YALSA Announces 2024 Morris Award Finalists

The winner of the award for best YA debut will be announced during the Youth Media Awards ceremony on January 22.

5 Morris Award finalist covers

YALSA announced the five finalists for the 2024 William C. Morris Award, given to the best YA debut title of the year. The winner will be announced at the ALA Youth Media Awards on January 22.

The finalists are:

All the Fighting Parts by Hannah V. Sawyerr. Abrams/Amulet.
 Gr 9 Up–Sixteen-year-old Amina Conteh is a reflection of her deceased mother—not only her dark skin and kinky curls, but her spirit. Her words are her weapon: all the fighting parts from her mom that concern her father. When Amina’s sharp tongue lands her in trouble again at school, her father’s solution is to send her to volunteer for a well-respected pastor at church. Annoyed at first to be working alongside “Holy Holly” from school, Amina becomes motivated by an offer to be paid for her work. One evening Pastor “Call me Randall” Johnson sets up a scenario where they are alone sorting papers, and he sexually assaults her. Amina becomes withdrawn, struggles in school, and distances herself from her best friend and boyfriend. When Johnson is unexpectedly arrested at church, Amina realizes she isn’t the only one he has hurt. She digs deep to find her voice, while the only time her father breaks his silence is to speak over her. This stunning debut novel in verse unearths Amina’s entangled emotions of self-blame and RAGE via poetry in free verse, concrete, contrapuntal, and other forms. Texts, police interview transcripts, and news media are also interjected, enlightening readers in a fast-paced style to events unfolding before and after that devastating evening. Sawyerr navigates this painful topic with grace and sensitivity, with the assault itself taking place off-page. She focuses on Amina’s individual journey and acknowledges there are different pathways to healing from trauma. The complex relationship between father and daughter also evolves along the way. VERDICT Achingly profound and inspiring; a must for all collections.

Once There Was by Kiyash Monsef.  S. & S.

Rez Ball by Byron Graves. Heartdrum.
 Gr 8 Up–Tre was “not really into sports,” unlike brother Jaxon and their father who were “rez ball” superstars. After shooting up from 5’9” to 6’4” he “gave basketball a try and was surprisingly good at it,” thanks to Jaxon’s coaching. But Jaxon’s dead, and Tre’s become the next big hope to get the Warriors to the state championships. Graves’s novel could have been just another glorified sports story, but he delivers much more—the never-ending racism on and off the courts, the joy of “rez ball,” truncated futures when the season ends. Newbie Nobess, one of the National Screen Institute’s 2022 CBC New Indigenous Voices, a program for emerging creators, is a nuanced narrator, effectively ciphering multiple generations with and without the lyrical “rez accent.” He proves especially facile with injecting thrilling anticipation into the many games that jump off Graves’s pages. VERDICT Once started, even the most reluctant readers will be hard-pressed to hit the pause button.

Saints of the Household by Ari Tison. Farrar.
 Gr 8 Up–A heartrending, contemporary debut novel about the repercussions of trauma and the healing power of family and art. Bribri American brothers Jay and Max (who are Indigenous Costa Rican) are reeling from the act of physical violence they perpetrated against the town’s beloved soccer star. When they witnessed Luca stepping angrily toward their cousin Nicole and forcefully grabbing her arm in the Minnesota woods, the brothers instinctively beat him up. They’ve experienced physical abuse at the hands of their father and witnessed him doing the same to their mother. Max finds refuge in his art and a budding romance, while Jay burrows deeply into himself, occasionally finding respite in Nicole and his grandfather, who shares his love of reading and nature. However, the brothers become estranged. The chapters in this ruminative, dual perspective work are short. Jay’s are written in prose vignettes; Max’s are done in spare free verse. Tison’s (Bribri) masterly economy of language—every word and even punctuation mark is chosen for a specific purpose—presents this compelling story of a family smashed to pieces by violence. The novel searingly depicts PTSD’s strong hold—how every aspect of life is dictated by the fear of where the next fist is going to land, and how living so deeply in that circle of pain permeates every aspect of one’s identity. Their problems aren’t solved, but the siblings find peace in their small victories. Nicole is Anishinaabe, and Luca has some Mexican heritage. VERDICT Violence can be inherited but so can love and forgiveness. This vulnerable and magnetic tale of brotherhood belongs on every shelf.

She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. Bloomsbury.
Gr 8 Up–A possibly haunted house, an angry teen, and paranormal elements join forces in this dark debut novel. Jade Nguyen was born and raised in Philadelphia to immigrant Vietnamese parents. When her dad leaves the family, and her mom struggles as a nail technician, Jade becomes discouraged as the possibility of college moves further away due to finances. Now that her dad is renovating an old colonial house in the Vietnamese countryside, he asks Jade and younger sister Lily to spend the summer together. But there’s a catch: if Jade makes amends with her Ba and stays for five weeks, he’ll pay for her college tuition. Resentful and hurt, she tries in vain to get out of the deal, but strange things start happening around the old house which make Jade’s desire to leave even greater: dead bugs, ghosts, and sleep paralysis. When she talks to her dad and sister, they shrug off her concerns. How can Jade survive this summer when the house seems to be haunting her? This novel is a slow-burn, dark tale of identity, immigration, colonialism, and sexuality (Jade is bisexual). The atmospheric creepy things that happen all around the house’s inhabitants are eerie and beautifully written, giving readers a tingle in their spines. Though the ending may be confusing to some, this story will be well received by teens looking for representation and empathy. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries, especially for those serving readers seeking Asian and Asian American voices.

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