March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Alex Award Challenge | Adult Books 4 Teens

I can’t help it—I’m a competitive person. I’m one of those readers who joins mock Printz groups on Goodreads and tries to guess the winners of all the major book awards. When the 2016 Alex Awards were announced by the omniscient voice in Boston this January and David Wong’s Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits was on the list, I leaned over to a complete stranger and said, “I gave that book a starred review for SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens!” Yes, I was proud.

And so, as the new coeditor of this column, I’ve given myself a personal challenge—to read more Alex winners before they are announced. And to have more overlap between the Alex winners/vetted Alex nominations list and the books reviewed here.

Like any good former math major, I had to take a look at the statistics. This column reviewed four out of the 10 Alex winners—Between the World and Me, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, Half the World, and The Unraveling of Mercy Louis—and 14 out of the 40 Alex vetted nominations. Not bad! But last year, the column reviewed seven of the winners.

Therein lies my challenge. My goal for the year is to focus on teen appeal, diversity, and accessibility. I want more overlap between this column and Alex, if only to show that we are looking at the “best of the best of the best, sir!” I know I’m showing my age when I quote Men in Black, but it’s a classic, right?

Over the next few months, you’ll see some new reviewers for this column, most of whom are high school librarians and public librarians working with teens, and I’m looking forward to their input.

While we’re on the subject of new experiences and job choices, let’s look at some related novels. Popular author Meg Cabot’s psychic mediator Susannah is all grown up and starring in the first adult title of the “Mediator” series, Remembrance. If you haven’t read the YA books, don’t worry—this ghostly romantic mystery stands alone. If you prefer the realistic over paranormal, take a look at BuzzFeed writer Katie Heaney’s Dear Emma, a gentle tale of an anxious college junior who writes an advice column for her student newspaper. Debut author Julia Claiborne Johnson gives us a more humorous take on first jobs when her character Alice becomes the assistant to a reclusive author and ends up being more of a babysitter than a publishing assistant.

And, lastly, we have a book about negative first experiences—Joan Crate’s Black Apple. Rose Marie is torn from her happy home to attend a required boarding school for Native Canadians, and she is constantly deceived by the nuns who care for her. Dramatic and lyrical, it’s a coming-of-age story that readers won’t forget.

CabotCABOT, Meg. Remembrance: A Mediator Novel. 400p. (Mediator: Bk. 7). ebook available. William Morrow. Feb. 2016. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780062379023.
In this latest “Mediator” novel, Susannah Simon has begun her first job as a guidance counselor intern at a Catholic school. She has the ability to see souls of the dead who have unfinished business on earth and has helped them pass from this world to the next since she was a toddler. Early in the novel, Susannah sees Lucia, a ghost who is protecting a student at her school, and she discovers that Lucia was murdered. While Susannah works on solving the case, she and Jesse, a ghost who haunted her childhood home for 150 years and whom she brought back to life, are making plans to marry. There is an abundance of characters for readers to follow, many of whom are also mediators. One of these, a high school nemesis, is planning to tear down her childhood home and is convinced that this will unleash some unknown malevolent behavior from Jesse. Susannah is a feisty character, prone to swearing and imploring Jesse to consummate their relationship (he wants to wait until they are married) and adept at navigating her way through the obstacles thrown in her way. VERDICT Hand this to fans of the series and to those who enjoy a fast-paced story full of twists and turns.–Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

CrateCRATE, Joan. Black Apple. 326p. S. & S. Mar. 2016. Tr $24. ISBN 9781476795164.
Rose, a young child living during World War II, is torn from her happy home in rural Canada and required to attend the St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls. Like all the young Blackfoot girls, she finds adapting to straight rows, staying quiet, and learning Catholic prayers difficult. Mother Grace thinks that Rose Marie is destined to become a nun, and she does have an innate gift from her medicine man father—she sees spirits. The sisters claim that this is a miracle, and the newly adult Rose is sent to serve as an initiate in the neighboring coal mining town of Black Apple. The sheltered Rose eventually learns about women of ill repute, men, friendship, and happiness—and that Mother Grace and the sisters may not have her best interests at heart. The horrors of Canada’s forced indigenous boarding school program come to life in this novel—girls are beaten, starved, and abused. But there are moments of kindness and grace, too. Parts of the book are written from the elderly Mother Grace’s point of view, and teens will find her self-righteousness and hypocrisy fascinating. Crate, an award-winning poet, was born in the Northwest Territories, and her beautiful writing reflects her love for the landscape and people. VERDICT Give to teens interested in social injustice and tales about indigenous people.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

dearemmaHEANEY, Katie. Dear Emma. 320p. ebook available. Grand Central. Mar. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781455534609.
Harriet, an English lit major at a college in Springfield, IL, is used to giving advice. She’s been writing the student newspaper’s “Dear Emma” advice column for two years. Harriet is decisive and swift to kick boys to the curb in her column, but in real life, she’s cyberstalking the boy she likes on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. She overthinks everything and spends hours contemplating the last text she sent. Luckily, Harriet’s two roommates keep her grounded, but even they can’t help when her new coworker at the university library turns out to be her ex’s new fling. As much as she wants to hate Remy, the two become friends, and that relationship is threatened when Remy writes “Dear Emma” for advice about her communication-challenged man. Unfortunately, the focus on Facebook in this modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma already dates it, but teens will connect with Harriet’s waffling about whether or not to “friend” or “like” something online. She stresses about every word in a conversation and constantly worries about what her friends think. Harriet’s inexperience with dating will ring true, even as she is slamming tequila shots for courage before heading out to the bars on a school night. VERDICT Give to future English majors, worriers who need a light read, or teens wondering what college will be like.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

be frankJOHNSON, Julia. Be Frank with Me. 304p. ebook available. William Morrow. Feb. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062413710; pap. $18.99. ISBN 9780062459060.
Alice, a 20-something assistant at a New York publishing house, is sent by her boss to California to look after one of his clients, M.M. Banning (aka Mimi). Thirty years earlier, at the age of 19, Banning wrote a Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning novel that continues to sell a million copies a year. As far as anyone knows, she has not written anything since, but now, having been swindled by an investment advisor, she needs money and someone to help her keep her household going while she writes another book. So Alice arrives on Mimi’s doorstep in Bel Air and meets Mimi and her nine-year-old son, Frank. Frank is an old-for-his-age cinephile with an encyclopedic knowledge of old movies and a penchant for dressing like characters in those same films. Mimi is allegedly working on the promised book, but she never allows Alice to see any of it, and Alice finds herself acting as a full-time companion to Frank. Despite early misgivings, she is drawn into the rhythms of their odd family, which includes a gorgeous young man named Xander, who shows up occasionally, teaches piano to Frank, does odd jobs around the place, and whom Alice suspects might be Frank’s father. VERDICT By turns touching, laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, and manic, this is a delightful novel that will appeal to teens who like their characters quirky and smart and their stories fast-paced and witty.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library

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  1. Francisca Goldsmith says:

    Sarah, great to see you cohosting here!

  2. Priscille says:

    Congrats on the new gig….and hooray for Alex Awards!

  3. Sarah Hill says:

    Thanks, Francisca and Priscille! I’m excited! :)

  4. suggestion for review: The Heart: a novel, by Maylis de Kerangal (translated from the French by Sam Taylor)