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The 2011 Alex Awards

I am home from ALA Midwinter with plenty to share. I was hoping to blog along the way, but it was a busy, busy conference. Never fear, I took plenty of notes. I also learned about several promising upcoming titles along the way, so I look forward to sharing the pre-pub excitement here, once those boxes arrive.

Today I want to talk about YALSA’s 2011 Alex Awards, which were announced at the Youth Media Awards on Monday morning. The 2011 list is absolutely wonderful, with terrific appeal to teens. A huge congratulations to members of the committee. Trust me, they all read at least 75 or 100 adult books last year in their work toward this list.

The 2011 Alex Award winners are (as listed on the YALSA website):

·         The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To” by DC Pierson, published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc. (ISBN 9780307474612)

·         “Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard,” by Liz Murray, published by Hyperion (ISBN 9780786868919)

·         “Girl in Translation,” by Jean Kwok, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group ( (ISBN 9781594487569)

·         “The House of Tomorrow,” by Peter Bognanni, published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of the Penguin Group (ISBN 9780399156090)

·         “The Lock Artist,” by Steve Hamilton, published by Thomas Dunne Books for Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (ISBN 9780312380427)

·         “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel,” by Aimee Bender, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. (ISBN 9780385501125)

·         “The Radleys,” by Matt Haig, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (ISBN 9781439194010)

·         “The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel” by Alden Bell, published by Holt Paperbacks, a division of Henry Holt and Company, LLC (ISBN 9780805092431)

·         “Room: A Novel,” by Emma Donoghue, published by Little, Brown and Company a division of Hatchette Book Group, Inc. (ISBN 9780316098335)

·         “The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel,” by Helen Grant, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group,  division of Random House, Inc.(ISBN 9780385344173)

6 of the 10 were reviewed here last year, and I will link to those reviews as I mention each title. This list shares four titles with the SLJ Best Adult Books 4 Teens list: Girl in TranslationRoom, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and The House of Tomorrow.

In an earlier post about the Alex Awards, I refrained from predictions. About 10 minutes before the awards began I could not resist jotting down four titles that I thought would make it. Three of them did: Girl in Translation, Room and The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Those of you who have been reading over the past months know about my enthusiasm for Girl in Translation and Room. And I sensed that The Vanishing of Katharina Linden would be just the sort of book that would be chosen for the Alex. I haven’t read it myself yet, though it is sitting on my pile, but I am halfway through an ARC of Grant’s next book The Glass Demon (scheduled for July). Her writing is accessible, and the European settings combined with supernatural/horror elements are a winning combination.

The House of Tomorrow is also a popular choice. The reaction to my blog post about it was strong, and I talked with several readers through the year who mentioned this as one of their favorites. Honestly, this book could have been published as a YA novel.

Which brings me to one of the things I love about this list as a whole — the teen appeal aspect. The committee really got it right. Another example — The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I have written before about the fact that the copy in my library has been checked out over and over ever since it arrived. I have also experienced strong positive reactions to Room among my teen patrons, which was read widely over the Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations.

I also love that this is a strongly genre list. Memoir, thriller, vampires, post-apocalyptic zombies, mystery, and of course, coming-of-age. The Lock Artist is a good example. This is a mainstream, stand-alone crime novel by a popular mystery author known for his Alex McKnight series. Hamilton’s debut, A Cold Day in Paradise (Minotaur, 1998) won an Edgar award.

But let’s talk about the titles that have not been reviewed here. First, The Radleys. I must confess that I read this book and chose not to review it. We are charged to publish only positive reviews on this blog. Considering it appears not only on the Alex list, but also in a strong New York Times Book Review article by Matthew Sharpe and on this month’s IndieBound Next list, maybe I should wish that I had sent this one off to a different reviewer. To me, it did not contribute anything new to the vampire genre. Yes, it includes two teenagers and plenty of moral questions, but I did not see anything special. As a fan of Matt Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club (Viking, 2007), this was not an easy decision. I try hard to resist being swayed in my own opinions by how celebrated a book might be elsewhere, but I do wonder if I should re-read this one.

Breaking Night has been sitting on my to-read pile since September, when a teacher at my school pressed it on me and insisted I read it. Guess I should have done that! It’s a snow day here in New York City, and I hope to take advantage.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To was assigned for review here, and the review is still pending.

Same with The Reapers are the Angels. Yep, that one I assigned to myself. I read the book in early December and absolutely loved it. But alas, I haven’t actually sat down to finish the review yet. This deeply moving (believe it or not) post-apocalyptic zombie novel is original in its settings, the voice and self-reflection of the teen protagonist, and the zombies themselves. A perfect choice for an Alex Award.

The Alex Awards committee also releases a list of vetted nominations. The committee only started releasing a nominations list last year. How I wish it had started earlier. There are always a few “bleed-on-the-table” books that don’t make the final list. And once they fail to make the list, confidentiality rules dictate that members of the committee are not allowed to talk about them and how close they came. If only…

My only quibble: a lack of nonfiction among the winners. Yes, Breaking Night is a memoir, but where is the informational nonfiction? The vetted nominations include The Other Wes Moore and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and a few others. But where is Junger’s War? Schiff’s Cleopatra? I have a feeling it came down to a discussion of appeal. And it is hard to argue that either of these titles would be more popular than the chosen winners.

And it is important to note that the selection process does NOT include any attempt to balance the list. Members are directed to vote for their top books. Sometimes this results in interesting combinations. I’m thinking of 2007 when both Eagle Blue and The Blind Side, both nonfiction sports books, made the list. Or 2006, which shared The Glass Castle and Jesus Land, both memoirs about family.

What do you think? Are there any books that you wish had made the list? Did the list include any of your favorites?  Or favorites among your teens?

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. This is such a great discussion about the Alex Awards. Thank you for being such a good friend to GIRL IN TRANSLATION in so many ways, and I’m thrilled that the novel was one of the winners.


    • Angela Carstensen says:

      Thank you, Jean. And congratulations! I hope your win means that even more readers will have a chance to read Girl in Translation.

  2. Great post and commentary on the Alex Award winners! And a great blog, too! I was disappointed when SLJ suspended the Adult Books For High School Students review column — I’m glad you’re able to keep this important resource going as a blog; it will definitely help me make some purchasing decisions.

  3. Priscille Dando says:

    Wonderful commentary, Angela! I’m pleased with the titles I’m familiar with on the list, and look forward to catching up on the others. One thing I’ve found, is the Alex list is a goldmine when it comes to recommending “not boring” books to adults looking for something new to read as well.

  4. I love reading all the reactions to the Alex Awards. It might (or might not) be of interest to note that the committee’s “suggested selection criteria” changed this year. The rewording put a greater emphasis on the teen appeal factor:

    “1. Titles are selected for their demonstrated or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of young adults 2. Appeal and popularity are not synonymous. In addition to the question of appeal, committee members should consider the following when assessing titles: language, plot, style, setting, dialog, characterization, and design.”

    I’ve loved being part of the Alex committee the last two years, and I look forward to serving as its 2012 chair. Can’t wait to read about the titles that the Adult Books 4 Teens Blog is excited about for this year.

  5. Angela Carstensen says:

    Eric, thank you! That is exactly what I am hoping to do. I was disappointed myself when the print column ended, and hope this blog can begin to fill the gap.

    Priscille, wonderful point about recommending Alex winners to adults. Several have been popular with my faculty/staff bookgroup.

    And Karen, first, congratulations on being the new Alex Awards chair. How exciting! And thank you for sharing the updated criteria. As I stated already, I think the 2011 committee did a terrific job of judging teen appeal.

  6. Angela Carstensen says:

    Some nice publicity for the awards this year.

    USA Today published the list yesterday:

    And it received an enthusiastic mention in this NPR article too:


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