The 2018 Nerdies: Young Adult Fiction (Part One), Announced by a Chapter of Nerds
We finish up the 2018 Nerdy Book Club Awards with two collaborative posts celebrating the best young adult fiction. This year, we honor twenty outstanding titles capturing and respecting the challenges of adolescence. Each exemplary book offers young adults validation and support for their experiences and struggles, and expands readers’ understanding of perspectives differing from their own.
Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who nominated books or volunteered to write reviews this year. Look for the second half of our YA Fiction winners in tomorrow’s post!
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (HarperCollins)
Shirin is a sixteen-year-old American Muslim girl who chooses to wear a headscarf. Accustomed to stares, taunts, and bullies, she has built a tough skin, but tensions have heightened greatly since 9/11 and she has even become the victim of physical attacks. Shirin’s parents, always looking for a better way of life, move the family frequently thus forcing Shirin and her brother Navid to begin again at a new school. Shirin faces the latest school as she always does, guarded, ignoring the rude jeers and ignorant questions, and keeping to herself; she focuses on making it through each day and ultimately making it out of high school. But, this school is proving to be different. Here she joins a breakdancing group with Navid and some of his friends; a group that provides support and a much-needed creative outlet. And, here she meets Ocean. Handsome, kind Ocean sees past Shirin’s hard outer shell and wants to get to know the girl inside. She is not ready for this genuine attention, but finds, surprisingly, she cannot possibly resist in spite of the fact that they come from two completely different worlds.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a masterfully constructed novel that explores prejudices, racism, families, identity, and first love. The characters are beautifully developed and authentic. Shirin tells the story; her voice is fierce, funny, vulnerable, and honest. I was completely pulled into her powerful narrative, and I could not stop thinking about her long after I finished. Mafi’s novel challenges readers to ponder their own beliefs, assumptions, and actions. And, also reminds us of the captivating bliss of first love. Note: The audio version of this novel narrated by Priya Ayyar is an excellent way to enjoy the story.–Jill Bellomy
American Panda by Gloria Chao (Simon Pulse)
Mei has always done exactly what her parents asked of her and it has worked out according to (their) plan. She’s a seventeen-year old freshman at MIT on a pre-med track, her mother is already making plans to find her a nice Taiwanese Ivy League boy, and she still manages to have lunch with her parents every Saturday. But when Mei secretly reconnects with her older brother, who her parents disowned, she begins to wonder if the track she is on is one she wants to stay on. Because honestly? Germs freak her out, she hates her pre-med classes, and she might be falling for a boy who is definitely NOT Taiwanese. Chao’s debut novel is earnest and funny, but it’s also an important #ownvoices story. Chao says she wrote American Panda because, “…it was the book I needed in high school and the book I needed when I decided to put my dental career aside to try writing.” Mei’s struggle to find the balance between her parents’ expectations and her own desires. her Taiwanese heritage and her American upbringing, will speak to teen readers across cultures. A fantastic book and a must-have for school and classroom libraries.–Sarah Gross
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt and Co. BYR)
“Reality told us we would fail. But again and again, we fought. We persevered. We rose.” From its stunning world of dark magic and mystery, to its richly drawn characters, many of whom possess extraordinary powers, while also still plagued by very human weaknesses, there’s so much to love about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. However, what moves Adeyemi’s debut novel from being simply a beautifully wrought fantasy for young readers, to a work of great significance, is the ways in which it has changed the genre forever. With a few notable exceptions, indigenous, characters of color, particularly in heroic roles, are difficult to find in fantasy books for young people. That said, not only is every single character in Adeyemi’s epic tale of magic, adventure, betrayal and triumph, a person of color, but their stories also celebrate and introduce a whole generation of readers to the rich heritage of West African folklore. Inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone harnesses the power of story to connect people and spark change, making it both an important book for this specific moment in time, AND a future classic that is bound to inspire and unite readers for years to come.–Jennifer LaGarde
Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial Books)
Darius Kellner suffers from depression and social anxiety. As a “fractional Persian,” (Darius’ term for biracial people like himself who are at least part Persian), he is called a “terrorist” by the relentless bullies at his high school. The medication he takes to manage his depression has caused him to gain weight. And he has a father who seems to be endlessly disappointed in him. Friendless, and perpetually different, Darius who was named after the 3rd King of Persia “Darius the Great” feels anything but. However, when his grandfather’s health takes a turn for the worse, and his family travels to Iran for the first time since he was born, Darius meets Sohrab, a local boy who teaches him two critically important things: first, that it’s okay not to be okay. And second, real friends accept you for who you are while also helping you become the best you that you can be. Heartbreaking and tender, Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is the 2018 book I didn’t know my heart needed. And I’m betting some of your readers will need it, too.–Jennifer LaGarde
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (Balzer + Bray)
To become king, Prince Emory must complete the quest accomplished by his father, his grandfather, and the other male heirs in his family for generations–journey to the dragon’s lair, slay the dragon, rescue the maiden imprisoned by the dragon, and marry her. Ama, this generation’s damsel, wakes up in Emory’s arms without any memories of her past life, her family origins, or how the dragon captured her in the first place. Swept off to the castle, she quickly learns that her story doesn’t matter to anyone else. Her only value lies in how she serves Emory’s destiny. Told to accept her new status without question, Ama struggles against the rigid limitations placed on her freedom. Emory’s increasingly violent emotional and physical cruelty drive Ama to desperation, but she has no family or allies to help her. Can a damsel rescue herself?
In Damsel, Elana K. Arnold confronts entrenched gender stereotypes and cultural norms by illustrating how even our beloved fairy tales can reinforce rape culture and misogyny–communicating to many young people from an early age that women and girls only live “happily ever after” if they conform to the desires and ambitions of men. A powerful story meriting wide reading and discussion with teens of all genders.–Donalyn Miller
**Graphic scenes depicting rape, murder, and assault require compassion and thoughtfulness when recommending this book to individual teen readers.
Dream Country by Shannon Gibney (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
In this stunning, sprawling work, Gibney masterfully blends the past and present of one family’s story stretching from the 1800s to contemporary day. We follow generations of an African-American family as each searches for a place to belong both in the United States and Liberia. Dream Country takes readers on journey that asks them to consider what immigration and migration truly mean and what legacies and scars are left in the wake of generations of racism. From restless, angry Kollie in 2008 who is sent from America to Liberia to his ancestor Yasmin in 1827 who doubts America’s promise and looks to Liberia as a chance to change her destiny, teen readers will find themselves completely immersed in Gibney’s evocative and finely crafted writing. We also meet Togor, who confronts a nightmare of his own in 1926 Liberia and the final section takes us back to America and the contemporary day with Kollie’s sister Angel, who seeks to define herself with the full weight and support of her rich family legacy. Dream Country is a work that asks big questions and doesn’t offer easy answers – it’s perfect for teen readers who are looking for titles that stretch their understanding of the world and self. There’s also so much here for classrooms and book groups to dig into. This is truly a tour de force and an outstanding example of what young adult literature CAN do when it stretches and takes risks and is in the talented, careful, passionate hands of a master writer like Gibney.–Angie Manfredi
Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Imagine feeling thirsty, walking over to the sink and turning on the tap, only to find that… there’s no water. Anywhere. This is the reality faced by Alyssa Morrow, a teenage girl living in Southern California during the “Tap-Out”: an extreme drought brought on by climate change. When her parents leave in search of water, but don’t come back, Alyssa suddenly finds herself in the position of having to make life and death decisions for her family while also keeping herself, and her little brother Garrett, safe in world that is growing more and more dangerous. Joined by her neighbor Kelton, teen drifter Jacqui and a young entrepreneur named Henry, Alyssa heads out in search of her parents, safety and for the most precious commodity of all: water. Together the father and son team of Jarrod and Neal Shusterman have crafted an action packed thriller in a new and timely genre, the dystopian ecological disaster story. Dry is sure to leave readers breathless, eager for a sequel and very, very thirsty.–Jennifer LaGarde
Fresh? Yes. Eclectic? Definitely. Fresh Ink: An Anthology features twelve short stories from award-winning and best-selling young adult authors. The jacket copy portrays these works, edited by Edgar Award nominated Lamar Giles, as “label-defying,” and that is the perfect description. Each story takes the reader on an unexpected journey with compelling characters, plot twists, and settings that cover a variety of genres like historical and contemporary fiction, graphic short, one act play and science fiction. I recommend providing the book to younger teens (ages 12-15) for classroom use as well as having it available in all school and public libraries.–Traci Sorell
Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Told in two voices, Gansworth’s follow-up to the equally fantastic If I Ever Get Out of Here swaps Paul McCartney references for John Lennon and Yoko Ono allusions without missing a beat. Carson Mastick wants to win Battle of the Bands… except he doesn’t even have a band. And then there’s the matter of his brother getting shot in the butt by the racist owner of a local restaurant. How can these two seemingly disparate things together help Carson leave his mark as he heads into his senior year of high school?
Magpie Bokani (Maggi for short) moves back to the Tuscarora Reservation after years living in the “big city” of Niagara Falls. Maggi has dreams of making her own artwork, outside of the Traditional crafts her family sells to tourists. But what the 15-year old doesn’t expect is the mutual attraction she forms with a white man twice her age.
In 2017, there were only 18 #ownvoices books (by and about) from American Indians/First Nations people published by U.S. publishers. Our children need more #ownvoices stories like this one (Gansworth was born and raised at the Tuscarora Nation), which brims over with humor and pain, music and protest, secret love and awkwardness and passion and pride. The book’s final act occurs in the wee hours of December 8-9, 1980, interspersed with Lennon’s assassination; this tragic event informs and enhances the convergence of Carson’s and Maggi’s stories in a hard-charging finish. Gansworth’s gorgeous and Lennon and Ono-inspired spot art adds layers to the already nuanced narrative.–Sam Bloom
Jill Bellomy is a lifelong reader and learner. After teaching for many years, she became a librarian and has worked at both the elementary and middle school levels. She has served on the Caldecott Award Selection Committee, Texas Lone Star Reading List Committee, and is a member of the North Texas Teen Book Festival Steering Committee. Jill lives in Dallas with her husband, two pugs, and a cat. She can be found @jillbellomy and www.jilliciousreading.com but can usually not put a book down long enough to tweet or post.
Sam Bloom is a Tween Librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton
County, a contributor to the Reading While White blog, and currently serves as chair
of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards book jury.
Sarah Mulhern Gross is always reading with her eyes or her ears. Her TBR pile is more of a lifestyle at this point, but there are worse things, right? She teaches 9th and 12th grade English in NJ and is a proud member of NCTE, ALAN, and NJCTE.
Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher and learner, with over 20 years in public education. Her educational passions include leveraging technology to help students develop authentic reading lives and meeting the unique needs of students living in poverty. A huge fan of YA Literature, Jennifer currently lives, works, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Olympia, Washington. Follow her adventures at http://www.librarygirl.net or on Twitter @jenniferlagarde.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read and creating successful reading communities at school and home including, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks.
Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.