I admit it – I love teen literature. I read it because I enjoy the stories and the characters, not because it’s part of my job (although it is). Being able to recommend the perfect book to a teen can be the high point of my day.
So, of course, I was excited when the winners of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the American Library Association Teen Media Award winners were announced. These complex and moving stories are as suited for adult reading, as for teens.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Challenger Deep is the story of a teenaged boy named Caden Bosch who, in a psychotic episode, finds himself on a ship of very strange characters heading for the deepest part of the ocean. Not able to tell what is real from what is not, or who can be trusted, the main character’s distress and disorientation are obvious. As his reality deteriorates, Caden expresses himself through drawing. Illustrations throughout the novel are by Brendan Shusterman, the author’s son. The novel is based on Brendan’s experience with mental illness and has an immediacy, pathos and sympathy for the sufferer that must be read. I had the pleasure of meeting both Mr. Shusterman and his son at a conference. Here is the title page of my copy of Challenger Deep, signed by the author and decorated by the illustrator.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award for Literary Excellence
Bone Gap is magical realism set in an idyllic small town surrounded by corn fields, where everyone knows everyone else and their business. Everyone knows that Sean gave up his intended medical education to take care of his brother Finn since their mother left, and that Finn is ‘different’. Sean is to be pitied; Finn is ridiculed. Now a beautiful girl who appeared in their barn has disappeared. Finn claims she was kidnapped, but can’t describe the kidnapper’s face, so is not believed. A girlfriend, the mysterious appearance of a horse and a quest change Finn’s world. Old legends bleed through into reality as people and things, hopes and dreams, are lost and found.
Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Michael L Printz 2016 Honor Book
Four characters at different stages in human history, from prehistoric times to space exploration, make discoveries about helixes, their importance and shapes, and about human nature and history, as time spirals and intersects. A prehistoric girl makes discoveries about written language and her people. A young girl is accused of witchcraft in a rural village by her neighbors and a minister who see devilry everywhere. Another girl moves into a psychiatric hospital on Long Island in the 1900’s with her doctor father, and makes discoveries about the staff and patients. A man traveling in space wakens from extended sleep for a tour of sentinel duty, and realizes that he is not alone while the others sleep as they should. The stories can be read alone, or in any order. In his forward, the author recommends rereading them in any of the 24 possible sequences, to experience the stories and time differently, as they turn and twist like helixes.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, Michael L. Printz 2016 Honor Book
Naomi and her twin half-siblings live with their deceased mother’s parents in San Antonio. Suddenly, they are called to move and live with their father in a Texas oil town. Their grandparents are poor, and their educational options and futures look much brighter if they join the father the twins have never known, the stepfather Naomi remembers as dangerous. Living in the small town creates its own issues for Naomi – as a Mexican, she doesn’t fit in the black or the white communities and is warned away from both. Henry, the twins’ father, is white, Naomi is Mexican, the twins are half Mexican but look white, and Wash, the boy who befriends the twins and loves Naomi, is black. In Eastern Texas in 1936, racial lines are not crossed without consequences. The story is inspired by the actual explosion of a Texas schoolhouse in 1937. Segregation, grief, requited and unrequited love and unreasoning rage all play their roles in a tragic story.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Theresa Toten, winner of the 2016 Schneider Family Teen Book Award
The Schneider Family Book Award honors an author or illustrator of a book about the disability experience for children or teens. In this moving story, 14-year-old Adam is known as Batman in his OCD therapy group, and is considered a superhero by his younger half-brother. Adam believes he must protect everyone he cares about, taking care of his half-brother and protecting his mother’s secrets. In group, he meets Robyn, his first and he is sure, forever, love. Adam vows to find courage, get normal and marry Robyn. As Robyn gets better and his mother gets worse, Adam feels life spiraling beyond his control. He needs to find strength and make decisions that while hard for him are best for all involved.
All of these books are available at the library in a variety of formats. While the stories may be about teenagers, they are not just for teens! Check them out soon.