2011 Alex Award Winners Announced

I just got back from San Diego, California, where the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting was held this year. 

I was there to meet with my eight colleagues on the Alex Award committee.  We had to determine this year’s winners in time for them to be announced at the annual Youth Media Awards press conference at the crack of dawn Monday morning, January 10, 2011.  We had met once before in person in Washington, DC at the ALA’s Annual Conference during the summer of 2010, but we had been reading and emailing each other about hundreds of possibilities all year.

If you have been reading Indy Theatre Habit from the beginning, you may remember my posts about the 2010 Alex Award winners and the 2009 Alex Award winners.  I also served on the committee that determined the 2008 Alex Award winners but they were announced right before I started this blog.

And yes, yes, I know that this is a theatre reviews blog, not a book reviews blog, but hey, it’s my blog, and this was my last year to serve on the Alex committee, and so I say that I’m going to give you one more list of books that you might enjoy reading on Monday nights when most theatres around here are dark.

The Alex Award is given to up to ten new books that were written for adults but which have potential appeal for teens, too.  Don’t worry if you are not a teenager or, for that matter, a literary snob.  I like to think of the Alex winners as books that hang together well enough for English teachers but which are enjoyable enough for the rest of us to read just for fun.

Here are the ten books that won the Alex Award this year, in order by author’s last name:

The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel, written by Alden Bell, published by Holt Paperbacks, a division of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

I wept at the end of this unusual adventure story about life, death, and hope.  The main character, Temple, is a feisty young woman who may not know who her parents were and she may not be able to read but she can wield a knife and admire beauty even with blood and guts in her hair.  This is so much more than an apocalyptic “zombie book.”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel, written by Aimee Bender, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

I didn’t know this was magical realism until someone else called it that.  I bought into it right from the beginning.  The main character in this story tastes people’s emotions when she eats their food.  This is both burden and blessing, but mostly burden.  That’s why she likes to eat only vending machine cookies: all she can taste in them is the specific factory they came from.  But a person can’t live on vending machine snacks forever…

The House of Tomorrow, written by Peter Bognanni, published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of the Penguin Group.

This is a funny novel about friendship. A homeschooled boy and his grandmother live an isolated life in a dome-shaped glass house designed by her hero and former lover, futurist R. Buckminster Fuller.  The boy interacts only with tourists until one day his grandmother has a stroke.  At the hospital he meets a very angry boy from a family that is dysfunctional in other ways.  So of course the two boys start a band.

Room: A Novel, written by Emma Donoghue, published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Five-year-old Jack has always lived with his mother in Room.  They play games, watch TV, lie on their backs and look up at Skylight…their days are full.  At night, before Old Nick comes to make noises with his mother on Bed, Jack goes into Cupboard to sleep.  Room is all there is.  Until one day Jack’s mother tells him that there is more, and it is up to him to help them escape.  Yes, this is a nightmarish abduction story but it is also a hope-filled rescue and rehabilitation story, told in Jack’s unique and completely lovable voice.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel, written by Helen Grant, published by Delacorte, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

“My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.”  Is that a great first line or what?  This creepy-but-not-gory mystery is set in Germany and offers a lot of good food for thought about national stereotypes, bullying, and more.  Also appealing, especially for those of us who love traditional storytelling, are the references to Grimm fairy tales.

The Radleys, written by Matt Haig, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

I thought I would never want to read another vampire book, but oh, my goodness, I loved this quirky one!  The Radleys seem like an ordinary British family until one night at a party, a boy attempts to rape the teenaged Radley daughter.  In defending herself, she sprouts fangs and discovers what her parents have neglected to mention: they are a hereditary family of “abstaining” vampires.   No wonder none of them truly enjoys tea.

The Lock Artist, written by Steve Hamilton, published by Thomas Dunne Books for Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

I guess one could call this “crime fiction” but as with many of the Alex winners this year, this book is so much more than its genre.  The narrator in this story has not spoken since he was nine years old.  He is a man writing from jail now, flipping back and forth between stories of how he got started as a “box man” for robberies when he was a teen, and the story of how he got caught, and the story of how he fell in love and, maybe, how it saved him.  There is fascinating stuff in his stories about how to unlock safes and how to draw comics, with wonderful food for thought about many kinds of communication and trust.

Girl in Translation, written by Jean Kwok, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group.

This is an ultimately feel-good story that reads like a memoir.  It is about a Chinese immigrant girl and her mother.  They live at the mercy of mean relatives in a slum in New York City but they never give up working and hoping for something better.

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, written by Liz Murray, published by Hyperion.

Okay, I confess that I have not read this one yet.  What can I say?  I had a hard time getting hold of a copy and there were always a million (it seemed) other contenders that I also needed to read.  However, a majority of the committee members did read this true story and voted it as one of their top ten of all of the books we read, so I am looking forward to reading it, too, as soon as my name comes up on the waiting list for it at my library.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, written by DC Pierson, published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House.

A member of the Teen Library Council at my local public library turned me on to this science-fiction-y novel about (see title) before it ever came up in Alex committee conversations.  When I finished reading it, there were sticky notes all over it, marking language excerpts that had delighted me with their specificity and creativity.  It has an outsider teen protagonist telling his coming-of-age story in a straightforward plot while he is still a teen (as opposed to looking back from middle-age or whatever) and there are no parents around, so I couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t been published as a YA novel…except that the protagonist (and therefore the author and his publisher?) thinks that YA fiction is “dusty” (p. 99.)  I said, “Grr!” when I read that, and I wanted to shout, “How much YA lit have you actually read, buck-o?” But then I thought, “What the heck.  If teens find this through it being an Alex winner, that’s good enough for me.”  It is a fun read.

For the full press kit about the Alex winners and the other ALA youth media awards (e.g. Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.) that were announced Monday morning, please go to:

http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/mediapresscenter/presskits/youthmediaawards/alayouthmediaawards.cfm

For just the press release please go to:

http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048

For the first time this year, the Alex committee also created and shared a “Vetted List of Nominations.”  Unlike last year, this is not a list of all of the books that were nominated.  It is a much tighter list: 25 books that the majority of this year’s committee members think are also noteworthy adult books with potential appeal for teens.  Here is a direct link to that list:

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/alexawards/2011nominations.cfm

Serving on the Alex committee for four years was a mind-boggling amount of work but it was also a pleasure and a privilege.  It was an exhausting and exhilerating experience that I will always treasure.  I wish all new and future members lots of good luck!

Okay, now I’m going back to writing about live theatre in the Indianapolis area.  My next post will be about Broadway Across America’s touring production of “9 to 5: the Musical.”  I saw it Wednesday night; it is at Clowes Hall through this Sunday.  It is a fun show!

‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

(Photo of the stack of 2011 Alex winners above was taken by me with my trusty iPhone early last Sunday morning, when the Alex committee came back in the room after waiting for our secret ballots to be counted.  We were delighted to learn that we had reached a consensus.  Now “all” we had to do was write the official annotations for the winners, decide on the titles that would go on the official vetted list of other nominations, and write annotations for those books as well.  Whew!  But somehow it all got done in time for us to meet our deadlines.  Yay!)

4 thoughts on “2011 Alex Award Winners Announced”

  1. I really want to thank you and the other members of the committee who chose GIRL IN TRANSLATION as one of the winners. This award has a special place in my heart because I searched for answers (and hope) in books when I was a teenager, and it would mean a lot to me to do the same for another young person.

    Best,
    Jean

  2. Thanks for the book list. Theater is not that far from literature and we need to be involved in it all.

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