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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

The Alex Awards, 2012

YALSA’s 2012 Alex Awards were announced yesterday morning at the ALA Media Awards. The winners are (with links to the AB4T review of each title):

First, a huge congratulations to the Alex Awards committee members on their hard work, and on a wonderful mix of titles.

To my mind, three titles were obvious choices — The Night Circus, Ready Player One, and Robopocalypse. A few of the other titles were surprises to me, but I like to think of that as a reflection of the vast number of titles published for adults each year. And let’s face it —  teen appeal is subjective. Teens and their tastes and interests are as varied as those of adults. The fact that a few of these titles were not on our radar for best of the year shows just how diverse the possibilities are. Frankly, I was relieved that we had reviewed all ten titles!

The Alex committee also published their list of nominated titles yesterday, which includes 2 of the 3 titles I would have bled on the table for this year. The two included among the nominations were Among Others by Jo Walton and Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I think I have expressed my love and enthusiasm for these two books often enough here, so I will leave it at that. Please take a look at the original reviews for more. The third is Little Princes by Conor Grennan, which is a wonderfully accessible, life and love-filled nonfiction title which I had been considering a natural choice. I also miss When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which does not appear on the nomination list.

The list of  winners introduces a list of wonderful books to teens and the  librarians serving them. Publishers know that a nod from the Alex committee increases sales of a book, at times sending them to additional printings. The Talk-Funny Girl, In Zanesville and Big Girl Small are most likely to profit from this bump because I doubt that teen librarians were as aware of these books as they were of the others.

What about teen appeal? The Lover’s Dictionary is very, very popular in my library. National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones has a small but intense following — each reader has passed the book to a friend. And The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt does very well on the display table; it is often read or browsed by students during a free period, if rarely checked out. Fans of Robopocalypse have a new book to look forward to — Amped is coming in June.

Let’s take a look at the overlaps among the three best of the year lists that address adult books for young adult readers: Best Adult Books 4 Teens 2011, Booklist Editors’ Choice Best Adult Books for Young Adults and the Alex Awards:

3 lists
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2 lists
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin
Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

I look forward to reading your comments on the Alex selections!

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. Great to see In Zanesville pick up some recognition. It was my favorite traditional coming-of-age novel last year, but seems to have been left off most of last year’s best of lists.

  2. Mark Flowers says:

    Angela knows my feelings about AMONG OTHERS – it was probably my favorite book of the year, with clear teen appeal, so I’m disappointed the Alex Awards didn’t recognize it. Otherwise, I too was pretty excited that we had reviewed all of the awarded titles here, and put 3 of them on our best of the year list.

    What I find a little irksome is that if I’m counting right, only one of the 10 Alex Awards went to a nonfiction book, and none to graphic novels–we reviewed a ton of NF and GNs that I thought were more than worthy, and while I admit it’s a pet peeve, I do like to see a little balance on these lists (I was similarly troubled by the Printz and Newbery awards not naming any NF). Oh well – now I just have to read all the titles on this list to see if my prejudices hold up.

  3. amy cheney says:

    Thanks for the great summary Angela! Very interesting. I am thrilled that you are saying Lover’s Dictionary has a teen following. I could not see the teen appeal at all, and personally, I think Night Circus is overrated. Maybe it’s the classic case of expecting more because of all the hype and being disappointed.

    Now, onto the graphic novels. Vietnamerica is good. But everyone I have talked to has to read it at least 2 times and looks at the key to the characters many times in order to get the thread. It’ kind of muddy in the narrative structure. Zahara’s Paradise on the other hand, has a much clearer narrative structure, is relevant to today and packs a wallop.

    My favorites??? Big Girl Small, In Zanesville, Salvage the Bones

    I”m with you, Mark on the non-fiction and other formats… but I also respect that these don’t get on the list “just because” and/or the lists aren’t charged to create a balance.

    Little Princes, Girls Like Us seem overlooked to me as well. GIrls Like Us has a great cover and clips right along. I think these type of books are difficult to write. that they are immediate, accessible and FUNNY are two highlights of their excellence.

    • Angela Carstensen says:

      Amy, I also did not find Lover’s Dictionary to have obvious teen appeal when I read it, but the teens in my library certainly feel differently. And a couple spoke up about it as a favorite recently.

      The Night Circus was a student bookgroup pick in October and they had a terrific discussion. 25 students read it. Not all of them adored it, but they all finished it, which was a first.

  4. amy cheney says:


    Who *are* your teens? (JUST KIDDING!!!)

  5. amy cheney says:

    p.s. not all nominated titles are on the list posted. the list posted is the vetted list of nominations.

  6. Although the Committee didn’t have a GN on the list, Frankie Pratt is a non-traditional format and one, I think, teens will really enjoy. It really is amazing how the make-up of the Committee itself shapes the list – librarians who serve a wide range of patrons, in various geographic locations, and differing reading tastes in general produce a similarly eclectic list. In my opinion, it’s one of the great things about books award and selection committees!

    • Angela Carstensen says:

      I agree, Meghan. And it is always fascinating how the conversations, especially in the Midwinter face-to-face meetings, can change the outcome dramatically. This is another reason why publishing a vetted nominations list is such a great idea.

  7. Priscille Dando says:

    Love the added bonus of the vetted list and wanted to put in a plug for one of my favorites of the year that is flying under the radar. (It’s on the Alex vetted list and the AB4T Best of.) Blind Sight by Meg Howery is appealing on lots of fronts and is such a smart coming-of-age. I found it very refreshing, and it probably could have been released as YA.