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The Alex Awards: Adult books with YA appeal April 10, 2007

Posted by sneaks in adult, display topics, fiction, nonfiction, spring, YA.
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The Alex Awards, administered by YALSA and cosponsored by Booklist and the Margaret A. Edwards Trust, honor the top 10 adult books, published during the previous year, with appeal to readers between the ages of 12 and 18.

Support Teen Literature Day is April 19 (more on that later, watch this space). You might ramp up for it with a display of this year’s Alex Award winners, along with some read-alikes suggested by Gillian Engberg of Booklist online. (Original article here)

“From the Japanese internment camps of World War II depicted in John Hideyo Hamamura’s Color of the Sea to the wildness of the big-top circus tents in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, the settings in this year’s list of Alex winners will transport teens to diverse, wholly realized worlds, in which young readers may be surprised to find their own urgent questions explored.”

You might use this list as a good starting point for short attention span adult readers too, or for family read-togethers, or audio books for family road trips.

Click “more” for award winners and read-alikes from Booklist.

The Color of the Sea, by John Hideyo Hamamura. Sam, born in Hawaii to Japanese parents, heads to college in the mainland U.S., where he meets Keiko, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. Hamamura’s ambitious, provocative novel explores the complex identity questions Japanese Americans faced during World War II.

Chai, May-Lee. Hapa Girl. Chai, daughter of a Chinese American father and Irish American mother, chronicles the aftermath of her family’s 1979 move from New York to South Dakota when she was 12. Bigoted remarks escalate to violence, and the Chais realize that anti-Asian prejudice is still a fact of American life. A thought-provoking memoir of increasing relevance to today’s teens.

Dallas, Sandra. Tallgrass. Bright, inquisitive Rennie, a teenage farmer’s daughter, narrates this story about reactions in a tiny Colorado town to the Japanese internment camp located on its edge. Moments of surprising humor leaven the story’s examination of prejudice and fear.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. The Legend of Fire Horse Woman. Houston recorded her own experiences in a World War II internment camp in her memoir Farewell to Manzanar. In her first novel, she traces three generations of Japanese women, the action switching between 1902, when the family matriarch arrives in America, and 1942, at the Manzanar camp.


Eagle Blue, by Michael D’Orso. D’Orso’s fascinating, sensitive account follows an Alaskan high-school basketball team through its season in a town above the Arctic Circle. Just as gripping as the sports narrative are the intimate portraits of the teens and their community in crisis.

Kreidler, Mark. Four Days to Glory. Kriedler spent a year in Iowa, where high-school wrestlers are revered, and offers this anecdotal, perceptive account of the young athletes and the complex culture that surrounds their sport.

O’Connor, Ian. The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High Stakes Business of High School Ball. A veteran sports reporter chronicles a young Brooklyn basketball star’s harrowing leap to NBA stardom in this raw view of the complex, contradictory world of big-stakes high-school basketball.

Wojnarowski, Adrian. Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty. Hurley is a coach at a tiny, financially insecure New Jersey high school that has won 22 state basketball titles. In this inspiring look at Hurley and his students over the course a season, Wojnarowski shows how one person can make a difference, one gesture at a time.

The Floor of the Sky, by Pamela Carter Joern. Two aging sisters living in the Sandhills of Nebraska find themselves transformed when a pregnant 16-year-old relative comes to stay. Joern gracefully explores the family’s complex relationships and offers a piercing look at the perils of the small rancher.

Haruf, Kent. Plainsong. In a small Colorado prairie town, two aging bachelor brothers take in a pregnant teenager and, in doing so, create an unusual, nurturing new family. Haruf’s spare language and authentic dialogue amplify the stark landscape and its vivid characters.

Meyers, Kent. The Work of Wolves. Twisted Tree, South Dakota, is the setting for this beautiful, visceral novel, which was named a 2005 Alex Award book. Three misfit characters, including a mathematically gifted Lakota high-school student, conspire to rescue a trio of abused horses, and their wild adventures play out against the magnificent landscape.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. A renowned English novelist hires Margaret, a young bookseller’s daughter, to write her biography. The job takes Margaret through Yorkshire’s ruined manors and lush countryside as she tries to verify facts about the novelist’s heartbreaking life story. Ghosts, naive heroines, mean governesses, and spooky estates will draw lovers of gothic stories in the tradition of Jane Eyre.

Egan, Jennifer. The Keep. Ray, a tormented convict, narrates this story about two brothers who reunite to renovate an Eastern European castle. Egan employs many gothic conventions in a tense, atmospheric novel that ends with a startling revelation.

Harwood, John. The Ghost Writer. Gerald, an Australian, grew up hearing stories of his mother’s idyllic English childhood. Then he finds a ghost story she had written, which leads him on a journey through more of her dark, sinister tales. Which ones are true? Is Gerald’s own life at stake? Ghost stories form the core of this lyrical paranormal thriller.

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind. In post–World War II Barcelona, a boy is charged with protecting a single, obscure book from oblivion, but he soon learns that his task is far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Zafon weaves together elements of gothic horror, mystery, and fantasy in this richly told coming-of-age story.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. During the Great Depression, young Jacob’s dreams of finishing veterinary school and marrying the girl of his dreams are broken apart after his parents are killed in a car crash. He turns to a circus for escape, falls in love, and makes a new family of wild friends and performers. Gruen’s historical and circus details provide a strong backdrop for a cast of unforgettable characters.

Day, Cathy. The Circus in Winter. Eleven linked stories trace the lives, loves, and secrets of a group of circus people through the generations. Set during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the stories offer a fascinating look at circus culture and its people.

Raleigh, Michael. Blue Moon Circus. After winning a poker game, Lewis, a veteran circus man who left the business after a 1919 flood wiped out his operation, decides to try again. Summoning performers from around the country, he creates a unique circus, but his most pressing challenge is to parent the nine-year-old orphan for whom he has become the guardian. A heartwarming, funny story filled with circus lore.

Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. In a small English town in the 1980s, 13-year-old Jason tries to find his own space in a family strained by his parents’ increasingly tense marriage and the success of his brilliant sister. Mitchell captures Jason’s public actions and private thoughts with remarkable acuity.

Cook, Lorna J. Departures. The Vanderzee family may appear stable, but it is perpetually in transition, and siblings Suzen and Evan, while always moving somewhere, are never sure it’s where they want to go. Cook captures the subtle ways that families go wrong and the heartbreaking efforts of the young to right the course.

Nicholls, David. A Question of Attraction. In Nicholls’ debut novel, British scholarship student Brian attempts to mix with his well-heeled peers as a team member on University Challenge, a TV quiz show he watched with his late father. From Brian’s ongoing battle with his severely blemished skin to his James Brown–like dance moves to his excruciating, naked encounter with a girlfriend’s parents, Nicholls creates sublime, sharply insightful comedy from the agonizing process of growing up.

The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig. As Montana school superintendent Paul Milliron prepares to close his state’s one-room schoolhouses in the late 1950s, he reflects back on his own pivotal seventh-grade year, spent in small, rural school. His youthful memories make up the bulk of this entrancing saga, set against a bleak western landscape, about a grieving family of boys and men and the strangers who change their lives.

Enger, Leif. Peace like a River. After his older brother kills two intruders and flees town, Reuben, a young teen growing up in a small Minnesota town during the early 1960s, follows his family west as they run from the law. In rich, authentic language, Rueben narrates this story of fathers, brothers, and sons, and the tragedies and miracles that hold them together. A 2002 Alex Award title.

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