Alex Awards

The Winners: 2006

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates  BAT
Set in the 1960s, Judy Fong Bates’s much-talked-about debut novel is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town’s solitary Chinese family, whose life is changed over the course of one summer when she learns the burden of secrets. Through Su-Jen’s eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. As Su-Jen’s father works continually for a better future, her mother, a beautiful but embittered woman, settles uneasily into their new life. Su-Jen feels the weight of her mother’s unhappiness as Su-Jen’s life takes her outside the restaurant and far from the customs of the traditional past. When Su-Jen’s half-brother arrives, smouldering under the responsibilities he must bear as the dutiful Chinese son, he forms an alliance with Su-Jen’s mother, one that will have devastating consequences. Written in spare, intimate prose, Midnight at the Dragon Café is a vivid portrait of a childhood divided by two cultures and touched by unfulfilled longings and unspoken secrets. 

by Kalisha Buckhanon BUC
"Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?"

So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990's in New York. Antonio and Natasha's world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together.

Anansi Boys
by  Neil Gaiman  GAI
In the bestselling American Gods (2001), the gods of old European, African, and other mythologies retired as ordinary, if eccentric, people. One of these gods, Charlie’s father, appears in the follow-up novel, Anansi Boys. Gaiman, best known for his 1990s Sandman comic book series, describes his new work as "a magical-horror-thriller-ghost-romantic-comedy-family-epic," and critics agree that it’s all that and more. Some noted the conventional nature of the comedy-drama part, with a fast-paced plot driving a narrative about good and evil.

As Simple As Snow
by Gregory Gallaway  GAL
At one point in Galloway's first novel, a character says approvingly, "The Bible is full of contradictions and ambiguities and mysteries." Which is a pretty fair description of this fascinating but often frustratingly obscure book. Oh, the story is simple, as simple as snow: an average high-school boy, the narrator, meets and falls in love with an extraordinary, spooky girl, Anna, a Goth fascinated with mysteries, codes, ciphers, and ghost stories and whose self-imposed project is writing obituaries of everyone in their small town. When she finishes, she vanishes. Did she run away? Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? The boy determines to find out. But does he? Well, suffice it to say, snow isn't really simple, and neither is this novel. Told in the boy's flat, often affectless, but oddly mesmerizing voice, the plot meanders all over the map and promises more than it ultimately delivers.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sci-Fi,  ISH, Large Print, ISH
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth were once classmates at Hailsham, a private school in the English countryside. "You were brought into this world for a purpose," advised Miss Lucy, one of Hailsham's guardians, "and your futures, all of them, have been decided." The tightly knit trio experienced love, loss, and betrayal as they pondered their destinies... The novel is narrated by Kathy, now 31 and a "carer," who recalls how Hailsham students were "told and not told" about their precarious circumstances. (Why were their writings and paintings so important? And who was the mysterious Madame who carted their creations away?)  In this luminous offering, Ishiguro nimbly navigates the landscape of emotion--the inevitable link between present and past and the fine line between compassion and cruelty, pleasure and pain.

Gil’s All Fright Diner  
by A. Lee Martinez, MAR
In this luminous offering, Ishiguro nimbly navigates the landscape of emotion--the inevitable link between present and past and the fine line between compassion and cruelty, pleasure and pain.

The Necessary Beggar
by Susan Palwick  Sci-Fi PAL
Praised as "a deeply felt, deeply moving tale . . . chilling and finely tuned" (Publishers Weekly), Susan Palwick's first novel Flying in Place won widespread acclaim for its haunting exploration of a troubled childhood. Now, after a decade, Palwick returns with the powerful tale of a family cast out of an idyllic realm, learning to live in our own troubled world--an exciting and insightful examination of humanity in the spirit of Ursula Le Guin's The Disposessed and Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

 My Jim  
by Nancy Rawles  RAW
This novel, evocative of slave narratives, explores what life must have been like for Jim, the slave who escapes down the Mississippi River with Huck Finn. But Jim's flight to freedom is only a backdrop to a story that is more about his wife, Sadie, and her fierce determination to survive the cruelties of slavery and to pass on the hopefulness of love to the next generation. When her granddaughter Marianne is frightened of leaving Louisiana in 1884 to make a new life with a buffalo soldier in the West, Sadie recalls the family's history as she makes a quilt for the young woman to take with her. Speaking in first-person dialect, Sadie recalls the loss of mother, children, and husband but also recalls the struggle to hold on to bits and pieces of family that she weaves into her story and the quilt. She recalls her talent for healing, her defiance of the master that eventually provoked her sale, and her abiding love for Jim, a slave she saw birthed into the world. This is a moving novel of American slavery and enduring love.

Jesus Land: A Memoir
by Julia Scheeres 921 Scheeres, J.
In the name of religion, Scheeres and her adopted black brother, David, suffer cruel abuse, first in their Calvinist home in Indiana in the 1970s and then when their surgeon father and missionary-minded mother send the teens to a fundamentalist Dominican Republic reform school that is run like boot camp. The self-righteous sermonizing would be hilarious if it were not the justification for vicious punishment. The racism is open, from the other kids and from authority. Scheeres tries to find comfort in drink and in sex with a classmate ("His heat and his desire they comfort me. I shall not want"). What is unforgettable is the tenderness between sister and brother, as uplifting as any sermon. Their relationship is never sentimentalized: She is ashamed of the times she turns her back on him, tired of being called "nigger-lover . . . the black boy's sister," but they help each other through the worst with horseplay, humor, and courage.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir  
by Jeannette Walls, 362.82 WAL
The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing -- a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar, but loyal, family. Jeannette Walls has a story to tell, and tells it brilliantly, without an ounce of self-pity.

The Winners: 2005

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond, 338.4 ALM
Driven by his obsession, stubborn idealism, and the promise of free candy, self-confessed candyfreak Steve Almond takes off on a quest to discover candy's origins in America, to explore the little companies that continue to get by on pluck and perseverance, and to witness the glorious excess of candy manufacturing.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynn Cox, 921 COX
n this extraordinary book, the world’s most extraordinary distance swimmer writes about her emotional and spiritual need to swim and about the almost mystical act of swimming itself.

Donorboy by Brendan Halpin
Rosalind had two mommies. Now, thanks to a tragic accident involving foodstuffs, she has none. And Sean, the sperm donor responsible for half her DNA (and nothing else), is taking custody. Rosalind finds herself adjusting to a new life that seems both hateful and surreal–she’s an orphan with a new father, surrounded by friends she is beginning to despise and well-meaning adults who succeed only in annoying her.
Sean made a donation fifteen years ago, and his life since has not gone according to plan. Thirty-five, single, and still grieving the loss of his own mother twenty-seven years ago, he decides to take on the overwhelming task of caring for an unhappy teenager he doesn’t know.

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson 940.54 KUR
Who knew that German submarine U-869, long thought to have been sunk off Gibraltar in 1945, was actually sunk by its own torpedo less than 60 miles from Brielle, New Jersey? No one--until 1991, when two death-cheating wreck-divers began exploring the boat's wrecked hull, 230 feet underwater.

Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers
When fourteen-year-old Carson Fielding bought his first horse from Magnus Yarborough, it became clear that the teenager was a better judge of horses than the rich landowner was of humans. Years later, Carson, now a skilled and respected horse trainer, grudgingly agrees to train Magnus's horses and teach his wife to ride. In this unforgettable story of horses, love, and life, Carson and the entire ensemble of characters learn, in very different ways, about the strong bonds that connect people to each other and to the land on which they live.

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett 362.196 PAT
What happens when the person who is your family is someone you aren't bound to by blood? What happens when the person you promise to love and to honor for the rest of your life is not your lover, but your best friend? In Truth & Beauty, her frank and startlingly intimate first work of nonfiction, Ann Patchett shines a fresh, revealing light on the world of women's friendships and shows us what it means to stand together.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jody Picoult PIC
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. 

Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
A nightmarish, tragicomic near-future where body image is the new religion... Unsettling, sometimes appalling: satire edging remorselessly toward reality.

Project X by Jim Shepard
Below the sign welcoming the new eighth-grade class to school is one that promises to leave no child unsuccessful and a handout that offers eight ways of being smart. For Edwin Hanratty, at times as hilarious as he is miserable, this is part of what makes junior high pretty much a relentless nightmare. And so, with Flake, his only friend, he contends with clique upon clique—the jocks who pummel them, the girls who ignore or taunt them—as well as the dogged and disconcerting attentions of a sixth-grader who’s even more ferociously disaffected than they are. And while Edwin’s parents work hard to understand him, they face without fully realizing it a demoralization so systemic that he and Flake have no recourse other than their own bitter and smart remarks, until they gradually begin flirting with the most horrible revenge of all. 

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan
Thoreau went to Walden Pond to live simply in the wild and contemplate his own place in the world by observing nature. Robert Sullivan went to a disused, garbage-filled little alley in lower Manhattan to contemplate the city and its lesser-known inhabitants-by observing the rat.