Five Finalists Named for 2020 National Book Award in Young People's Literature

The honored titles include a graphic novel documenting a refugee's journey, a story of grief and sexual identity, and historical fiction about Japanese American teenagers incarcerated during World War II.

The finalists for the 2020 National Book Awards in five categories Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature were announced today. 

The finalists in Young People's Literature are:

Kacen Callender, King and the Dragonflies
Traci Chee, We Are Not Free
Candice Iloh, Every Body Looking
Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered
Gavriel Savit, The Way Back

The National Book Foundation summarized the finalist titles in a press release: "In King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender’s protagonist Kingston James deals with grief, sexual identity, and the perceptions and expectations of family. Traci Chee’s work of historical fiction We Are Not Free follows fourteen teenage narrators whose lives have been changed by the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry from their homes during World War II and includes photographs and documents from the time period, enhancing this portrait of a harrowing time in our nation’s history. Told in verse, Candice Iloh’s protagonist Ada reckons with her past while her exploration of dance grounds her in her body and points a way forward in Every Body Looking. The graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered is written and illustrated by the Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson and based on interviews with co-author Omar Mohamed. Their work chronicles the years Mohamed spent in a Kenyan refugee camp, where limbo and hope co-exist as he awaits news about resettlement and watches the lives of those around him change. Jewish folklore infuses The Way Back by Gavriel Savit, in which two young people travel into a world of spirits and demons and must find their way home to their nineteenth-century shtetl Tupik in Eastern Europe."

[Read: SLJ's reviews of the finalists]

The 25 finalists were chosen from the longlists announced in September.

[Read: Longlist Revealed for 2020 National Book Award for Young People's Literature]

Here are the finalists in the other four categories.


Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind
Lydia Millet, A Children’s Bible
Deesha Philyaw, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain
Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown


Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Undocumented Americans
Les Payne and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory
Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers
Jerald Walker, How to Make a Slave and Other Essays


Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, A Treatise on Stars
Tommye Blount, Fantasia for the Man in Blue
Don Mee Choi, DMZ Colony
Anthony Cody, Borderland Apocrypha
Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem

Translated Literature:

Anja Kampmann, High as the Waters Rise
    Translated from the German by Anne Posten
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, The Family Clause
    Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies
Yu Miri, Tokyo Ueno Station
    Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
Pilar Quintana, The Bitch
    Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
Adania Shibli, Minor Detail
    Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette

The National Book Award winners, who receive $10,000 and a bronze medal and statue, will be announced on Wednesday, November 18 at the 71st National Book Awards Ceremony, which will be held online and streamed on YouTube and on the National Book Foundation website. During the ceremony, two lifetime achievement awards will also be presented as part of the evening’s ceremony: Walter Mosley will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Carolyn Reidy, the former president and CEO at Simon & Schuster who died in May, will posthumously receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

The ceremony is the culminating event in a series of virtual National Book Awards events in October and November. This year, 5 Under 35, the Foundation’s celebration of emerging fiction writers will take place on October 20 in partnership with the Miami Book Fair online. The annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference will be held November 16, also in partnership with the Miami Book Fair online. The traditional National Book Awards Finalists Reading will again be hosted by The New School on the evening of November 10. All of the finalists will read from their work in this free, online event open to the public.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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