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I Coulda Been a Contenda

Pile of book packages

Book packages, via @sophiebiblio

That pile? That’s what it looks like when you are on a committee. Every day.

(I still reflexively check every package that arrives at school, conditioned by years of book committees. I think I got hooked on the rush. The packages are rarely for me anymore, but somehow, two years later, I still live in a constant state of anticipation.)

But with so much great material flowing in, plus even more out there waiting to be discovered, how on earth does one ever decide what to read?

Well, you can be a passive committee member and just wait for feedback from the rest of the committee. Or you can read whatever you want to read and just hope something great pops up. Or you can apply the super scientific method (there’s lots of science in this post!) and create spreadsheets and lists and notebooks, oh my.

So here is the (ok, my) scientific method (which nets pretty good results, especially when everyone is employing it):

  1. Keep an eye on major review sources (SLJ, The Horn Book, Kirkus, BCCB, PW, Booklist, etc.) and note what titles are netting multiple stars. You definitely need to read those.
  2. Know your history, and when a previous winner or honoree for the Printz or another award, or someone who always shows up on best of the year lists, has a new book, put that on top of your pile.
  3. Try to carve out time for the occasional adult or middle grade title to cleanse your palate, otherwise all books will start to be bad books because you are suffering YA literature burnout (an actual disease; symptoms include muttering and a burning desire to never read a YA book again; fortunately, the cure is simply a varied reading diet).
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate: with your fellow committee members, who will help you rule things out (really, it’s an elimination game in many ways); also with your colleagues who are on other committees, or who blog, read, or breathe. There have been plenty of dark horse titles in the final five* and you never know where you’ll find those books.
  5. Stagger your reading between the books you need to read and the ones you need to read that you also want to read, otherwise your pace begins to drag and you might lose momentum.

We’ve employed the scientific method (sans communication with other committee members) to come up with a working list. The following is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of books we are currently planning to write about, with links to publisher sites for additional pub details and cover images and such.

We reserve the right to knock titles off the list and add titles to it. We’d love some assistance with that. We’ve read many of these, but not yet all of them, so there might be clunkers in here—please warn us! And we’re bound to have missed something, so let us know what.

Oh! And you might notice something (mostly) missing: Nonfiction. We haven’t seen or heard about much, but we are also not nonfiction readers by inclination. So we especially want to hear what we’re missing there. Comments are open: fire away!

So now that all the caveats, etc., are out of the way, here’s our list of books:

The received-lots-of-stars** pile (compiled with help from Jonathan’s roundup posted to Adbooks, and it’s so nice when someone else does the hard work!):

Chime, Franny Billingsley
Anya’s Ghost
, Vera Brosgol
Between Shades of Gray
, Ruta Sepetys
Imaginary Girls, Nova Ren Suma
Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey
Pick-up Game, ed. Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr.
I am J, Cris Beam
Strings Attached, Judy Blundell
Paper Covers Rock, Jenny Hubbard
Karma, Cathy Ostlere
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente
The Queen of Water, Laura Resau
The Berlin Boxing Club, Robert Sharenow
Blink & Caution, Tim Wynne-Jones
Brooklyn, Burning, Steve Brezenoff
Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin
ed. Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant******

The great buzz*** pile:

Beauty Queens, Libba Bray
Recovery Road, Blake Nelson
This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel
Across the Universe, Beth Revis
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
Welcome to Bordertown, ed. Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

The everyone**** we know is talking about these books pile:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
You Against Me, Jenny Downham
Every You, Every Me, David Levithan
The Piper’s Son, Melina Marchetta
White Crow, Marcus Sedgwick
The Returning, Christine Hinwood
The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater
Stay With Me, Paul Griffin

*Or final four, if we’re talking about a year when not every potential honor slot was filled. But “final five” references “Battlestar Galactica” while “final four” is a basketball reference. So I’m going to use the phrase “final five” whenever possible, because I like me some genre TV.

**”lots” being the extremely scientific (see? Science!) term for three or more stars as of September 1, to the best of our knowledge.

***buzz, of course, is another scientific term, here meaning general chatter on various public forums, plus a star or two in many cases.

****Ok, make that someone: at least one colleague, librarian, or blogger (ourselves included!) has mentioned these titles in terms that have us interested. We recognize that some of these might yet pick up a pile of stars but at the moment of this writing that’s not their primary contender pile.

*****Footnotes in honor of Terry Pratchett’s new book, Snuff, out tomorrow. It’s not YA, but it will cleanse my palate nicely.

******Added after initial posting.

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 couldn’t remember if anthologies of short stories by multiple authors are fair game, but since I see a couple on your list already (Pick-Up Game and Welcome to Bordertown) I’m assuming they are. Steampunk edited by Kelly Link and Gaving J. Grant is another anthology that’s picked up 4 stars now though it only had two when Jonathan compiled that list.

    For Non-Fiction: Bootleg by Blumenthal has 4 stars with reviews ranging from Age 12/Grade 6 all the way up to Grade 12 and Flesh and Blood so Cheap by Marrin has 3 stars reviews saying Gr. 7-10, Age 10 and up, Grade 6 and up.

    Fictionwise – the following also have 3 stars (though some joined the list after adding Sept and Oct stars)
    Delirium by Oliver
    Lie by Bock
    Now is the Time for Running by Williams(reviews all start at Age 12/Grade 7 and up – so could be young)
    Queen of Hearts by Brooks
    The Watch That Ends the Night by Wolf

    A couple at the very young end that have 3 stars:
    Okay for Now by Schmidt
    Wisdom’s Kiss by Murdock
    Then by Gleitzman
    Sidekicks by Ferraiolo
    Island’s End by Venkatraman

    Apologies if I mentioned something already on the list. Also – in case you couldn’t tell – I love spreadsheets and metrics and stuff.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Thanks for the reminder on Steampunk– that was on on our list and somehow fell off in editing the post; I’ve already read it and think it’s an impressive anthology. Off to edit it right back into the list! We have an eligibility post coming up (there are questions about Girl Who as well), but yes, multi-author is eligible per the criteria as far as I understand.

  2. A couple I’ve seen that have managed some good buzz, but aren’t listed among your picks above are Lauren Myracle’s Shine and AS King’s Everybody Sees the Ants (the former of which I read a while back and enjoyed though given some stiff competition it probably won’t make the cut & the latter I picked up last week, but haven’t managed to start yet. Absolutely loved Vera Dietz last year, though)

    At the top of my personal list right now are Between Shades of Gray, The Piper’s Son, and Paper Covers Rock (though I’m quite interested how all the awards pan out for Paper… it’s very “literary” and well-written, but I imagine might be rather inaccessible to many teens due to the narrator’s voice, which is much more mature than the 16 year-old boy it is supposed to be)

    Currently reading Imaginary Girls, and as I’ve just passed the halfway point, it’s really starting to veer into very creepy, surreal territory. Gorgeous writing and the story is finally picking up to match it.

    Two titles that seem to be off everyone’s radar (and I imagine won’t really be part of the conversation, but I’d like them to be!) are Steve Watkins’ What Comes After and Tomas Mournian’s Hidden. ‘After’ is a straight-forward realistic fiction novel with strong characters and a female protagonist for whom romance is only a cursory element of the plot, which is nice to see. ‘Hidden’ is perhaps the grittiest, most realistic portrayal of what can happen to LGBT youth after being kicked out that I’ve read, for a teen audience. It barely even has 50 ratings on Goodreads, and due to the troubled young narrator’s voice takes some effort to get into, but I really enjoyed it.

  3. This is a MAD helpful way to approach committee work. Excellent tips, thanks!

  4. Burnout by Adrienne Maria Vrettos was very good. It recieved a Starred review from Kirkus and SJL.

    The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson and What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez I believe are also solid contenders.

  5. Please don’t forget my favorite YA title of the year so far, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley!

  6. For your fiction list: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen and Displacement by Thalia Chaltas

  7. Stephanie Wilkes says:

    I second Jennifer with Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back!

  8. And I third it! (Where Things Come Back)

  9. Karyn Silverman says:

    You are all wonderful! Keep the suggestions coming. And Where Things Come Back is in my bag TODAY, so it will be read in the near(ish) future.

  10. Eric Carpenter says:

    Surprise not to see I’LL BE THERE by Holly Goldberg Sloan anywhere on your list. I don’t read tons of YA but of what i’ve read so far this year this is my favorite.

  11. Yes, *Steampunk* is an amazing anthology!

    If you want a sample, has published Delia Sherman’s story from it up online here:

    Karyn, you’re wonderful.

  12. Blood Red Road by Moira Young

  13. Mark Flowers says:

    Any love out there for ISLE OF BLOOD by Richard Yancey? The first in the series was a Printz honor book, and in my opinion (4/5 through the new one) they just keep getting better.

  14. Ilene Wong says:

    Here’s another plug for EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King. Four starred reviews now, and lots of love letters from indie booksellers.

    And what about ASHES by Ilsa Bick?

  15. Laura Lehner says:

    I second EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS – Must read!!!

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