An Unexpected Party
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Published: October 2023
What is ‘Queer YA Fiction?’ Editor Seth Malacari poses this question almost immediately in his introduction to An Unexpected Party. In the words and the stories that follow, he seeks to expand potential definitions necessarily and to necessarily explore those parts of queer culture that are either under or misrepresented. In highlighting the lack of trans or gender-diverse main characters in the space — Malacari notes that in 2022, five of the seven such characters in YA fiction were written by one author, Alison Evans — we then enter into a necessarily complex world of greater diversity from story to story in this collection. As Malacari notes, it is an experience that’s more than just ‘rainbows, equal love, and death.’
The enclosed stories vary in terms of tone, themes and voices. Shaeden Berry’s ‘Sixteen Candles But With Demons’ is an early comedic standout. Elsewhere, Jes Layton’s ‘The Graveyard Shift’ is a gut-punch of a story on memory, identity and longing that aches with vulnerability. Henry Farnan’s ‘Hostel Nights Like These’ is an altogether different beast, a trippy, delightfully surreal allegory about identity and belonging, while Lian Low’s ‘Negara’ beautifully merges sexual and gender identity alongside cultural heritage in the unmistakably loud, garish kaleidoscope of nightclub life in 1990s Melbourne.
Reading such an array of voices and styles in such quick succession, I felt buoyed in the best possible sense of the word. The book’s strengths anchor why a collection like An Unexpected Party is needed and welcome in Australian literary culture, whether or not we are talking about Young Adult fiction or the industry as a whole. Indeed, what this book achieves by its end is no mean feat: it’s a reflection on queer experience that I imagine is deeply heartening for queer readers and that I know was entertaining and enlightening for me as a male, cisgender, heterosexual reader.
An Unexpected Party is a profoundly humanising experience. It’s a space where queerness is no longer confined to Malacari’s previously cited, societally simplistic twin-polarities of ‘rainbows and death.’ It’s a world where all fictional elements, be they realistic or fantastic, exist to serve a necessarily complex space of identity, empowerment, trauma, grief and belonging for both the authors in this book and the characters they create.
I was grateful for the opportunity to know little but learn much while reading An Unexpected Party. You will be too, so long as you are willing to let go of all you’ve once been told and instead embrace these fresh, compelling Australian voices.