Alex Awards

The Winners:  2004

Davis, Amanda   Wonder When You’ll Miss Me  DAV
Follow sixteen-year-old Faith Duckle in this audacious and darkly funny tale as she moves through the difficult journey from the schoolyard to the harlequin world of the circus. At fifteen, Faith was lured under the bleachers by a bunch of boys at a football game and raped. Now, almost a year later, a newly thin Faith is haunted by her past, and by the cruel, flippant ghost of her formerly fat self, who is bent on revenge.

Haddon, Mark.   The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time HAD
Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically-gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor's dog and uncovers secret information about his mother.

Hosseini, Khaled.   The Kite Runner  HOS
The Kite Runner
follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable. They spend idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors until an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever, and eventually cements their bond in ways neither boy could have ever predicted.

Niffenegger, Audrey.   The Time Traveler’s Wife  NIF
This clever and inventive tale works on three levels: as an intriguing science fiction concept, a realistic character study and a touching love story. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder; at random times, he suddenly disappears without warning and finds himself in the past or future, usually at a time or place of importance in his life. This leads to some wonderful paradoxes.

Packer, Z.Z.   Drinking Coffee Elsewhere    PAC
Brownies -- Every tongue shall confess -- Our Lady of Peace --The ant of the self -- Drinking coffee elsewhere -- Speaking in tongues -- Geese -- Doris is coming.  The clear-voiced humanity of Packer's characters, mostly black teenage girls, resonates unforgettably through the eight stories of this accomplished debut collection. Several tales are set in black communities in the South and explore the identity crises of God-fearing, economically disenfranchised teens and young women.

Roach, Mary.   Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers  ROA
An oddly compelling, often hilarious forensic exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.  In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Salzman, Mark.   True Notebooks  808.042 SAL
When Mark Salzman is invited to visit a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders, he scrambles for a polite reason to decline. He goes—expecting the worst—and is so astonished by what he finds that he becomes a teacher there himself. True Notebooks is an account of Salzman’s first years teaching at Central. Through it, we come to know his students as he did: in their own words.

Satrapi, Marjane.   Persepolis  YA Graphic Novel  741.5 SAT
Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Winspear, Jacqueline.   Maisie Dobbs  WIN
What do Hercule Poirot and Charlotte Gray have in common? It may be the wonderful Maisie Dobbs.  Lady Rowan Compton first met Maisie when, at thirteen, she went into service as a maid at her ladyship’s Belgravia mansion. A suffragette, Lady Rowan took the remarkably smart youngster under her wing and became her patron. She encouraged Maisie to study at Cambridge, and was aided in this by Maurice Blanche, a friend often retained as an investigator by the elite of Europe when discretion and results were required. It was he who first recognized Maisie’s intuitive gifts.

Yates, Bart.   Leave Myself Behind
Noah York is a closeted gay teenager with a foul mouth, a critical disposition, and plenty of material for his tirades. After his father dies, Noah's mother, a temperamental poet, takes a teaching job in a small New Hampshire town, far from Chicago and the only world Noah has known. While Noah gets along reasonably with his mother, the crumbling house they try to renovate quickly reveals dark secrets, via dusty Mason jars they discover interred between walls. The jars contain scraps of letters, poems, and journal entries, and eventually reconstruct a history of pain and violence that drives a sudden wedge between Noah and his mother.  Fortunately, Noah finds an unexpected ally in J. D., a teenager down the street who has family troubles of his own. Rape and other physical violence, alcoholism, and incest--the novel describes these abuses in a brutal, matter-of-fact way that may leave some readers uncomfortable. Most of the time, however, Yates effectively captures the honest, sometimes silly, often tender interactions between his fragile characters.

The Winners:  2003

Barry, Lynda. One Hundred Demons.
Buddhism teaches that each person must overcome 100 demons in a lifetime. In this collection of 20 comic strips, Lynda Barry wrestles with some of hers in her signature quirky, irrepressible voice. Color illustrations throughout.

Conroy, Pat.   My Losing Season.  921 CONROY, P., Con
Turning to nonfiction, the bestselling author of "Beach Music" has written an American classic about young men and the bonds they form, about losing and the lessons it imparts, and about finding one's self in the midst of defeat.

Ferris, Timothy. Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril.
Ferris intends his book for the general reader, but it is best suited for those with at least a slight interest in and exposure to astronomy. The author has written a number of similar books; a highlight of this one is a detailed discussion of the different approaches and experiences of amateur and professional astronomers. He interviews some individual amateur astronomers--the very knowledgeable ones who use highly specialized equipment and frequently publish research papers. The more casual stargazer is thoroughly discussed and appreciated here but not individualized. The book is well written but contains a few more typos and minor errors than it should. Figures would help in some places; nonetheless, this book is recommended for all readers with an interest in science. The author discusses many current discoveries about the planets, stars, and galaxies in an easy-to-understand informal style; knowledge of mathematics is not required. Of particular interest are the new research tools available to amateurs, such as the CCD (charge-coupled device) image processor, and the worldwide efforts to search for extraterrestrial intelligent life and to detect comets and asteroids that threaten to collide with Earth. All levels.

Fforde, Jasper.  The Eyre Affair.  FFO
Great Britain circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodas are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. Based on an imaginary world where time and reality bend in the most convincing and original way since The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Eyre Affair is a delightful rabbit hole of a read: once you fall in you may never come back.   England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in Wordsworth poems, militant Baconians roam freely spreading the gospel that Bacon, not Shakespeare, penned those immortal works. And forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. This is all business as usual for brainy, bookish (and heat-packing) Thursday Next, a renowned Special Operative in literary detection -- that is, until someone begins murdering characters from works of literature. When this madman plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Bronte's novel Thursday faces the challenge of her career. Aided and abetted by characters that include her time-traveling father, an executive of the all-powerful Goliath Corporation, and Edward Rochester himself, Thursday must track down the world's Third Most Wanted criminal and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.   A brilliantly outlandish and absorbing caper destined to become a classic adventure tale, The Eyre Affair is an irresistible thriller and the introduction to the imagination of a most distinctive writer. In Jasper Fforde's singular fictional universe no literary character is safe from crime. And for Special Operative Thursday Next this is only the beginning...

Lawson, Mary. Crow Lake. LAW
For the farming Pye family of northern Ontario, life is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and terrible events occur offstage. In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control.

Malloy, Brian.  The Year of Ice.
A gay high school senior struggles to cope with his father's irresponsibility in Malloy's poignant, quietly effective debut, set in Minneapolis in the late '70s. From the outside looking in, protagonist Kevin Doyle seems like a normal, party-happy 17-year-old, but the combination of a troubled family life and his secret crush on one of his best friends definitely sets him apart from the pack. The family issues revolve around his dad, Pat, an ordinary 40-something widower with plenty of romantic prospects as the book opens. But Kevin is furious when he learns that Pat's infidelity may have contributed to the car accident that took his mother's life, and his anger increases exponentially when his father impregnates the woman he had the affair with, then marries her after a brief dalliance with another woman. Malloy's coming-of-age narrative can be generic, but he handles the gay angle nicely as he explores Kevin's difficulty in finding an outlet for his hormonal urges even as he struggles to maintain a relationship with a classmate named Allison Minczeski, who falls for him. The author also displays a razor-sharp comic touch in the verbal sparring between father and son as Pat tries to bring his instant family together, and he balances the comedy with some touching scenes after Pat messes up his latest domestic venture. Malloy shows plenty of talent in his gay spin on the genre, and this debut bodes well for his literary future.

Otsuka, Julie.   When the Emperor Was Divine.  OTS
Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.

Packer, Ann. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier.  PAC

A suspenseful, richly layered first novel that asks: How much do people owe the people they love? "The Dive from Clausen's Pier" will speak to all those who have ever thought about leaving when they knew they should stay or felt trapped, not only by circumstance, but by the strength of their own love.

Southgate, Martha. The Fall of Rome. SOU
An absorbing and enlightening novel by a journalist and former editor at "Essence" about the tensions inherent in being "the only chip in the cookie" among the white elite.

Weisberg, Joseph.  10th Grade.

A perfect re-creation of a school year in the life of an endearing teenager is told with all the comma splices, danglers, run-on sentences--and heroic fantasies--that typify the normal derangements of adolescence.