December 16, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Finalists Announced for 2017 National Book Awards

Five titles have been selected as finalists for the National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature, the National Book Foundation announced today.

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 15 at the 68th National Book Awards Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented. Annie Proulx will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Dick Robinson, Scholastic Chairman, President & CEO, will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community.

The five finalists for Young People’s Literature and the corresponding School Library Journal reviews are:

Elana K. ArnoldWhat 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.

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

 

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

 

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

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.

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

 

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow. No shortlist love for T.H.U.G., and only three of the five got SLJ stars. Color me surprised.

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