Alex Awards

The Winners: 2002

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks—YA Brooks, G.

A young woman comes of age during an extraordinary year of love and death as she and her community are tested by one of the greatest catastrophes ever to befall England. This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the "Plague Village", in the rugged mountain spine of England in 1666.

 

An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, by William Doyle

When James Meredith was about 12 years old, he had a "young boy's dream of attending the football powerhouse school," the University of Mississippi. But when he became the first black student to register at "Ole Miss" in 1962, a "Byzantine legal struggle" ensued, which Doyle chronicles along with the military maneuvers by U.S. Deputy Marshals and others sent to contain the revolt by radical segregationists and hundreds of student and civilian "volunteers." The episode which Time magazine called the "greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War" collapsed into complete mayhem and violence. Doyle (Inside the Oval Office), cowriter and coproducer of the A&E documentary The Secret White House Tapes, makes extensive use of the Kennedy tapes as well as interviews with over 500 eyewitnesses and participants.

Gabriel's Story, by David Anthony Durham

In this literary debut, Durham recounts the adventures and trials of a black pioneer family in the late 1870s. At the center of the story is Gabriel, a young man who moves reluctantly from the urban North with his mother and younger brother to join his stepfather, a homesteader in Kansas. When he runs away to become a cowboy, his search for excitement brings trouble and danger.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in Boom-Time America, by Barbara Ehrenreich—305.56 EHR
Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- could be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered as a woefully inexperienced homemaker returning to the workforce. So began a grueling, hair-raising, and darkly funny odyssey through the underside of working America.  Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Peace like a River, by Leif Enger—ENG

Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.

 

The Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa's Wildlife, by Kobie Kruger—591.96 KRU

This number one bestseller from South Africa captures the excitement of Kobie and Kobus Kruger's 17 years at a remote ranger station and their adventure raising an orphaned lion cub.

 

Kit's Law, by Donna Morrissey—MOR

Kit Pitman lives with her unstable mother in a cottage on the outer banks of Newfoundland. Her life is compounded by the mystery that surrounds her illegitimate birth. Morrissey depicts the way the lines between mother and daughter, although blurred, are deeply felt. "Kit's Law" marks the debut of a new talent.

 

The Rover, by Mel Odom—YA SCI FIC Odom, M.

"The Rover" is the tale of a halfling whose life as a third-level assistant librarian is disrupted when he is shanghaied and sold into slavery in a far off land. From then on it's one adventure after another as he manages to save the day in a magically dangerous world.

 

Motherland, by Vineeta Vijayaraghavan

Fifteen-year-old Maya was born in Southern India, and spent her first four years there with her grandmother; maternal uncle, Sanjay; and his wife, Reema. She often visits them in the summer, but this year she hopes to hang out at home with her friends in New York. However, she gets into a little trouble, and her parents send her back to India for summer vacation. Her first-person narration gives readers a richly descriptive and intimate look at the domestic life of an affluent Indian family. She grows much closer to her grandmother, who helps her to understand why she feels alienated from her mother. Readers will readily identify with Maya's American cultural instincts and impulses while gaining an appreciation and respect for her Indian heritage and values. They will observe how the teen's family members interact with one another, their friends, and their servants. Maya ponders the advantages and disadvantages of dating versus the arranged-marriage process, and several well-educated adults challenge her Americanized ideas about women in the workplace. At the end of the summer, Maya returns home a much more mature and empathetic young woman.

 

Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, by Rebecca Walker

"Black, White, and Jewish" is the story of a child's unique struggle for identity and home when nothing in her world shows her who she is. Poetic reflections on memory, time, and self punctuate this gritty exploration of race and sexuality as Walker is caught between the worlds of her black mother and Jewish father.

The Winners:  2001

Chang And Eng, by Darin Strauss—STR

In this sublimely moving story of one of the 19th century's most fabled human oddities, Strauss rescues the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, from the sideshow of history, drawing from their extraordinary conjoined lives a first novel of exceptional beauty.
 

Counting Coup, by Larry Colton

Sometimes a book surprises a reader, sneaking up on him. That is just what happened with Colton!s new work. This is a great book! It!s about women!s sports; it is about high school kids; it!s about racial divisions between whites and Indians. Colton spent a year with the girls! varsity basketball ream at Hardin High School in Crow, MT. Crow is a barren town in eastern Montana, close by the Crow Indian Reservation, that lives for high school basketball. Colton, a former major league baseball player, was taken with the basketball team!s drive to gain a state championship for the first time and focused on a Crow girl who hoped to be the first girl from her high school to earn a basketball scholarship to college. Colton deals well with the racial division between the white girls and the Crow members of the team. In spending a year with the team, the author sees all the highs and lows (and there are many of both) in the ultimately unsuccessful quest for the state championship.

 

Daughter Of The Forest, by Juliet Marillier  YA SCI FIC Marillier, J.

In this first novel of a new fantasy trilogy, Sorcha, the seventh child and only daughter, is alone destined to defend her family and protect her land from a clan of the Britons.

 

Diamond Dogs, by Alan Watt

His mother walked out when he was three. His abusive father, the local sheriff in a small town outside of Las Vegas, has a violent temper when he drinks too much. Blaming his father for driving his mother away, 17-year-old Neil Garvin dreams she will come back and rescue him. In the meantime, he takes his own aggressions out on the football field, where he is the high school's first-string quarterback, and by being a bully. After a binge-drinking session at a party, Neil brutally assaults a couple of freshmen and, later, playing chicken by driving without lights, he hits and kills one of the boys he had bullied. Unasked, Neil's father covers up for him as the FBI closes in. The father-son relationship is the crux of this impressive first novel, and Neil's voice is entirely authentic as he pours out his darkest fears. A potent story with a powerful conclusion.

 

Flags Of Our Fathers, by James Bradley and Ron Powers—940.54 BRA

In 1945, six young men went from innocent anonymity to sensational national icons when they marched up the side of Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima and raised a flag. Here is their story and that of the young men from Easy Company who went on to fight the deadliest battle in American history. "The best battle book I've ever read".--Stephen Ambrose. Photos & maps throughout.

 

The Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier—CHE

With the precision and focus of an Old Master's painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" paints a vivid portrait of colorful 17th-century Delft, as well as the hauntingly poignant story of one young girl's rite of passage.

 

In The Heart Of The Sea: The Tragedy Of The Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick—910 PHI

The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the Titanic disaster was in the twentieth. Nathaniel Philbrick now restores this epic story -- which inspired the climactic scene in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick -- to its rightful place in American history.

In 1819, the 238-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, the unthinkable happened: in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, the Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, decided instead to sail their three tiny boats for the distant South American coast. They would eventually travel over 4,500 miles. The next three months tested just how far humans could go in their battle against the sea as, one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.

 

The Man Who Ate The 747, by Ben Sherwood—SHE

John Smith is a Keeper of Records for the world-famous Book of Records. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe to verify records in innumerable categories, making his work the family that he does not have. When he gets news of a man in Superior, NE, who is eating a 747, he drives there to check it out. Although gluttony records have been banned by the Committee of The Book, Smith finds that the plane is being eaten for love and asks for special dispensation from the Committee..

 

The Sand Reckoner, by Gillian Bradshaw

The moving, human account of the life of Archimedes, a brilliant young man who is blessed by all the Muses and who experiences fame and loss, love and war, wealth and betrayal--none of which affects him nearly as much as the divine beauty of mathematics.

 

Soldier: A Poet's Childhood, by June Jordan

"There was a war on against colored people," June Jordan recalls her father telling her. "I had to become a soldier." Jordan's fierce, funny, lyrical memoir of her first 12 years reveals the seeds of her adult poetry in her childhood experiences: the magical sounds of words in the nursery rhymes her mother crooned, the awareness nearly from birth of the bitter complexities of family relations. Jordan's father (depicted in a brilliantly nuanced portrait) was a proud Jamaican immigrant who encouraged his daughter to read and took her to museums and to Carnegie Hall, but also called her "damn black devil child" and beat her for the slightest misstep. He moved his family from a Harlem housing project to their own home in Brooklyn, enrolled June at a white boarding school, and fought savagely with his wife, who argued, "The child is a Black girl ... you gwine to make her afraid to be sheself!" Jordan reproduces the rhythms of West Indian speech as vividly as she captures African American culture of the 1930s and '40s in a poignant autobiography that, for all its racial particularity, tells an all-American story of the charged emotional legacy bequeathed by parents striving to give their children a better life.