Alex Awards

The Winners: 2000

Breashears, David. High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places.   921 BREASHEARS, D. Bra
Admittedly stubborn and driven, Breashears recounts his life story--recollections of his abusive father and tumultuous childhood; his discovery and dedication to mountain climbing, which he has always equated with humankind's belief in hope; and his entry into filmmaking. His account of his 1996 Everest IMAX Filming Expedition, during which he and his crew sought to rescue survivors and reclaim the bodies of the people caught in the well-publicized Everest calamity, is a natural link to Jon Krakauer's 1998 Alex winner, Into Thin Air. The danger, the audacity, the adventure will keep teens enthralled, and send them to the shelves to find similar titles.

Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Shadow.   YA SCI FIC Card, O.
Call it a parallel novel; call it a companion. Call it SF; call it adventure. No matter what it's called, this exciting novel, by the author of the very popular Ender's Game (1985), is what Card's readers have been waiting for. Bean, an orphan living on the streets, finds himself plucked from desperate straits and placed in Battle School, where his tactical skills earn him respect and a role with Ender Wiggin in battle. Wiggin's world is recognizable, but Bean's voice and character make this return to it extraordinarily fresh. This is a sure bet for Ender's Game's many teen fans, but it also stands very well alone.

Clarke, Breena. River, Cross My Heart.   BRE + LP
Strong-willed Alice Bynam is convinced that by moving to Georgetown, her family will have more economic and educational opportunity. That's true, but "whites still rule the roost" in the 1920s, and they've barred 10-year-old Johnnie Mae and her friends from swimming in a local pool. When Johnnie Mae opts for the river, instead, her younger sister, Clara, drowns, leaving her family and community behind to struggle with the personal loss and the legacy of racial injustice.

Codell, Esmé Raji. Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year.   372.11 COD
Fifth-grader Melanie instinctively knows what Codell finds out when she begins as a 24-year-old first-year teacher in an inner-city Chicago school: "You got to know everything." And that doesn't mean just what the textbooks say. As Codell gamely reveals in her forthright diary entries, it means fighting lazy teachers and unsupportive administrators; it means dealing with violence and racism; it means marshalling energy, imagination, and wit enough to ensure her students the best possible education. Teens who have been through "the system" can't help but recognize the landscape.

Fuqua, Jonathon Scott. The Reappearance of Sam Webber.
There's a strong sense of place in this ultimately warm, reassuring novel set in a poor, racially tense Baltimore neighborhood. Sam Webber doesn't like his new home, a smelly apartment light years away from the middle-class area where he spent his first 11 years. Since his father's disappearance, he's felt responsible for protecting his mother, but he's so sad and scared he can't even help himself: druggies and muggers patrol the streets; bullies hound him in school. His only friend is the school's black janitor, who turns out to need Sam as much as Sam needs him. Themes of racism, urban violence, depression, and family structure threaded through the story make the book effective for discussion as well as for independent reading.

Gaiman, Neil  Stardust.  GAI 
Many teens will already know Gaiman from his Sandman graphic novels and Neverwhere (1997). In this book, which makes fantasy accessible to a wide audience, 17-year-old Tristran Thorn pledges to fetch for his beloved a star that has fallen on the far side of the wall that marks the edge of the village where he lives. His quest takes him into the land of Fairie, where nothing along the way is really what it seems. Fantasy fans will see in this the work of many of their favorite writers; teens new to the genre will have a fine first reading experience; all will be charmed by the warmth and creativity of Gaiman's wonderful combination of comedy, romance, and energetic adventure.

Greenlaw, Linda. The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey.   639.2778 GRE

Greenlaw, the captain of the Hanna Boden, sister ship to the Andrea Gail, whose loss was portrayed in 1998 Alex winner The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, tells a different but equally fascinating story of life at sea. Hers is a record of a typical month-long swordfishing trip--the backbreaking work, the danger, the uncertainty of the weather, and the thrill of a gritty job that makes the sea a home. "Writing has proven to be hard work, often painful," she says. "I can honestly say I'd rather be fishing."

 

Hart, Elva Trevino. Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child.  921 HART, E., Har
"My whole childhood, I never had a bed," begins Hart's bittersweet recollections about growing up one of six children in a migrant family that made the circuit from Texas to Minnesota each year. Her stories about her family, especially her stern but caring father, and about breaking away only to return home, show the moving struggle of an immigrant population, but also the universal personal struggle of finding, then acknowledging, oneself.

Haruf, Kent. Plainsong.  HAR
They were always connected--in the way people in small towns are: the elderly McPheron brothers, unschooled but wise in other ways; high-school teacher Tom Guthrie and his mischievous sons, Bobby and Ike; and Victoria Roubideaux, 17 and pregnant, with nowhere to go. In this plainspoken yet graceful story that is at once complex and elemental, Haruf deftly brings his characters together, slowly turning them into a family ready to face private fears with a renewed sense of hope, connection, and even joy.

Porter, Connie. Imani All Mine.   YA AWARD Porter, C.
This deceptively simple first-person novel takes readers into the heart and mind of 15-year-old Tasha, whose love for her baby, Imani, is as plain as her fear of the rapist who fathered the child. In the stark language of a tough urban neighborhood, Tasha comes alive on the page as she struggles to reconcile her love and hope for her daughter with the violence that resulted in Imani's conception. A sad though ultimately hopeful novel, compelling from its very first page.

The Winners: 1999

Alexander, Caroline. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition.

919.98904 ALE
The photos will grab teens first: a three-masted wooden vessel broken and splintered; rugged ice-encrusted faces of the ship’s crew; fields of ice stretching into infinity. The Imperial Transatlantic Expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s daring but ill-fated attempt to cross the South Pole, comes to life in pictures taken by one of the crew and in the words of the men who lived the extraordinary Antarctic adventure. It’s an exhilarating account of one of the greatest episodes in the history of polar exploration and one of history’s all-time great survival stories.

Boylan, James Finney. Getting In.   BOY
Boylan takes wicked aim at the college mystique, bringing together three adults and four high-school seniors for a whirlwind tour of swanky eastern colleges that turns into a journey of self-discovery none of them will ever forget. Long-kept secrets, betrayals, and complex relationships between teens and between teens and their parents mark this raucous, sexy, and also moving novel that gives new meaning to going off to college and coming of age.

Dominick, Andie. Needles.
“I know about needles. My sister leaves them everywhere.” So begins this absorbing memoir of a growing up marked not by illegal drugs but by diabetes. In graceful yet unsparing prose, Dominick recalls the exacting routines, the doctors, the hospitals, and the struggle for normalcy that shaped her older sister’s life and later ruled her own. Although a candid record of the ravages of illness on family and self, Dominick’s story is also an inspirational account of hope and courage. A paperback will be available next spring.

Gilstrap, John. At All Costs.   GIL

That federal agents happened to be looking for someone else didn’t matter once they learned that Jake and his wife, Carolyn, were on their Ten Most Wanted List. By that time, though, the Donovans, with their 13-year-old son, were already on the run and committed to proving that the 16 people whose lives they were accused of taking were viciously murdered by someone else. Gilstrap, the author of Nathan’s Run (1995), combines his expertise as an explosives safety expert with political dirty dealing and breakneck pacing to produce a terrific nail-biter that will leave teens clamoring for more.

Kercheval, Jesse Lee. Space.   921 KERCHEVAL, J., Ker
In a memoir so beautifully and seamlessly written that teens will think it is fiction, Kercheval tells her own story, beginning when, at age 10, she moved with her family to a home in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in view of Cape Kennedy. Set against the promise implicit in the launching of Apollo, her touching recollection of her youth and teenage years—her strange, unhappy parents, her difficulties fitting into a new school, and her first love—speaks to universal concerns about growing up and resurrects a pivotal episode of American history and culture for a new generation.

Kluger, Steve. Last Days of Summer.
“Dear Mr. Banks, I am a 12-year-old boy and I am dying of an incurable disease” begins the first of many letters sent by determined, perfectly healthy Joey Margolis to tough-talking, loose cannon Charlie Banks, rookie third baseman for the New York Giants. Filled with energy, heart, and laugh-out-loud humor, this poignant epistolary novel looks at loneliness, friendship, and love in a way that both transfixes and transcends its 1940s setting.

Ed. By Robert Silverberg.  Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy.
It reads like an honor roll of modern sf/fantasy writers: Orson Scott Card, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Stephen King, and more. With editor Silverberg carefully supplying background, 11 stellar genre writers reenter the well-established universes they so lovingly created in series: McCaffrey returns to Pern, Silverberg writes again about Valentine as king, Roland the Gunslinger continues his journey toward the Dark Tower. Series fans won’t be disappointed in the least, and the novellas provide teens who don’t know the earlier books with a wonderful preview of what’s in store. The first volume of a three-part paperback edition will be available sometime this fall.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Antarctica.   ROB
The popular author of the Mars trilogy takes readers on a journey to a place with an equally inhospitable climate, bringing along a disparate group of characters with vastly different agendas for the frozen continent. Teens who like multilayered sf will be as pleased with the vivid blend of fact and fiction Robinson uses to depict the stark landscape as they are by the story’s diverse cast and its gradually widening circle of intrigue.

Santiago, Esmeralda. Almost a Woman.

The author of When I Was Puerto Rican(1993) continues to limn her past, this time focusing on her adolescence and young womanhood. In a patchwork of memories, she recalls her guilty longing to escape the Brooklyn barrio, where she lived with her mother and large, extended family, and what she finds (including an affair with an older man) when she leaves. The mixture of regret, joy, and confusion is unmistakable in this portrait of a daughter growing up in two cultures.

Senna, Danzy. Caucasia.  SEN
Questions about integration, intermarriage, identity, and the status of mixed-race children bubble beneath the surface of this dramatically rich, heartrending novel set in the 1970s. When her white mother, a civil rights activist, goes into hiding, Birdie, the lighter-skinned of two daughters, goes with her. The traumatic leave-taking not only separates Birdie from her beloved older sister but also loosens her grasp on her mixed-race heritage, a legacy that turns out to be increasingly important to her as she enters her teens.

The Winners: 1998

Bodanis, David. The Secret Family: Twenty-four Hours inside the Mysterious Worlds of Our Minds and Bodies.
With surprises and information on every page, Bodanis' book peels back the layers of our minds and bodies to reveal a churning world of tiny, invisible components, living and inanimate, in ourselves and in our surroundings, that silently and secretly affect us. By following the activities of a family—mom, dad, baby, young son, and teenage daughter—through a typical day, from breakfast to bedtime, Bodanis makes readers active partners in a mysterious and fascinating science adventure. If teens are shocked to discover that there's embalming fluid on postage stamps, just wait till they find out what's floating around the local mall.

Bragg, Rick. All Over but the Shoutin'.  921 BRAGG, R., Bra
Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize–winning correspondent, didn't start out to be a writer. In fact, he sort of fell into it. He recalls this personal journey in a rags-to-riches memoir, which begins in 1959 in Alabama, where "white people had it hard and black people had it harder than that, because what are the table scraps of nothing?" In vivid prose, by turns comic and affecting, he recalls growing up white and poor in the South, his difficult relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father, and his love for his courageous mother, who raised him and taught him what really mattered

Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America.
Carroll captures the voices of the next generation of African American women in this collection of interviews. Teenagers will hear themselves plainly and powerfully echoed in the honest, unfiltered words of fifteen young black women, who range in age from eleven to twenty. From a variety of backgrounds and in very different ways, they speak candidly about their personal lives, their race, their gender, and their future as black women. A paperback format and a winning cover adds to the YA appeal.

Cook, Karin. What Girls Learn.  COO
This poignant, honest novel calls up themes that teenagers will easily recognize from reading young-adult books—family relationships, sibling rivalry, the death of a parent. In fact, this reads as if it were written just for teens. With a fine ear for dialogue and a firm grasp on the concerns of adolescent girls, Cook tells the story of two sisters—Tilden, quiet and good; Elizabeth, the family rebel—and their relationship with their beloved mother, Frances. When Frances marries Nick, the girls must adjust; when Frances is diagnosed with breast cancer, the girls' lives change in ways they never expected.

Hamill, Pete. Snow in August.  HAM + LP
A piece of history comes to life for young adults in a vivid novel about prejudice, love, courage, and miracles. Eleven-year-old Michael Devlin lives with his widowed mother in a working-class neighborhood in 1940s Brooklyn, in the shadow of Ebbets Field. The last thing he expects to find is a friend in Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a refugee from Prague, who trades wonderful stories from Jewish folklore for lessons in English and American culture, especially the sport of baseball. When religious prejudice rears its ugly head, Michael's real world and Hirsch's fantastical one fold together in a powerful, unexpected way.

Junger, Sebastian. The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea.  910.45 JUN
In 1991, as Halloween nears, a cold front moves south from Canada, a hurricane swirls over Bermuda, and an intense storm builds over the Great Lakes. These forces converge to create the cruelest holiday trick of all, a 100-year tempest that catches the North Atlantic fishing fleet off guard and unprotected. Readers weigh anchor with sailors struggling against the elements; they follow meteorologists, who watch helplessly as the storm builds; and, by helicopter and boat, they navigate 100-foot seas and 120-mph winds to attempt rescue against harrowing odds.

Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster.  796.5 KRA
Only a handful of people have stood atop Everest. Krakauer is one of them, but the story he tells here is not of glorious triumph. Rather, it is a true account of survival and death that will grab YA readers from the very first page. Krakauer had a front-row seat to the headline-making 1996 climbing disaster that resulted in the deaths of five people, and his account of the unfolding tragedy, filled with keenly observed details, is not only a transfixing drama but also an inquiry into survivor guilt and the outer limits of human strength and responsibility.

Thomas, Velma Maia. Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation
In a cleverly designed interactive book, the creator of the Black Holocaust Exhibit relates "the pain of my people." Her simple yet descriptive words tell the story of slavery and the struggle for freedom—from the African villages to the boats, from the plantations to the end of the Civil War and Jubilee, the day of freedom. Letters and newspaper clippings personalize the story, and reproductions of documents, meant to be pulled from envelopes and pouches attached to the pages, bring the past directly into the present.

 

Trice, Dawn Turner. Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven.
Eleven-year-old Tempest doesn't like her new home in Lakeland, a planned community for African Americans. Most of her school classmates are boring, and their prissy airs anger and puzzle her. What saves her is a friendship with troubled Valerie, an outsider like herself, and the secret trips she makes each day to Miss Jonetta's liquor store on fascinating Thirty-fifth Street, where she discovers great courage and caring—and terrible secrets about the world of grown-ups and about her best friend.

 

Willis, Connie. To Say Nothing of the Dog; or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last. SCI FIC WIL
Part time travel, part mystery, part comedy of errors, this clever fantasy has lots to offer YAs, not the least of which is a chance to sink deeply into a piece of history they won't know much about. The year is 2057, and rich Lady Schrapnell has promised to finance Oxford University's time-travel project if she's assisted in her endeavors to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1940. The grueling search for church artifacts has given time-traveler Ned Henry an advanced case of time lag. But it isn't rest he gets when he's sent back to the year 1888; it's another time-traveler's mistake, which he must help correct before it alters the entire course of history.