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Kirkus Prize Finalists

In case you missed the news when it was first announced, or the recent news of the finalists, Kirkus Reviews now offers a really excellent writing award — it’s monetary, to the tune of $50,000, which for many authors probably represents a lot more time to write.

The nominee list — all the star reviews published between November 2013 to October 2014 — are listed here, and it’s quite a list (we’ve talked before about the Kirkus star, which is meaningful but not stingy). Much more exciting, though, is the Kirkus Prize finalist list, which was released yesterday.

Read on for the list, with my insights — spoiler warning, though: I haven’t read any of them yet. There are just too many good books!

El Deafo, by CeCe Bell: Too young for our purposes! This is by all accounts an excellent graphic memoir, a growing genre, but it’s middle grade and I’ve been told it actually can swing even younger.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant: Again, too young: this one is a picture book biography.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza, by Jack Gantos: Thoughts? The age recs on this just hit the lower end of the Printz age bracket (up to age 13 seems to be the average, with PW pushing it to 14). I haven’t read any of the Joey Pigza books so take this with that grain of salt, but I would generally consider them as children’s fiction, not YA or even young YA. Anyone think this one is worth thinking about with the Printz in mind?

The Story of Own, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston: I haven’t read this yet, but I will be reading it, and it’s starting to look more and more like it’s a hit; three stars and now this. It’s the only piece of YA fiction to make the finalists, from a year with lots of great material that was eligible — some of which has way more buzz — which might make this a sleeper hit. Has anyone read it yet? No one I know has been talking about it, but I think that’s partly the curse of the small publisher.

The Freedom Summer Murders, by Don Mitchell: I would have expected The Family Romanov, but I like the trend of upper YA nonfiction that’s happening this year: this bodes well for awards and reading and learning!

Aviary Wonders, Inc., by Kate Samworth: It’s a picture book, but I’m intrigued by Kirkus’s “10 & up” designation; is this, like Tan’s The Arrival, a true all-ages picture book? I’ll need to check it out, literally.

Thoughts, surprises, outraged responses? Comment away!

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I actually just read The Story of Owen; it didn’t work for me, but it worked for my friends. (I think I was the lone dissenting voice.) The conversation about it was interesting, because they acknowledged the existence of the things that bothered me, but those things did not bother them. (Well, to an extent.)

    The Canadian voice is really strong, I think, and I really like the idea of the book in theory. It’s one of the more interesting books I’ve read recently.

  2. While the situations in The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza are extremely far out and his parents yet again behave in ways that adult readers are going to find especially horrifying, the tone still feels very MG to me. I suppose it could be for 12 year olds, but not too much above, I don’t think. (FYI: I think the book is fabulous and am very happy it is among the Kirkus finalists.)

  3. I absolutely loved The Story of Owen, and I’m incredibly thrilled to see it getting some well-deserved (in my opinion) recognition. The world-building is really solid in a way that we don’t always see from alternate reality YA books. I’m sure some people are less than thrilled with the voice/POV, but I found it unique and distinct – the conceit is that the book is a ballad being told by the main character.

    (However I also acknowledge that my opinion could be partly biased by the fact that Owen is set in the town I grew up in so I went into it wanting to like the book)

  4. I think it’s really interesting that, so far, We Were Liars (which would have seemed like an early favorite I think in the first half of the year) has been completely shut out of the awards so far. No Horn Book (I’m thinking it was pubbed early enough to be eligible for this year’s), no National Book Award, and no Kirkus Prize. I don’t know if it’s a victim of being too early in the year, buzz backlash or it really just doesn’t measure up to the others. Horn Book and Kirkus are both pretty narrow windows (only 2 spots for YA on Kirkus, only 3 spots for fiction on Horn Book), but I was really surprised to not see it on the National Book Award Longlist.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      It just made the Guardian prize shortlist.

      And I think the NBA lists lean way harder towards importance than writing — it’s as if they have the opposite stance about MESSAGE compared to the Printz committee/criteria.

  5. Karyn Silverman says:

    Aviary Wonders won the prize, and is listed ages “10-18.” Has anyone seen it?

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