The Alex Awards
I try to read broadly, through all levels and genres, but I will say that the majority of books I read are written for adults. However, I do read a good number of Young Adult titles, so I have found the perfect intersection for me… the winners of the Alex Award.
Quoting YALSA’s website, the Alex Awards are given yearly to “to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” When this year’s winners were announced recently, I was pleased to see that I had read a number of them. Here are my thoughts on these excellent titles:
This book starts out as a cautionary tale, as 15-year-old friends Lynn and Dani begin interacting with people on the internet for the sole purpose of “messing with them”. All the while, because they are normal teenage girls, they pine for love and are looking for that special someone. When Lynn takes it a step further and meets (in real life) someone she has chatted with online, things start to unravel. Her mom, an ER nurse, is having issues of her own, having become a mostly unwitting participant in a drug scheme with her loser boyfriend. These storylines intersect in a thunderous climax, in unexpected ways. Without giving anything away, this one brought to mind a fresh take on Stephen King’s Misery, as love and obsession cause someone to be held against their will. A few words of caution: This title has many adult themes, including a lot of the big three of sex, drugs, and violence. It is a bold choice by the committee for the Alex Award. There certainly is teen appeal here with the themes of online safety, love, and angst, but the maturity level of the reader should be carefully considered.
As mentioned, the intersection of adult and teen books hits me right in my literary sweet spot, and similarly, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a marriage of many of my favorite things. Take an odd independent bookstore, add in technology, a dose of mystery, and some supernatural/magical elements, and you have the recipe for a fun book. Plus, the cover of the hardcover version glows in the dark…how cool is that? Anyway, the story revolves around Clay Jannon, a recently unemployed web designer who takes a job at a local bookstore. He soon learns that this isn’t your typical bookstore, as there aren’t many customers, and those that do come in seem to only be borrowing old obscure books, with the blessing of the owner, the eccentric Mr. Penumbra. Using his natural curiosity, and his talent as a computer guy, Clay begins piecing together what is going on. This is a geeky pleasure right up there with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
As I have blogged here before, I am not usually drawn (pun intended) to graphic novels. However, I again have to admit that I really got into this one. For me, there is something oddly fascinating about the psychology of what shapes someone like Jeffrey Dahmer. This is the true story of someone who was probably as close of a friend as Dahmer had growing up, Derf Backderf (pseudonym of John Backderf), who grew up to be an accomplished artist. We all know what Dahmer grew up to be, and this is the chronicle of the adolescent Dahmer, at the beginning of his spiral into madness. This book is simultaneously creepy, funny, sad, and overall very compelling. Highly recommended.
This book about an unlikely, rag-tag high school baseball team has drawn inevitable comparisons to the Hollywood basketball movie Hoosiers, and rightly so. There are definite similarities, including the always-gripping David vs. Goliath plot. While Hoosiers was mostly true with some fictionalization, One Shot At Forever is a completely true story, pieced together by Chris Ballard through research and extensive interviews. Ballard is a great storyteller who brings the characters to life and instantly makes you a fan of the 1971 Macon High School Ironmen. At that time in Illinois, there were no sports class divisions, so if your school had 100 students, they were pitted against schools that had 5000 when competing for the state title. The Ironmen were led by Lynn Sweet, the reluctant, long-haired, hippie coach who announced at the first practice that he didn’t have many rules, and that practice was optional. He felt that his team should be playing to have fun, and if it wasn’t fun anymore, they shouldn’t play at all. He was more psychologist and mentor than coach, and the kids loved him. I loved this book; it is one of the best I have read all year.
On the surface, Pure seems to be just another in the long line of dystopias that has emerged post-Hunger Games. But Pure gets big points for its originality. The post-apocalyptic world has arisen due to what is referred to as the Detonations. Those that survived the blasts intact live in the Dome, a sterile sanctuary, but those outside of this protected area were obviously not so lucky. They were changed by the blasts, often in gruesome and disfiguring ways. They fused with whatever was around them when the blasts happened, and the young protagonist, Pressia, shows this. She has a doll’s face fused to the end of her arm. Others have fused with objects, animals, or other people, all of which causes them to have a natural disdain for those living unharmed in the Dome. When Partridge, a dome-dweller, and Pressia are forced together by circumstance, their worlds collide. They work together to reveal the truth about what happened to cause all of this. This is an original take on the now-common dystopia novel.
This is a beautifully-written, multi-layered, coming-of-age, sparkling debut novel, and also one of my favorite of the year (I almost didn’t have enough hyphens and commas for that sentence, and interestingly enough, there are many more adjectives to describe this book!). The setting is the 80s, at the onset of the AIDS epidemic. June Elbus is growing up with many of the same problems teens encounter; finding her place in the world, arguing with her older sister, and being embarrassed by her parents. June can always find refuge in her relationship with her uncle, Finn, a famous artist. Finn is dying of AIDS, and this obviously impacts June immensely. As if being a teen isn’t hard enough, June has to deal with very heavy situations and circumstances. The author brings the reader to contemplate love in all of its forms, and the result is powerful. This is a heartbreakingly sad, yet hopeful book that I cannot recommend enough.