November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Alex Award Predictions

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

MARK:

The 2015 Alex Awards–recognizing “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults”–will be named during the Youth Media Awards on February 2. In our annual quest to pretend we know what we’re talking about, today Angela and I are going to make some guesses about what we think might have a chance to pick up one of those Alex Awards.

I’ll start with two personal favorites–less predictions than hoped-for titles. First, I’m going to double (triple? quadruple?) down on Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastic SF mind-blower Annihilation. I’ve been flogging this (and the other two books in the Southern Reach trilogy) all year, and while I acknowledge that it has perhaps a bit less teen appeal (especially the later books which get into a bit of esoteric philosophizing), the pure intrigue and suspense of this first novel make it perfect for literate teen SF fans.

The second book I’ll pick is the graphic novel Above the Dreamless Dead, edited by Chris Duffy. This is another one which should be no surprise to readers of the blog, as I devoted two long blog posts to it, including an interview with Chris Pratt, one of the artists. This graphic adaptation of World War I poetry is a phenomenal exercise in history and literature–making both real for a modern audience and linking them to the present–along with a tremendous outpouring of artistic talent. This one has Booklist’s stamp of approval as an adult book for young adults. The only question is its eligibility, since all of the poems have been previously published. I can’t seem to find a clear answer to that on the Alex Awards homepage. Regardless of that decision, this one is obviously one of the best Adult Books 4 Teens of the year.

How about you Angela–what would you like to see/think we might see from the Alex Awards?

ANGELA:

This year I’m trying to keep my own emotions out of it, and force myself to stick to a teen appeal perspective. Please disregard that I’m beginning with my favorite two books of the year!

First, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If ever there was a literary historical fiction title that had the appeal to make it onto the Alex list, I think this is it. I couldn’t keep it on my shelves long enough to booktalk it this fall. “If you liked The Book Thief, you might…” and it was gone.

Second, Everything I Never Told You. I think the way that Ng sets up her plot makes it nearly unputdownable. It’s a mystery inside a dysfunctional family drama that begins with the words, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

And may I add–I think Annihilation is a long-shot. My science fiction vote goes to The Martian or Lock In. (Not that all three couldn’t end up on the list–there is no balance requirement.) These two are immediately fun and interesting. And teens like to know what happened–getting to the end and still having no earthly idea what the book is about? Not so much. Or is that just me?? And no, my frustration didn’t prevent me from starting Authority, the second in the Southern Reach trilogy, as soon as I could lay my hands on a copy!

Back to you, Mark!

MARK:

Oh, I entirely agree that The Martian and Lock In are more accessible than Annihilation–but I think that Annihilation is far better written than either of those two. The old quality v. popularity debate. Ideally I’d like to see The Martian *and* Annihilation win an Alex, but I’m not holding my breath.

On to other books. I suppose technically Above the Dreamless Dead is “nonfiction” because it might be shelved in the 811s for Poetry, but I would love to see a real nonfiction book make the cut, and there are some strong contenders. Kevin Brockmeier’s memoir A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip made out Best of list, and The Underground Girls of Kabul made Booklist’s. I’d love to see either of those make it, but the nonfiction book I’d put my money on is The Griots of Oakland, edited by Angela Zusman. Very much in the same vein as Richard Ross’s Juvenile in Justice–in that it is heavily pictorial, centered on underserved (all or mostly black) youth, and was discovered for us by reviewer Amy Cheney–Griots is one of the most powerful books I read this year, and absolutely required reading for anyone who cares about race relations in this country (which should be everyone).

For my second book of this round I’ll go with a book I haven’t read: Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for this one, and it’s one of a handful of books that this blog and Booklist agreed on. I don’t know whether the fact that the first in the series, The Magicians, received an Alex has any bearing on the finale’s chances, but from what I’ve heard, The Magician’s Land is every bit as good, if not better than The Magicians, so I’m going for it.

Last year you put me on the spot for coming up with an outlier or two. This year I’m returning the favor: any out-of-left-field candidates you could see making a run?

ANGELA:

First, I have to respond to The Magician’s Land. Yes, please! In my post about this book, I mention how funny and big-hearted it is. Grossman is also generous in sharing just what fans of this series want–more about Fillory and the “villain”’s origin story. And he has lots to say about growing up. Nothing would make me happier than to see Grossman’s trilogy honored once again by the Award committee.

Now, to that out-of-left-field possibility. Really out there because I didn’t even review it. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a masterpiece of a post-apocalyptic story that centers around the life of an aging actor who dies in the very first scene. I booktalked it to a few classes in November, right after reading it, and no one checked it out. So I decided that it just didn’t have the teen appeal for this blog. But now I hear it’s become a bit of a favorite in my library. Students read it over the holiday break. Huh. So, this would be one of those 40-1 bets, but it could happen. One of the things that makes this special is the tie-in to the arts. It follows a group of survivors who travel around the Lake Michigan area performing Shakespeare and classical music. One of their wagons is painted with the quote “Because Survival isn’t Sufficient.”

Which leads me to another possibility, which we did review but did not place on our Best list–The Vacationers by Emma Straub. This became a real favorite in my library this fall. Both teachers and students were recommending it to each other. Its humor and compassion for difficult family circumstances remind me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (as did the cover design), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one show up on the Alex list.

Mark, I love your prediction of Griots of Oakland. In addition to Juvenile in Justice, it brings to mind another pictorial Alex winner from a little further back–The Oxford Project, by Stephen G. Bloom, photographed by Peter Feldstein.

So rather than ask for an outlier, let me ask–is there anything we’re skipping because it’s just too obvious?

MARK:

Hmm . . . a book we’re skipping because it’s too obvious? I don’t know if “obvious” and “Alex Awards” really go together–as we’ve established over the last couple of years of our pitifully off-base “predictions”.  But if there is an obvious book it’s probably All The Light We Cannot See, which you already picked. Among books we haven’t mentioned yet, I can’t really see Megan Abbott’s The Fever as “obvious”–it’s a bit slow to start, and it took me some time to come around to its greatness.  But it was one that Booklist agreed with us on, and it’s by an established author of adult books for teens (see our review of Dare Me)–and, oh yeah, I ended up loving it and giving it a starred review, so I guess it has that going for it–so I’ll go ahead and take that one.

That’s nine titles. Angela, do you want to round us off with one more pick?

ANGELA:

Sure. I’m going to answer my own question about the obvious. My first guess would be Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. It certainly has the appeal. Second–there is a lot of love out there for Adam by Ariel Schrag. I haven’t read either, though they’ve been on my TBR pile forever. Sigh… But just like my Oscar predictions improve the fewer movies I’ve seen, maybe I can see more clearly when I haven’t read… 

You can follow the Youth Media Awards live, 8:00 a.m. Central time on Monday, Feb. 2 in a couple ways. The webcast will be here. The twitter handle is #ALAyma. The Alex Awards are the very first announcement, and then the winners are repeated later in the show.

Meanwhile, please, share your predictions with us in the comments!

Share

Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

Share
A Day-Long Celebration of Fandom-Beloved Stories and Characters
Join Library Journal and School Library Journal for our inaugural LibraryCon Live! We’re excited to offer this day-long virtual festival for book nerds, librarians, and fans of graphic novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. Network online with other fans and explore our virtual exhibit hall where you’ll hear directly from publishers about their newest books and engage in live chats with featured authors. You’ll also learn from librarians and industry insiders on how to plan and host your own Comic Con-style event.