SLJ Reviews and Resources for YALSA 2015 Morris and Nonfiction Finalists

Awards season is well underway in the children’s and YA lit world, and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) made its contribution last week when it revealed the shortlists for its nonfiction and debut YA awards. SLJ has compiled the full reviews and resources for each of the finalists.
Awards season is well underway in the children’s and YA lit world, and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) made its contribution last week when it revealed the shortlists for its nonfiction and debut YA awards. SLJ has compiled the full reviews and resources for each of the finalists. Subjects light and dark were among the recently announced selections of YALSA's Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, which included everything from a teen girl's attempts to become popular by following a 1950s etiquette guide to an in-depth account of the downfall of the Romanov family. The award, which honors the best nonfiction published for young adults, was first established in 2010. Among the finalists are two 2014 SLJ Best Books: The Port Chicago 50 and The Family Romanov. See below for SLJ's review and coverage of the five Excellence in Nonfiction finalists.

laughing at my nightmareBurcaw, Shane. Laughing at My Nightmare. 256p. photos. Roaring Brook. Oct. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626720077.

Gr 10 Up—Burcaw is like any other 21-year-old guy. He loves sports, video games, and bathroom humor; enjoys hanging out with his friends; and has had several girlfriends. The only thing that makes him different is that he has done all of this while in a wheelchair. Burcaw was born with a rare neuromuscular disease known as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which hinders his muscles' ability to grow and repair themselves. Instead of growing bigger and stronger with age, he becomes weaker and smaller. As a result of the disease, Burcaw depends on his friends and family when it comes to completing everyday tasks. Throughout, he shares many humorous and touching stories about growing up and living with his disease. These tales leave nothing to the imagination, including descriptions of how he uses the bathroom or has sexual interactions, and the author occasionally employs some graphic language. Burcaw's narrative will resonate with readers, who will laugh along with the funny stories, cringe at the awkward moments, and tear up at the emotionally charged parts. A poignant story that provides a fresh perspective on life.—Annalise Ammer, City of Rochester Public Libraries, NY [See SLJ's "It's My Life | Teen Angst, Attitude, and Acumen.")

redstarRomanovFleming, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. 304p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Random. Jul. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780375867828; lib. ed. $21.99. ISBN 9780375967825; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780375898648. LC 2013037904.

Gr 9 Up –The tragic Romanovs, last imperial family of Russia, have long held tremendous fascination. The interest generated by this family is intense, from debates about Duchess Anastasia and her survival to the discovery of their pathetic mass graves. A significant number of post-Glasnost Russian citizens consider the Romanovs holy to the extent that the Russian Orthodox Church has canonized them. This well-researched and well-annotated book provides information not only on the history of these famous figures but also on the Russian people living at the time and on the social conditions that contributed to the family’s demise. The narrative alternates between a straightforward recounting of the Romanovs’ lives and primary source narratives of peasants’ lives. The contrast is compelling and enhances understanding of how the divide between the extremely rich and the very poor can lead directly to violent and dramatic political change. While the description and snippets on the serfs and factory workers are workmanlike, the pictures painted of the reclusive and insular Romanovs is striking. Unsuited to the positions in which they found themselves, Nicholas and Alexandra raised their children in a bubble, inadequately educating them and providing them only slight exposure to society. The informative text illuminates their inability to understand the social conditions in Russia and the impact it might have had on them. This is both a sobering work, and the account of the discovery of their bones and the aftermath is at once fascinating and distressing. A solid resource and good recreational reading for high school students.–Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA

[See SLJ's Q&A with Fleming.]

redstarIda tarbellMcCully, Emily Arnold. Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won! 288p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Jul. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780547290928. LC 2012039650.

Gr 7 Up –McCully expertly brings to life the story of a unique and determined woman in this well-written and thoroughly researched biography, filled with numerous and pertinent photographs. She places Tarbell’s story into historical context, detailing how the country was just discovering the hidden wealth of oil and all the opportunities that came with it and how certain individuals were making shrewd business deals to guarantee large incomes. All of the corruption and secret machinations affected many citizens. Tarbell went where no one had gone before, becoming an investigative reporter for a top magazine. Though women were little respected at the time, she dove right into a man’s world, exposing the somewhat shady side of John D. Rockefeller, head of the powerful Standard Oil Trust. As Tarbell’s articles stirred public emotions, she grew more and more famous for her outspokenness and perseverance. Readers will not only get a feel for Tarbell, but they’ll also get a sense of the changing world she inhabited.–Carol Hirsche, Provo City Library, UT

redstarPort Chicago 50 ReduxSheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. 208p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596437968.

Gr 7 Up –In the summer of 1944, 50 sailors, all of them African American, were tried and convicted of mutiny by the U.S. Navy. They had refused to follow a direct order of loading dangerous rockets and munitions on ships bound for battle in the Pacific after an enormous explosion had killed more than 300 of their fellow sailors and other civilians working on the dock. At the heart of this story is the rampant racism that permeated the military at all levels, leaving minority sailors and soldiers to do the drudge work almost exclusively while their white counterparts served on the front lines. Through extensive research, Sheinkin effectively re-creates both the tense atmosphere at Port Chicago before and after the disaster as well as the events that led to the men’s refusal of this one particular order that they felt put them directly in harm’s way. Much of the tension in this account stems from the growing frustration that readers are meant to feel as bigotry and discrimination are encountered at every turn and at every level of the military. There is a wealth of primary-source material here, including interviews with the convicted sailors, court records, photographs, and other documents, all of which come together to tell a story that clearly had a huge impact on race relations in the military. This is a story that remains largely unknown to many Americans, and is one of the many from World War II about segregation and race that is important to explore with students. Abundant black-and-white photos, extensive source notes, and a thorough bibliography are included.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Popular_comp9.inddVan Wagenen, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. 272p. photos. Dutton. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525426813.

Gr 7 Up –The bright and perceptive Van Wagenen wanted to boost her popularity in middle school. As a self-defined “Social Outcast, the lowest level of people at school who weren’t paid to be there,” the eighth-grader had quite a climb ahead of her. Her modus operandi was intriguing: she used a 1950s teen etiquette book that her father found at a thrift store as a guide to climb the social ladder. The clash of eras and cultures is funny—the author wears a girdle, hat, and pearls to class; learns how to apply makeup; improves her posture and poise; and tries a diet. But the best lessons she learns from Fifties teen model Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide are about how to talk to and understand the people around her. Bravely visiting all the various cliques in the lunchroom and making conversation with her secret Sunday school crush, she becomes even more sensitive and aware—and yes, more popular. Van Wagenen’s tone is personable and polished. Even though she has many typical tween obsessions and concerns, her writing is surprisingly mature. While overall this light memoir provides plenty of fun, it has a grittier backdrop than the cover and description might suggest. Van Wagenen’s school, in Brownsville, TX, near the Mexican border, commonly experiences lockdown drills and warnings against gangs, and she casually mentions that smoke from a drug war in Matamoros, Mexico, is visible from her house. The part-Hispanic teen also occasionally sprinkles in Spanish words. With a DreamWorks movie option in the works, this entertaining title should be in demand.–Liz French, Library Journal

[See SLJ's "It's My Life | Teen Angst, Attitude, and Acumen."]

On December 3, YALSA  announced the shortlist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. First awarded in 2009, the medal will be presented to the winner during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Chicago on February 2, from 10:30 am to 12 pm CST at the McCormick Place Convention Center, room W375a.

All of the 2015 finalists were reviewed favorably in School Library Journal: two are SLJ Best Books of 2014 (Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces; Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender) and three received starred reviews. Below are the full SLJ reviews and resources (including interviews and blog posts) for the five Morris Awards finalists.

Carnival_at_Bray_FrontCoverFOLEY, Jessie Ann.The Carnival at Bray.  224p. Elephant Rock. Oct. 2014. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9780989515597. LC 2014937608. Gr 9 Up–This promising debut, set in the heyday of grunge, tells the story of Maggie Lynch, a displaced Chicagoan and grunge music fan, living in a quiet town (Bray) on the Irish Sea. Maggie was uprooted from her friends, her music scene, and her beloved Uncle Kevin when her romantically fickle mother married her latest boyfriend, resulting in a move to his hometown. During her time of difficult adjustment to Ireland, Maggie falls in love with Eion the very moment a devastating loss hits her family, leading to rebellion and a journey to Rome to see Nirvana and fulfill Uncle Kevin’s wish for her. Foley sets the scene vividly, writing that Bray has a “soggy sort of grandeur” and weaving in the tiny cultural differences that Maggie has to navigate as an American. The narrative voice is clear and compelling, but Maggie often makes decisions that feel incongruous to her character. She has an independent spirit, but Eion only joins her on the journey because she needs a rescue. A self-professed Nirvana fan, which is critical to the plot, she never seems to like the band as much as she is trying to impress Uncle Kevin. However, the secondary characters are complex and sympathetic: Foley has also populated Bray with a host of quirky, loving, and memorable background characters, which enriches the story. Recommended for teens who enjoy travelogue romance stories or novels about rock music.–Susannah Goldstein, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City The Story of OwenJOHNSTON, E.K. The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. 312p. Carolrhoda Lab. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781467710664; ebk. $12.95. ISBN 9781467724067. LC 2013020492. Gr 7 Up–Siobhan is a typical teenager. Her hobbies include composing music, hanging out with friends, and driving her first car. Her biggest conflict is whether or not to tell her parents that she would rather pursue music than go to a university. All of that changes when she meets Owen Thorskard, currently failing algebra and potentially the nation’s next great dragon slayer. Owen, nephew of famous Slayer Lottie Thorskard, goes to high school by day and trains to protect the rural town of Trondheim by night. The two teens become friends when it becomes painfully evident that Owen needs a math tutor. Little does Siobhan know that she’s signing up for a lot more than tutoring. Soon she finds herself working as Owen’s personal Bard. While he slays, she documents; together they work to show the country that dragon slayers are needed in more than just the big cities. Johnston seamlessly blends fantasy with realistic fiction; readers will have a hard time remembering that dragons aren’t an everyday aspect of life. Suggest this title to reluctant readers as the fast-paced plot and witty dialogue will keep them turning pages until the tale’s exciting conclusion. A great addition for any library with a strong fantasy following.–Jennifer Furuyama, Pendleton Public Library, OR [See the Someday My Printz Will Come blog review by Sara Couri.]

gabiredstarQuintero, Isabel. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces. 378p. Cinco Puntos. Sept. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781935955948; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955955; ebk. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955962. LC 2014007658.

Gr 9 Up –Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez has a lot to deal with during her senior year. Her best friend Cindy is pregnant; her other best friend Sebastian just got kicked out of his house for coming out to his strict parents; her meth addict dad is trying to quit, again; and her super religious Tía Bertha is constantly putting a damper on Gabi’s love life. In lyrical diary entries peppered with the burgeoning poet’s writing, Spanglish, and phone conversations, Quintero gives voice to a complex, not always likable but totally believable teen who struggles to figure out her own place in the world. Believing she’s not Mexican enough for her family and not white enough for Berkeley, Gabi still meets every challenge head-on with vulgar humor and raw honesty. In moments, the diary format may come across as clunky, but the choppy delivery feels purposeful. While the narrative is chock-full of issues, they never bog down the story, interwoven with the usual teen trials, from underwhelming first dates to an unabashed treatment of sex, religion, and family strife. The teen isn’t all snark; there’s still a naiveté about whether her father will ever kick his addiction to meth, especially evident in her heartfelt letters to him. When tragedy strikes, readers will mourn with Gabi and connect with her fears about college acceptance and her first sexual experience. A refreshing take on slut- and fat-shaming, Quintero’s work ranks with Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013) and Junot Diaz’s Drown (Riverhead, 1996) as a coming-of-age novel with Latino protagonists.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

[See the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog review by Amanda MacGregor and SLJ's Q&A with Isabel Quintero.] The Scar BoysVLAHOS, Len. The Scar Boys. 256p. Egmont USA. Jan. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781606844397. Gr 8 Up–Harry Jones opens his story by submitting a 250-word essay to a college admissions board–only he goes a book length over the limit. In so doing he recounts his traumatic past: the terrifying scene in which neighborhood bullies tied him to a tree and left him as a storm rolled in…and how the tree was struck by lightning, leaving him with disfiguring burn scars all over his face. He then describes his physical and mental recovery: how he formed a band that toured all over the country…and even kissed a girl. Set in the early 1980s, Vlahos’s narrative flows easily and rings true. If Brent Runyon’s The Burn Journals (Knopf, 2004) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Pocket Books, 1999) could be melded into a single work, it might be this one. Distinguished in every way.–Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL [See what teens thought about The Scar Boys and SLJ's "Setting Life to a Soundtrack | New YA Novels."]

redstarStrange and Beautiful sorrowsWalton, Leslye. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. 320p. Candlewick. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763665661.

Gr 9 Up –Walton’s novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. Though the titular Ava serves as narrator and ultimately the tale’s heroine, her story spans multiple generations, starting with her great-grandmother, remembered only as Maman, an immigrant to “Manhatine” two generations earlier. Through the eyes of her grandmother Emilienne, and then her mother Vivianne, Ava’s lineage unfolds. Emilienne, suffering a broken heart, leaves New York and travels to Seattle, where she sets up shop as a baker on Pinnacle Lane. She gives birth to Vivianne, Ava’s mother, who later suffers her own heartbreak and gives birth to Ava in 1944. Ava is a normal girl with one notable exception: she was born with the wings of a bird. Ava looks to the stories of her matriarchs to make sense of her own life and to understand how to navigate the world as both an “other” and a typical teenage girl. It is not until a fateful day in her 16th year that many narrative threads come to a head. This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved--desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. Difficult to categorize, this is a mystical tale, a historical novel, a coming-of-age story, laced with folkloric qualities and magic realism, often evocative of great narratives like Erin Morgenstern’s transcendent The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) or the classic Like Water for Chocolate (Anchor, 1995) by Laura Esquivel. It is beautifully crafted and paced, mystical yet grounded by universal themes and sympathetic characters. A unique book, highly recommended for readers looking for something a step away from ordinary.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

[See the "Someday My Printz Will Come" blog review and an SLJ Q&A with Leslye Walton.]

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