2014 Nerdy Awards for Young Adult Fiction Announced by Donalyn Miller and Nerdy Nation (Part One)

It seems like every second a new best books of 2014 list pops up online. Readers who enjoy keeping up with award-winning and well-reviewed current titles are frantically digging through to-read stacks in an attempt to catch every outstanding book they missed. Meanwhile, readers are looking over the fence at 2015 titles, which call to us like Sirens. January can be an overwhelming time for readers.

As we wrap up the final two Nerdy Book Club Awards’ posts (for Young Adult Fiction), we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who actively participates in the community we’ve built here. To all of you who read the blog, write book reviews and posts, nominate books for the Nerdies list, submit pictures, answer polls, post comments, purchase Nerdy swag (profits donated to RIF), and work to connect children with positive reading experiences—Nerdy is your work. This community doesn’t exist without you.

Thanks to Teri Lesesne, Cindy Minnich, Alyson Beecher, Katherine Sokolowski, Mary Lee Hahn, and Colby Sharp for writing Nerdy Book Club Awards posts this year. We have heard a lot of positive feedback to the lists, and the unique quality of each post.

As we celebrate Nerdy Book Club posters and the 2014 Nerdies, it seemed fitting that our final two Award’s posts include many voices. Our 2014 Young Adult Fiction winners’ list honors 26 titles across genres and themes, reviewed by a diverse group of past Nerdy Book Club posters. These teachers, librarians, professors, and readers love young adult fiction and strive to engage middle school and high school readers with reading.

Congratulations to the 2014 Young Adult Fiction Nerdy Book Club Award winners. Thank you for revealing to teenagers that their stories have power. You’re doing great work for the world.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley


How do you follow up a debut novel that was awarded both the Morris Award and the Printz? John Corey Whaley ‘s answer is Noggin, which already earned a spot on the National Book Award short and long list in addition to glowing reviews. Meet Travis, a high school student who decides to offer himself to a medial experiment when his cancer becomes incurable and untreatable. His head will be removed, cryogenically frozen, and then reattached when medical science has progressed to the point that this is possible. Everyone thinks this will take years, perhaps decades, but Travis is back among the living in a short time. But he no longer knows the territory of his life, and Travis has to learn how to navigate in his new world. What matters here is not the science; it is the heart. Travis’ emotions resonate with readers. His fears are their fears. His joys are theirs as well.   And perhaps it is this disorientation and reorientation that ties this book nicely to 2 other Nerdy winners in YA fiction. –Teri Lesesne

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Author Interview

 glory o'brien

Certainly that is the case for Glory O’Brien in A. S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And like Travis, Glory is travelling over some rough terrain. Getting ready to graduate fro high school, facing the uncertainty of the future. When Glory gains the ability to see the future, one riddled with hate and distrust, she is disoriented. What is real? What can she do to change the future she sees? Should she even attempt to change the future? Moving forward seems at once frightening and alluring. King’s use of magical realism eases the suspension of disbelief about Glory’s abilities to see the future, but it does not impede readers from sharing Glory’s very real fears, especially fears of the future, of romance beginning, and of friendships changing. –Teri Lesesne

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

 100 sideways miles

The disorientation-reorientation cycle is all too real for Finn Easton in Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles.   Finn measures time in miles, not minutes. Hence, the title, the time it took for a horse to fall from a bridge and land on Finn and his mother, 100 sideways miles. That same measurement applies to Finn’s first kiss, too. Finn’s seizures take him from the world, leaving him disoriented when he returns. But the seizures are just a small part of the terrain Finn must traverse. There are the ruts left by his mother’s death and the bumps that come from being a character in Finn’s father’s famous novel. How will it feel to move out from his father’s considerable shadow? How will his new friend accept the seizures and the scars from the accident that killed his mother? Finn, like Travis and Glory, has a road to take, one less travelled.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

 impossible knife of memory

Phenomenal. Powerful. Begs to be shared. Dealing with the issue of living with PTSD from the child’s perspective is one that you may think you’ve read before, but truly haven’t until reading this story deftly crafted by Halse Anderson. The emotions are raw and real and reach through the page to grab the reader. This one will stick with me for a long time. Laurie Halse Anderson is a master at her craft in a way that is distinctly hers, and we readers get to benefit when we are allowed insight into a journey like the one taken by Hayley in this novel.-Jillian Heise

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan by Atia Abawi

Nerdy Review

 secret sky

The Secret Sky is an incredible story of the intersection of love and culture and family and trust told in a beautiful landscape with tragic circumstances. Atia Abawi’s debut novel sneaks up on you and makes an impact before you quite realize what’s happening through her engaging writing while telling an intriguing story via three points-of-view with male and female voices. This is a human story – the kind of story that will stay with you and beg you to revisit it and share it with others. But it’s not the typical war zone book—it’s so much more than that. There is a truth in Abawi’s storytelling and depiction of these characters that conveys affection for the people and the culture and the land, and a hope for a better future. For some, this might just be the story that opens their eyes to a world beyond their experiences.–Jillian Heise


As readers, we know that books, reading, and writing can change lives. These two books about books, while fiction, serve as testimony to that.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

Nerdy Review

i kill the mockingbird

I Kill the Mockingbird reminded me of my own love of Harper Lee’s book. When To Kill a Mockingbird appears on a mandatory summer reading list before ninth grade, three teens set out to convince others that it truly is worth reading. Through their antics, which include hiding copies of the novel in bookstores and libraries to creating a website called IKilltheMockingbird.com, they manage to drum up enthusiasm for the novel that English teachers can only hope to create. And, much like Scout, they find out more about themselves along the way. This is a quick, worthwhile read!–Kevin English

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


If you’ve read E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and enjoyed it, this is definitely a book that you should read. Jam Gallahue attends The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for teens that are “emotionally fragile.” She’s there because her British boyfriend has died, and nothing seems to help her grief. When she arrives, she learns that she’s placed in a highly selective English class–a class that others, including her roommate, desperately want to be in. Under the guidance of Ms. Quennell, the soon-to-be retiring English teacher, the small group of students learn about each other’s pasts, pain, all through the work of Sylvia Plath and a journal that Ms. Q gave them on the first day of class, a journal that takes each writer on a journey into the experiences of their past.-Kevin English

 Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

 gabi girl in pieces

Gabi’s senior year is spent trying to understand the world around her and her place in it. With both her best friends dealing with their own relationship dramas, she turns to her writing for answers. Where does she fit between a mom who doesn’t trust her and a father who’s a meth addict? Is it ok to like more than one person? Is she fat? Why are the rules different for boys and girls when it comes to relationships and sex? Gabi just wants to finish high school and get the hell out of dodge. Quintero effortlessly blends a diverse cast of characters into a compelling look at the issues Gabi faces. Gabi’s struggles with food, religion, and sex are grounded in the realities of young adulthood and her sense of self emerges and grows stronger as senior year progresses.-Kathy M. Burnette

 We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

 we were liars

I don’t read a lot of YA. My reading time is so limited, and I try and focus on books that my 5th grade students might read. If I am going to take the time to read a YA book, it is a book just for me. We Were Liars was that book. I had heard so much about it this past summer, and had read the reviews, that I knew I had to read it.

The first half I listened to on audio en route to a writing retreat. Not the best choice, I did need to focus more on the road, but my mind kept disappearing into Cadence’s world – a world of wealth and privilege, friendships and lies. Something is amiss, but what is it? Cadence cannot remember.

I drove, and drove, and drove. I couldn’t figure out where this book was going. Upon reaching the retreat, I saw my friend Franki. She had just finished the book. When I told her I was half done, she looked at me and said, “Finish it. Then we’ll talk.” I disappeared in my room and did just that. Then texted her immediately. You cannot finish this book and not talk to someone about it. Wow, just wow. You must read this book.-Katherine Sokolowski

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Author Post

 summer of letting go

Three years ago I “met” Gae Polisner through her first fabulous book, The Pull of Gravity. It was just the type of YA book I love—it felt real. The characters were ones I didn’t want to leave as I turned the last pages of the book. Beautiful. I was excited when she said she had her next book coming out this year entitled The Summer of Letting Go.

In this book we follow the story of Francesca during the summer she is sixteen. It has been four years since the event that rocked Francesca’s world – the death of her brother, Simon. No one in Francesca’s family has been the same since. Then Francesca meets Frankie Sky, a young boy whom she is almost certain is her brother, Simon, reincarnated.

I selected The Summer of Letting Go for my book club this past May. Gae agreed to Skype in to my dining room and chat with the members of my club. I was fascinated listening to how each of us connected with the book – differently, but deeply. It was a book that resonated with everyone. Talking to Gae about this fabulous book over wine, and through tears, was a memory I know we all will treasure. –Katherine Sokolowski

 The Young Elites by Marie Lu

 young elites

Adelina Amouteru is marked by her shifting, silver hair and a missing left eye which was removed during the fever that struck years ago. Those—like Adelina—who would survive live the rest of their lives in fear of killed. They are abominations sought for execution for their having lived. For their being marked. For the presumption—or suspicion—of their unexplained powers brought by the fever.

The malfetto is an embarrassment to his or her family. To have a malfetto daughter means no suitor will come for her hand. Even if she is quietly coveted by men, none would have a malfetto bride. Trade for the merchant suffers with a malfetto under his roof. Adelina will be drawn into a world of the The Young Elites, a feared group of malfettos whose collective powers are the subject of folklore born of fear. Into their collective care, Adelina might find a place wherein her powers can be embraced, enacted, and employed perhaps for a better way of life for all malfettos.

Marie Lu, author of the Legends Trilogy (Legend, Prodigy, Champion) brings a new story which braids the sense of finally being brought in from outside, from recognizing and drawing upon one’s inner strength, and the external elements that make both deadly propositions. Series readers will not be disappointed. Lu’s allusion to texts of her own authoring lend to the world building of The Young Elites. Highly-recommended for teen readers who enjoy series books.-Paul W. Hankins

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

when i was the greatest

I was drawn to this book when I saw the cover on Donalyn Miller’s Top 100 list this fall. I was drawn to the crocheted gun floating on the glossy black background. I thought, “This is a book that I can get a Room 407 Reader to read.” I already had readers in mind. We do this, don’t we? See a book and see a reader at the very same time?

What I found in Reynold’s book was not a book for a reader but a book really. . .for me. What I loved about Matthew Quick’s Boy 21, I found again in Jason Reynolds’s When I Was the Greatest.

Ali is a boxer. . .just like his namesake. But what comes out more in Ali? His tough or his tender? Living in Bed Stuy, New York will ask that Ali draw from both. When not going glove-to-glove in training, Ali’s the attentive man of the house for his mother, Doris, and his kid sister, Jazz. He’s the long-suffering, wise-cracking friend to neighbors, Noodles and Needles. Played out on tough urban streets, bodegas, barbershops, and underground apartment parties is a story that brings diversity in many forms and a demonstration of family taking shape out of interdependence and trust. When I Was the Greatest goes the distance. Librarians and teachers who recommend Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Draper, Kwame Alexander, and Walter Dean Myers have another author to recommend to readers in Jason Reynolds.-Paul W. Hankins

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer



Last May, Eliot Schrefer visited our high school for our first official author visit. I spent months brainstorming ideas and researching authors, trying to find the perfect book(s) and author to engage my STEM students. When I read Threatened, the latest from Schrefer, I knew it would be perfect for my students. This character-driven story follows Luc, an AIDs orphan in Gabon, and his relationship with the chimpanzees that live in the jungle surrounding his home. Schrefer’s blend of biology, conservation, current events, and history woven into the human story has quickly become my favorite type of novel: science stories. Schrefer’s talent for blending science and story hooked my students, too. His author visit was a huge hit and we are all anxiously awaiting his next book, rumored to focus on orangutans, my personal favorite of the great apes. But in the meantime, we will appease ourselves by rereading Threatened and Endangered, both National Book Award finalists.-Sarah Gross


**The second half of our 2014 Young Adult Nerdy Book Club Award list will appear in tomorrow’s post. Thanks to everyone who contributed reading responses celebrating this year’s winners.