September 17, 2017

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Ten Titles Make the 2017 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature

The National Book Foundation announced today its longlist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

The finalists will be announced October 4 and the winners at the 2017 NBA ceremony on November 15 in New York City.

The 10 longlist books and the corresponding SLJ reviews are:

Elana K. Arnold, What Girls Are Made Of. Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing Group.

Gr 10 Up–Nina has had a crush on Seth since fifth grade, but it wasn’t until the summer after her 16th birthday that he finally acknowledged her feelings for him. Now, Nina will do whatever is necessary to maintain his affection. She is fully aware that all love comes with conditions; her mother, in particular, has made that very clear. But as the only child of dysfunctional parents, Nina craves the attention that Seth offers. Thoughts of him occupy her every waking hour, so when she unwittingly fails his unexpected test of her loyalty, she finds herself alone and adrift, especially after she makes a startling realization. When even her best friend fails to support her, Nina looks for help and solace in unlikely places, including at a dog shelter. In an afterword, Arnold explains that this story is the result of her anger at and complicity in the rules that society applies to girls. Her overarching theme is the fallacy of believing in unconditional love. The author presents a hopeful conclusion as Nina learns that self-love and fulfillment can be found through helping others. VERDICT Because of its complex symbolism and graphic imagery, this well-written novel is best suited to mature YA readers.—Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

 

Robin Benway, Far from the Tree. HarperTeen/HarperCollins Publishers.

Gr 8 Up–Only child Grace was adopted at birth; when she finds herself placing her own daughter up for adoption, she begins searching for the bio family she’s never known. She quickly discovers that she is a middle child, sandwiched between loudmouth younger sister Maya and older ­brother ­Joaquin, who has spent nearly his entire life in the foster care system. As Grace struggles to move forward from the loss of her daughter, she begins to bond with her siblings who have hardships of their own. Maya’s adoptive family is not as picture-perfect as they seem, and Joaquin is on the cusp of something wonderful but is afraid it could all end in disaster. The siblings find themselves turning to one another and learning that family comes in many forms. Benway has created three unique and endearing characters who have experienced adoption in very different ways. Grace’s story will pull at heartstrings, while Maya is relatable as a teen struggling with her relationships with her family and girlfriend Claire. Joaquin is scared and rough around the edges. With a well-imagined cast of secondary characters who add angst, humor, and depth, Benway adeptly leads readers through a tale of love, loss, and self-discovery. Expect to cry real tears at this one. VERDICT Well-written and accessible, this is a must-purchase for all YA collections.–Erica Deb, Matawan Aberdeen Public Library, NJ

 

Samantha Mabry, All the Wind in the World. Algonquin Young Readers / Workman Publishing Company.

Gr 9 Up–Mabry crafts a strong romantic arc set at The Real Marvelous, a maguey ranch rumored to be cursed in the magically realistic Southwest Texas desert. Sarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt end up at the strange farm following a violent dust storm, and Sarah’s involvement in the accidental death of a maguey foreman elsewhere. Considered outlaws, the two perilously hide their identities and their passionate relationship, and with “hard hearts,” labor long hours to earn and steal their way to a hopeful future. James has the quick ability to win card games and the affections of unsuspecting women, which Sarah begrudgingly encourages as their ticket out of poverty. But will these “cousins” go too far at The Real Marvelous—James with the rich landowner’s sickly daughter and Sarah with the spoiled younger sister? This first-person narrative draws readers into Sarah’s memories and her passionate nature, which are her strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the gritty lure of the harsh desert with its secrets and broken dreams is described in rich prose. This sophomore novel presents a fierce new world with high stakes, where complicated romantic relationships among various characters linger beyond the end of the book. VERDICT An excellent choice for all YA shelves.—Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, IL

 

Mitali Perkins, You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Publishers.

Gr 9 Up–Related in the alternating voices of two sisters and their respective daughters, this work captures the unique and, at times, fraught experience of navigating multiple cultures. Perkins examines the delicate balance between meeting family expectations and attaining personal happiness, a common motif in immigrant narratives. The story opens in 1970s New York, where the Das family has immigrated from England in hopes of planting roots and finding acceptance. Desperate for the adolescent freedoms they lacked in London, the teens chafe against their mother Ranee’s traditional Indian values. Older sister Tara (Starry) longs to be an actress, and budding feminist Sonia (Sunny) craves autonomy. The relationship between Sunny and Ranee is at the crux of the novel, representing the collision and ultimate blending of cultures. In the United States, Ranee struggles in vain to hold on to her “Indianness,” not only for herself, but also for her children. While Starry follows through on her entertainment dreams in Bollywood, it’s a slightly rougher path for Sunny. Perkins does not shy away from the complexities of race and culture with her realistic depiction of painful estrangement between mother and daughter when Sunny marries Lou, a black man. It is only through her connection to her granddaughters, Chantal and Anna that Ranee finds redemption and transformation. This novel underscores the importance creating a home no matter where you are in the world. VERDICT This stunning book about immigration and cultural assimilation is a must-purchase for teen and new adult collections.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA

 

Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Simon & Schuster.

Gr 8 Up–Fifteen-year-old Will’s big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it’s a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. The protagonist faces a difficult choice, one that is a reality for many young people. Teens are left with an unresolved ending that goes beyond the simple question of whether Will will seek revenge. Told in verse, this title is fabulistic in its simplicity and begs to be discussed. Its hook makes for an excellent booktalk. It will pair well with Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Reynolds’s previous works. The unique narrative structure also makes it an excellent read-alike for Walter Dean Myers’s MonsterVERDICT This powerful work is an important addition to any collection.—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

 

Erika L. Sánchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House.

Gr 10 Up–Fifteen-year-old outcast Julia Reyes longs to attend college in New York, in order to get away from the suffocating watch of her undocumented Mexican parents in Chicago. The unusual death of Julia’s older sister Olga—considered the perfect child by her family—only bolsters this desire, as her parents focus their attention even more strongly on their now only child. When Julia stumbles across unexpected items in Olga’s bedroom after the funeral, she sets off on a course to discover her sister’s secrets while trying to find some escape from her strict parents. Sánchez makes Julia’s unflinching candidness very clear from the start, with the opening sentence providing her stark description of Olga’s corpse. This attitude intermittently brings levity to heavy moments, but also heartbreak when the weight of it all comes crashing down. That honesty and heartbreak is skillfully woven throughout, from the authentic portrayal of sacrifices made and challenges faced by immigrants to the clash of traditional versus contemporary practices, and the struggle of first-generation Americans to balance their two cultures. The importance of language, a lens through which Latinxs are often viewed and sharply judged, is brilliantly highlighted through an ample but measured use of Spanish that is often defined in context without feeling forced or awkward. The author interweaves threads related to depression/anxiety, body image, sexuality, rape, suicide, abuse, and gang violence in both the U.S. and Mexico with nuance, while remaining true to the realities of those issues. VERDICT Like Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, sans the diary format, this novel richly explores coming-of-age topics; a timely and must-have account of survival in a culturally contentious world.—Alea Perez, Westmont Public Library, IL

 

Laurel Snyder, Orphan Island. Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins Publishers.

Gr 3–6–The sound of the bell that signals the boat’s arrival fills Jinny with dread. The boat comes yearly, bringing the new youngest child to the island and taking away the oldest, thus preserving the island’s status quo. “Nine on an island, orphans all, any more the sky might fall.” This particular bell means the departure of Jinny’s best friend, Deen, making Jinny the unwilling new Elder and the newest arrival her responsibility. The island has everything the children need: plentiful fish, nuts, berries, and beehives for honey. There are cabins for sleeping, a supply of clothing, and worn books to read. Even the animals are friendly. Everything is idyllic as long as the rules are followed. When Jinny blatantly breaches a cardinal rule, the island’s natural order is upset and everything begins to change. The children’s once benevolent home ceases to provide for them and protect them. Jinny knows she is to blame and does the only thing she can think of to fix their broken world. The premise is intriguing, the writing is strong, and the tight pacing will keep readers fully engaged. For those looking for satisfying answers, however, no explanation is ever given for the adultless island, where the boats come from, or what force holds the island together. Why were the children sent to the island in the first place? Where do they go when they leave? For the philosophically inclined, the unanswered questions offer much to ponder and discuss. For more literal-minded young readers, the story is apt to feel unfinished. Here’s hoping a sequel is in the works. VERDICT A good purchase for readers who are interested in dystopian landscapes but aren’t ready for the heavier and more violent themes often found in the genre.—Kelly Roth, Bartow County Public Library, Cartersville, GA

 

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.

Gr 8 Up–After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. VERDICT Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

 

Rita Williams-Garcia, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers.

Gr 4–6–Clayton Byrd has some complicated relationships in his family. His strict, demanding mother refuses to marry his father, but allows him to be a presence in Clayton’s life. Clayton adores his grandfather, “Cool Papa,” though his mother does not. Cool Papa nurtures Clayton in many ways—cooking his favorite foods, reading to him each night, and teaching him the harmonica and the blues. He’s allowed to tag along with Cool Papa when he and his band, the Bluesmen, busk in Washington Square Park. When Cool Papa dies unexpectedly, in a scene that is understated and heartbreaking, Clayton is devastated. His mother not only sends Clayton back to school too soon but sells or gives away all of Cool Papa’s belongings, some of which were promised to Clayton. School becomes complicated when Clayton is assigned to read the very book that Cool Papa read to him every night. Clayton’s plea for another book is ignored. When his frustration and grief become overwhelming, he cuts school and takes the subway, intent on finding and joining the Bluesmen. Williams-Garcia packs a lot of story in this slim book. Clayton’s an appealing character, and his anger and loss are palpable. The neighborhood scenes are so vivid, one does not need to be a denizen of New York City to appreciate them. VERDICT This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart. A first purchase.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

 

Ibi Zoboi, American Street. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.

Gr 9 Up–After her mother is detained by immigration officials, Fabiola Toussaint has to finish her move from Port-au-Prince to Detroit alone. The tough-as-nails cousins and exhausted aunt who greet her in Michigan bear little resemblance to the warm family she had dreamed of when she was in Haiti. Left with a mother-size hole in her life, Fabiola begins the unsteady process of assimilation, holding on to her family’s spiritual traditions while navigating the disconnectedness and violence of her new home. A sweet romance and her cousins’ fierce and complex support ease the teen into a halfway space between worlds, but her eyes remain on the prize of reuniting with her mother. When Fabiola is approached by the police to inform on her cousin’s volatile boyfriend in exchange for information about her mother, she must work around the gaps in her understanding to make some explosive decisions. In this bright, sharp debut, Zoboi weaves grittiness, sensitivity, and complexity into every character, but Fabiola’s longing, determination, and strength shine especially brightly. VERDICT A breathtaking story about contemporary America that will serve as a mirror to some and a window for others, and it will stay with anyone who reads it. A must-purchase for YA collections.—Beth McIntyre, Madison Public Library, WI

 

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Day of Dialog | Brooklyn
Coinciding with Brooklyn Book Festival, this special-engagement event on September 15 will feature both Festival and metropolitan-area authors with panels modeled on Library Journal and School Library Journal’s long-running and annually sold-out Day of Dialog events. Get the inside scoop on the hottest new books—plus book giveaways and author signings!

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  1. Where are the books for 7th grade?

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