Which Book Should Win the 2016 National Book Award for Young People?
Time for a little fessing up. Before 2013, I read 0 out of 5 of the finalists for the National Book Award for Young People. Shameful, I know…
In 2014, I picked up a book called BROWN GIRL DREAMING. You may have heard of it. 😍 Unbelievably amazing. If you have the chance to hear Jacqueline Woodson read her own words on audiobook, please do. It won and was the only book I read from the list of finalists. Yes, more shame…
In 2015, I read 3 out of 5. THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, BONE GAP, and NIMONA were all fantastic reads, some of my favorites of the year.
Last year I made myself a promise to read all five of the National Book Award for Young People Finalists. Each of these books deeply touched me in all the right places. The characters became my friends. I lived in their worlds with them. I wanted to help them. When the books ended, I wanted to call them up and discuss their stories. Here’s a little about each of these literary gems. (Don’t worry. There are no spoilers!)
Raymie and I are soulmates. We’ve both busy carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, making happily-ever-after plans, and hoping the world is tuned into the same radio frequency so that everything works out the way it should. For Raymie, those happily-ever-after plans involve her father redeeming himself for leaving her and her mom by rushing back to her with open arms. Like Raymie, I’m still that little girl who loves people with a big, open whooshing heart, hoping to be loved back at least half as much. This story about personal loss, finding hope and joy in unlikely places, and the power of being open to new friendships is both heart-wrenching and heart-opening, perfect for readers looking for lots of feels. Writing this review makes me want to read it again. Oh, the feels you can feel! (Ages 10+)
I’d never heard of this graphic novel series about the Civil Rights Movement until the National Book Award Finalists were announced. The graphic novels format is perfect for relating the stories of the brave men and women who fearlessly fought for equality among people on a personal level and for transporting the reader back to the early 1960s seamlessly. You feel with the anguish of the Civil Rights fighters, understand the depths of danger they faced, and discover the enormous hurdles they encountered through first-hand accounts right out of John Lewis’ head.
These books are so much more than history books. They connect deeply into your consciousness, enlighten you about fundamentally what it means to be human, and make you wonder if you are brave enough/smart enough to fight like John Lewis did. Honestly, I learned more about the Civil Rights Movement in this trilogy than I learned in elementary through high school. In Book Three, John Lewis, who is chairman of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, must steer the group through dangerous uprisings as African Americans assert their right to vote. These books are compelling stories about the power of our voices, a must have for the history classroom. (Ages 13+)
I didn’t want to/expect fall head over heels in love with this book. I’d already chosen my favorites for the year. Finding another book I loved with all of my heart at the end of October was like…cheating. Also, I wasn’t sure I’d like it because I prefer realistic fiction, but I slipped right into the story. The first day I sat down to read, I couldn’t stop. Instead of going to the grocery store to buy food for my family, I read. (They weren’t going to starve for goodness sakes! All Pinmei has to make it through the long winter is a dwindling supply of rice. We had rice!) Instead of working on revising my WIP after being away from it for many, many long days, I read. I didn’t want to stop to drive my kids to school either, but I did just because it meant uninterrupted reading time.
This book is about the power of stories and storytellers. Within the story of Pinmei and Yishan’s brave mission to save Pinmei’s grandmother, the storyteller, from the emperor, there are enchanting and unique Chinese fables masterfully woven into the story like pieces of a puzzle. We cheer for Pimei as she grows from being a quiet, unlikely hero to becoming a brave girl willing to challenge the most powerful man in the land.
The story is mesmerizing, the prose is lovely, and the illustrations are exquisite. I could not love it more. (Ages 10+)
Ghost, aka Castle Crenshaw, is trying out for a new elite middle school track team despite the fact that he’s never had any formal training. Ghost is super-fast, but he’s running for the wrong reasons. He’s a good kid on the inside, but on the outside his life is a mess. Ghost is always in trouble and being suspended from school. He’s has been running since the day his daddy chased him and his mom though their apartment and out into the streets with a loaded gun. Even after he gets some focus for his anger by running track, he still makes mistakes, big mistakes. What Ghost must realize is that he’ll always be running until he deals with the anger, his fears, the past. And just as importantly as figuring out what he’s running from, Ghost must figure out where he’s running to.
Ghost’s troubles feel real/personal. You can’t resist rooting for him. I can’t help but compare Jason Reynold’s GHOST with BOOKED and CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander (two of my all-time favorites). Sports books rarely capture my attention like these books did, but Ghost is so much more than a sports book. The dialogue and voice in GHOST are so authentic that I imagined I’d heard the story straight from Ghost’s own lips. I love books about kids making mistakes and struggling until they make things right. There’s so much for adults and kids alike to relate to and learn from in this book. A powerful, must read. Go get it now. (Ages 10+)
It took extreme restraint to not go ahead and proclaim this my favorite book before I read it. I obsessively love of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon, and I still think about it/recommend it nearly every day now, a year after I read it. Thankfully, I read the others first and had fallen in love with them too before I got my hands on this one. It made things a little more even.
And then I opened the book…I’m not a girl who likes prologues, but this one is unlike any that I’ve ever read. If you like the prologue, you will love the book.
The entire story takes place in one day. It has MULTIPLE first-person POVs. I lost track of how many because I was so overwhelmed by how masterfully they were written, each character original, each viewpoint moving.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR is so much more than a love story. It’s a tale of deportation, the difficulties of being raised in America by immigrant parents, that moment when you realize that your parents are clueless people figuring it out as they go instead of the heroes you imagined, and the importance of living your dreams instead of the dreams that others have for you. It’s also a love letter to many topics dear to me: time travel, atomic order, dark matter, human biology, physics, and the universe. How does Nicola Yoon fit these complex subjects into a love story that made me ugly cry on page 306? I have no idea, but it’s a book that I’ll study for years to come to figure out these mysteries and as a masterclass on multiple first-person POVs. (Ages 14+, language and mild sexual content)
Choosing a favorite from these five books was nearly impossible, and I imagine the committee selecting the winner will have the same difficulties. There are no losers in this list! Read them all!
Honestly, my favorite pick of these five books has changed multiple times over the past week. If I must choose one, I’d have to pick the book that made the biggest impact on me as a reader. That book would be MARCH: BOOK THREE.
The graphic novel format made the Civil Rights Movement come alive for me in a way that it never had before. Rep. John Lewis’ first-hand accounts have rippled my consciousness, and I can’t stop thinking about the sacrifices of the unbelievably brave men and women who mostly peacefully fought against prejudice/injustices. The timing of this book is also of utmost importance. We need these stories now and forever to know where we’ve been and to figure out where we need to go.
The judging committee will select THE WINNER of THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD in all categories on November 16th. More info about the amazing judges and books can be found here.
Have you read the shortlist nominees? I’d love to know which book you’d choose to win The National Book Award for Young People this year!