SLJ Reviews of the Finalists for the 2018 National Book Awards

The shortlist for the 2018 National Book Awards for Young People's Literature has been announced! Here are our reviews.

The National Book Foundation announced today its shortlist for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The picks include titles by Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award recipient Elizabeth Acevedo. The five finalists and the corresponding SLJ reviews and interviews are:


Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. 368p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062662804. POP
Gr 7 Up–Magnificently crafted, Acevedo’s bildungsroman in verse is a stunning account of a teen girl’s path to poetry. Sophomore Xiomara Batista is simultaneously invisible and hyper visible at home, at school, and in her largely Dominican community in Harlem—her body is “unhide-able” she tells readers early on, and she bristles at how others project their desires, insecurities, failures, and patriarchal attitudes toward her. Though she is quick to battle and defend herself and her twin brother Xavier, Xiomara’s inner life sensitively grapples with these projections and the expectations of her strict, religious mother. Acevedo’s depiction of a faith in crisis is exceedingly relatable and teens, especially those going through the sacrament of Confirmation, will deeply appreciate Xiomara’s thoughtful questioning of the Church and how it treats women. Forbidden kisses with a crush and an impromptu performance at an open mic prove to be euphoric, affirming moments for Xiomara: “it’s beautiful and real and what I wanted.” Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end. ­VERDICT Truly a “lantern glowing in the dark” for aspiring poets everywhere. All YA collections will want to share and treasure this profoundly moving work.–Della Farrell, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

Here's our interview with Elizabeth Acevedo. 

Anderson, M.T. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge. illus. by Eugene Yelchin. 544p. Candlewick. Sept. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763698225.
Gr 4-7–The Elves and the Goblins have suffered through a horrible war, and it is unclear who is to blame. In a supposed act of diplomacy, the Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is shot through the air to bring a priceless artifact to the somewhat mysterious Goblin ruler. He is to stay with the archivist Werfel, but misunderstandings and cultural differences make working together a challenge. Readers soon discover, long before Spurge and Werfel, that the Elfin kingdom has a sinister plan in mind, and it is up to these two arguing historians to prevent another war. The themes in this fantasy novel explore how events can be viewed differently depending on the beholder’s beliefs, experiences, and background; however, the characters are painted in extremes, which somewhat flattens the message and misses an opportunity to present more complexity in the relationships. The satirical tone is reminiscent of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” while the format is similar in concept to Brian Selznick’s work; Yelchin’s black-and-white ink drawings reveal the viewpoint of the visiting Elfin historian, contrasted with the text descriptions from Werfel’s viewpoint. VERDICT A relevant, if slightly didactic, message on the importance of perspective and finding common ground. A good choice for most middle grade shelves.–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2018 issue.

Connor, Leslie. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle. 336p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062491435.
Gr 5-7–Calvin Chumsky, a brilliant seventh grader and the only friend of Mason Buttle, says, “The Universe is amazing. It knows what we want. And sometimes... it hands it over like a gift.” Maybe so, but the Universe isn’t kind to Mason Buttle. He is a large boy who has severe dyslexia and overactive sweat glands. He is plagued by two neighborhood boys who call Mason stupid and pelt him with lacrosse balls and mushy apples. One boy, Matt, not only mistreats Mason but beats up his own dog, who prefers Mason. Worse than the constant ragging is the memory of a tragedy that happened two years ago: Mason’s best friend fell off a broken ladder to his death. Lieutenant Laird has hounded Mason ever since to remember more about the accident. Mason finds his comfort in his broken-down house, the secret hideout he and Calvin create, and a school room monitored by a caring social worker. Mason’s family and friends have their own misdeeds and insecurities. Uncle Drum has sold off many acres of the family’s apple orchards. Instead of working, he spends his days in a diner. Shayleen, a runaway, tries to fill her life with stuff bought on a shopping network. Connor expertly captures the camaraderie of Calvin and Mason, the overly permissive parenting of Matt’s mother, and the suspicious attitudes of the townspeople toward Matt after the accident. The final line in the books says it all: “Knowing what you love is smart.” VERDICT A poignant underdog tale that will resonate with many young readers.–Lillian Hecker, Town of ­Pelham Public Library, NY
This review was published in the School Library Journal November 2017 issue.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Journey of Little Charlie. 256p. Scholastic. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545156660.
Gr 5-8–Oversized like an ox, 12-year-old Charlie Bobo and his sharecropper parents eke out a living on the Tanner Plantation deep in South Carolina in 1858. When an accident takes his father’s life, Charlie and his mother must settle a debt with the plantation’s sadistic overseer, Cap’n Buck. The despicable overseer forces Charlie to accompany him to Detroit to retrieve $4,000 worth of stolen property. Charlie’s journey covers more than miles as he finally realizes the stolen property isn’t material but human. Outside his norm of Southern life, he sees his white privilege and the horrors of people claiming ownership of other people. It truly sickens him, but he feels trapped by his father’s debt. Cap’n Buck and Charlie venture into Canada to capture their last fugitive slave: Sylvanus, a boy just Charlie’s age. When he sees the similarities in their lives despite their different races, Charlie knows he cannot be party to the legal evil of slavery any longer (“I knowed Sylvanus and his ma and pa was gonna be slaves ‘gain. And I knowed it would be my doings that caused it.”). Charlie alters the course of his journey right then, changing his life forever. His choice shows that no matter one’s upbringing—Charlie lived in poverty, racism, and ignorance—a person can choose right. Curtis’s use of dialect lends the story authenticity, though it may slow down less confident readers. The violence of slavery is not shied away from and use of historically accurate, derogatory terms for black people are used. Young readers will benefit from discussion during and after reading. VERDICT A thought-provoking book from a master storyteller.–Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. illus. by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 320p. Scholastic/Graphix. Oct. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780545902472.
Gr 7 Up –In this intimate graphic memoir, Krosoczka looks back on his childhood and adolescence. His mother was a heroin addict, who was incarcerated or in rehab for much of his young life, and his father wasn’t around—until Krosoczka was in the sixth grade, he didn’t even know the man’s first name. The author/illustrator was raised by his loving but often amusingly coarse maternal grandparents, who were well past their child-rearing days. Though growing up without his biological parents was painful, Krosoczka had a supportive network of extended family and friends, and his art became both his passion and his salvation. The visuals beautifully re-create his early memories, with fluid lines depicting the figures and hand-painted washes of gray with burnt orange highlights in the backgrounds. Borderless panels and word balloons deftly draw readers into the action. Artifacts from the Krosoczka family’s past are inserted into the story, such as artwork and letters, and even the pineapple wallpaper from his grandparents’ home is included between chapters. VERDICT A compelling, sometimes raw look at how addiction can affect families. A must-have, this book will empower readers, especially those who feel alone in difficult situations.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

This review was published in the School Library Journal August 2018 issue.

Here's our interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka.

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Shelley Diaz

Shelley Diaz ( is the Reviews Editor at School Library Journal.

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