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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Alex Award Reactions

MARK: Congratulations to all of the 2013 Alex Award winners, and to the wonderful committee.  Later this week, Angela and I will probably be dissecting the list in a little more detail, but for now, we just want to get up some first reactions.  

First, and most importantly to me, in your face, Angela! I totally called The Round House and you said it wouldn’t win.  Then again, that was the only book I correctly “predicted”, and you also had just one, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, so I guess we’re even.  That gives us a stunningly impressive 20% prediction rate. Go us!

My second reaction is two big surprises: I’m quite surprised that Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which seemed to be sweeping every award in its path, didn’t get named.  On the other hand, I am over the moon at one of the two nonfiction titles (neither a memoir!): Richard Ross’s Juvenile in Justice, which our reviewer, Amy Cheney, found for us, and championed all the way onto our Best of 2012 list.  I thought it was one of the best books of the year, but didn’t pick it for an Alex because it seemed like such a dark horse, under the radar title–almost entirely photographs, self-published: I didn’t think it stood a chance.  But it is an extraordinary book, showing the lives of incarcerated young men and women through their own words and photographs which obscure their faces. It affected me very deeply.  Way to go Alex Committee!

Over to you, Angela, first reactions?

ANGELA: I would first like to echo the thanks to the committee members. Reading for the Alex Awards is very intense. Adult books are long!  And there are so many of them!  Congratulations on completing your mission!

First, I was thrilled to see Tell the Wolves I’m Home on the list, of course. It’s been one of my favorites all year. And I was also happy to see Where’d You Go, Bernadette. This is such a great book — I never championed it for our Best list because I thought its teen appeal would be more limited than other books. But I applaud the committee for this choice — it’s hard to find books that make a reader laugh out loud. And this one does. Repeatedly.

As for surprises, the book I miss the most?  The Song of Achilles.  And I’m surprised by two titles that I sent out for review but came back as lacking teen appeal. One of those I rejected myself — Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I read the first 100 pages and gave up on teen appeal. I couldn’t see it. This is where working with a committee comes in helpful!

Back to you!

MARK: Well, my other reactions, as a compulsive list maker are statistical:

1) We reviewed six of the ten awardees, and rejected two for review–out of curiosity, what was the other title we declined to review?  Those are pretty good numbers, considering the shear number of adult books published every year, but last year, we had managed to review all ten awardees, so I wonder if we did something different, the committee did something different, or both.

2) I already mentioned that two nonfiction titles were chosen. Besides Juvenile in Justice, there was One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard, an account of a Bad News Bears-like high school baseball team from 1971.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’m a huge baseball fan (and a huge Bad News Bears fan), so I look forward to it.  Still, I continue to beat the drum for nonfiction and I’m a little disappointed that only two titles were chosen.

3) I’m intrigued by the number of historical titles on the list. Mr. Penumbra, Tell the Wolves, One Shot, Round House, and My Friend Dahmer are all set in the past (the latter four all in the 1970s and 1980s).  I might do some digging into previous Alex lists in the coming days, but this seems like a pretty high number to me.

Anything else stick out at you, Angela? You’re more genre-minded than I am–any thoughts there?

ANGELA: First to answer your questions. I was mistaken. We rejected a total of three for review. Caring is Creepy was rejected due to lack of teen appeal. And the reviewer who read One Shot at Forever thought it was too historical and too much about the adult coach to have much teen appeal either.

I’m going to do is stop by my local public library on the way home from work this evening and pick up a copy of Girlchild. This one was a Booklist Editors Choice too, so I’m now officially dying to read it. I had assigned it to myself back in February and simply never got to it. A real shame.

Very interesting about the number of historical titles, and that so many are set in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I don’t see any other patterns. In fact, there is quite a bit of diversity here. The way the voting is done, this is not something the committee can plan for, so it’s a nice coincidence.

I’m happy to see one graphic novel, even if it’s not one of the titles we predicted — My Friend Dahmer. GN winners of the Alex are few and far between — Persepolis, Stitches, and Tales from the Farm (Essex County, vol.1). The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt isn’t a graphic novel, but it tells its story in a similar way. Am I missing one? In any case, My Friend Dahmer is also nonfiction, so that makes three.

The Juvenile in Justice win reminds me of The Oxford Project — another book of photography which won a 2009 Alex. The YALSA annotation reads, “In this riveting sociological study, the residents of Oxford, Iowa were photographed in 1984 and then again in 2005. Their compelling life stories, vividly expressed in brief biographical sketches, show just how much someone can change in 21 years.”

By the way, if your teens love Pure, they have something to look forward to. The second in the trilogy, Fuse, comes out on February 19th.

Finally, I’m happy to see an excellent literary novel included. I may have doubted that The Round House would be selected, but I am certainly glad. I’ll read that one right after I finish Girlchild!

MARK: Indeed–hooray for graphic novels, another pet project of mine, though I haven’t read the Dahmer book (hence not even knowing that it was nonfiction).  In any case, a fascinating morning, and perhaps we should also congratulate a few of our reviewers who served on 2013 committees: Francisca Goldsmith on the Printz, Laura Pearle on the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction, Diane Colson on the Morris, and Jamie Watson (Chair) and Charli Osborne on the Edwards. Congratulations to all of them–wait how did they all find time to write reviews for us, and why do I suddenly feel so inadequate?  Oh well.  Angela and I will be back soon to talk more about the Alex Awards, and maybe post some new reviews.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Sarah Hill says:

    I’m thrilled to see One Shot at Forever on the list, especially since I grew up 15 miles from that high school! Yay for central Ilinois!

  2. John Sexton says:

    I believe the last time a sports themed book received Alex recognition was in 2007 when the committee i served on selected two: The Blind Side and Eagle Blue. Each of them was distinguished by sociological insights that contemporary teens could relate to and sometimes witness every day .That appeal to current realities brought an immediacy to each of those works that One Shot at Forever lacks. I liked One Shot and found it a wonderful and touching memoir, but it is a tale and adult experience with teens over four decades ago! And while a teen might find some of the narrative of high school baseball games and rallies amusing, it is very dated; besides most of the story is about the long-haired coach and the challenges he faced as a city-based college graduate finding his way in rural Illinois. As a former long-haired and bearded baseball coach in a rural town, I could totally relate. But I could never see this as having any appeal to a teen whatsoever. There has to be something more – a personality like Shaun White – or a compelling tale like that of Michael Oher – for a sports story to have teen appeal. As much as I enjoyed One Shot, I didn’t find it to have that compelling quality. I would have championed Cheryl Strayed’s WILD – as a sports story with far more teen appeal.