Brennan.

Despite being published four years ago (it was the winner of the 2006 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers), the issues it raises have never been so relevant to teens.

Set in the fictional country town of Mumbilli, the book The Story of Tom Brennan is written from the point of view of 17 year old Tom, who watches his simple life of playing rugby and spending time with family &  friends, fall apart because of one bad decision.

After celebrating a rugby victory and drinking far too much, Tom’s older brother Daniel decides to drive himself, his cousin Fin, best friend Luke and a local girl Nicole home, with tragic consequences. Daniel inevitably crashes his car, killing Luke and Nicole instantly, and paralysing Fin. Daniel, who walks away from the crash without injury, is tried as an adult and subsequently sent to jail.

That may be the premise of the story but what’s most powerful about this book, is that it’s from Tom’s perspective. How he watches the emotional fallout of his family (Mother’s depression, Aunt and mother’s conflict over Fin’s injuries & Daniel’s jail time). How he’s forced to move away from the ‘Billi’  to Coghill, where the family moves in with his Gran (as the Brennans are ‘no longer welcome’ in Mumbilli). And how forges a new life of his own while trying to find his own identity and piece his family back together admist the shame and guilt of Daniel’s accident.

This is not a happy story and that’s what I love about it. It’s real, it’s gritty, it’s confronting and sadly, it’s all too common. This is a must read for every teenager, who thinks things like this will never happen to them. It definitely makes you think, even for a moment, that decisions you make don’t only affect you.

For more information on J.C. Burke, please visit her website or the Random House website

If there’s any other contemporary YA stuff you want me to look at please let me know. I LOVE this stuff!

Happy reading everyone! 😀



  1. Love this Deb – can I put it on Australian writers rock as a favourite blog moment?? As a future YA writer, I think it reflects your commitment and responsibilty as a contemporary young adult writer! Kel : )

  2. Sure Kel.. that would be great. 🙂

  3. Teens need to learn that reality is chock-full of injustice. Even mature people who make good decisions and have good intentions are affected by what others do. If you would like a story from that perspective, please visit my blog, leave a comment, and then check out my web site. Thanks!

  4. This book was taught in my English class last year. To this day it remains one of the few books we studied that I actually liked.

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