SLJ's Reviews of YALSA's 2018 Morris Award Finalists

YALSA has just announced the five finalists for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, including SLJ Best Book The Hate U Give. Check out our reviews of the finalists.
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association, announced the five finalists for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award on December 5. First given in 2009, the award honors a book published by a first-time author writing for teens. The winner is announced annually at the ALA Youth Media Awards, with a shortlist of up to five titles named the first week of December. The award's namesake is William C. Morris, an influential innovator in the publishing world and an advocate for marketing books for children and young adults. SLJ Best Book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins) has made the shortlist, in addition to S.K. Ali's Saints & Misfits (S. & S.), which received an SLJ star. For the rest of the honorees and SLJ's reviews, please see below.  

2018 Finalists

redstarALI, S.K. Saints and Misfits. 336p. S. & S./Salaam Reads. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481499248.

Gr 9 Up –Life has settled since Janna’s parents’ divorce, but several new obstacles are making things difficult. Her brother, Muhammad, is moving back home as he changes majors and pursues marriage, while Janna silently battles against a respected boy at her mosque who attempted to rape her. To cope, Janna has separated people into categories. Farooq is a monster, but there are also saints, like Muhammad’s fiancée. And then there are misfits, like Janna. This categorization isn’t expressed overtly other than through chapter headings and occasional references, but it allows readers to see the world as Janna views it. Yet where there is darkness, there is also light: Janna has a lovely relationship with an elderly gentleman she cares for weekly, loves Flannery O’Connor, is a focused student, and has a crush on a boy, though he’s non-Muslim. Ali’s writing is balanced between Janna’s inner dialogue and what transpires around her. The structured delivery magnifies the teen’s rich voice in a character-driven novel about identity, highlighting her faith and typical teenage stress. Readers can empathize with Janna’s problems, and the pages will turn quickly. Each secondary character adds depth to the narrative and simultaneously strengthens the diverse portrait that the Toronto-based author shares. VERDICT This timely and authentic portrayal is an indisputable purchase in the realistic fiction category.–Alicia Abdul, Albany High School Library, NY

See Ali's guest post on "Teen Librarian Toolbox" about moving forward in the diversity conversation.

BOWMAN, Akemi Dawn. Starfish. 352p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481487726. Gr 9 Up–Kiko Himura has constantly been made to feel like an outsider by her mother and the majority of her town for being half Japanese. The only things she really has in her life are her best friend, who is going to leave to college this year, and her art. Kiko realizes her ticket to escaping her insufferable mother and feelings of inadequacy is applying to art school in New York. When she does not get accepted to her dream school, she fears she is doomed to drown in her small town. But when she happens to see her childhood best friend at a party, her life begins to spin wildly out of control. Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko’s plight to survive in social situations and maintain a functioning lifestyle. The realistic conversations with her narcissistic mother and discussions of childhood trauma might be hard to stomach for some because of their brutal honesty. Teens will root for Kiko and hope she develops the strength to overcome her hardships. The characterization of her childhood best friend and mentor are the only semi-unrealistic aspects of the book, as they continue to remain in the “too-good-to-be-true” camp, but these holes are easy to overlook. Bowman has written a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives. VERDICT A worthy first purchase for any public or school library collection.–DeHanza Kwong, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, NC   HENSON, S.F. Devils Within. 404p. Sky Pony. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510714564. (Not reviewed by SLJ)

After Nate Fuller kills his father in self-defense, he must find a way to redefine what’s right and wrong and learn to trust again. But when two followers of The Fort, his father’s white supremacist group, arrive in Nate’s new town, he knows blood is going to spill—he’s just not sure whose.

  STONE, Nic. Dear Martin. 224p. Crown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101939499. Gr 9 Up–Justyce is an African American teen caught between two worlds. He knows that the education he’s receiving at a private school will grant him more economic opportunities; however, he begins to question the effects of his private school education on his own identity. Some of his classmates believe that the racial pendulum has swung too far, giving African Americans an unfair advantage over their white counterparts. The kids he grew up with believe Justyce has assimilated too much and has forgotten where he came from. He questions his blackness, his relationship with his biracial girlfriend, and his attraction to his white debate partner Sarah Jane. Through a series of journal entries, Justyce attempts to figure out his place in the world by exploring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. A violent altercation between a retired white police officer and his best friend causes Justyce to examine what it means to be an African American male in 2017. The length and pace of this well-written story make it a perfect read for reluctant and sophisticated readers alike. The main characters are well balanced and will resonate with teens. However, the voice of African American women is largely absent from the narrative. The characterizations of Justyce’s mother and his girlfriend are one-dimensional compared to some of the other protagonists. Still, this important work should be read alongside Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All-American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down. ­VERDICT A good choice for school and public libraries.–Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH See our conversation between Nic Stone and Jared Reck about crafting characters, their paths to publication, and more. redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 464p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062498533. 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 See our interview with Angie Thomas about making the personal political.

2018 Committee

Members of the 2018 William C. Morris Award Committee are:  Chair Sarah Julsonnet, Trinity Episcopal School, Austin, TX; Ariel Birdoff, New York Public Library, New York, NY; Theodosia (Thea) Hashagen, San Francisco, CA; Beth Kirchenberg, River Forest Public Library, River Forest, IL; Jessica Lundin, South Regional Library, Durham, NC; Cate Merlin, Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, MA; Sarah Schmitt, formerly with Hancock County Public Library, Greenfield, IN; Talya Sokoll, Noble and Greenough School, Dedham, MA; Emily Townsend,, Madison, WI; and Daniel Kraus, Booklist Consultant, Chicago, IL.

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