Wednesday, January 30, 2013

YALSA Award Recap

Whew! That was fun, wasn't it? After getting the announcement time wrong (oh, it's AM not PM? Pacific time not eastern time???), I scrambled to find the link for the Youth Media Awards and only missed the first few minutes of the awards announcements.

This is the first time I actually watched the announcements live and holy cow were they fun. Nothing like a room full of grown-ups losing their minds after another grown-up says "[long dramatic pause] This is not my hat."

Of course, even my hefty Cybils reading load didn't ensure that I read all (or even most) of the YA book winners, but here are my thoughts on the books that I did read:

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award (recognizing an African American author)

No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, honor book: This was a Cybils nominee, and I felt a little mixed. On the one hand, it's a truly amazing story about a man, Lewis Michaux, who builds a remarkable library in Harlem that becomes a sort of literary meeting place for African American thinkers and writers. It's told in an unusual way, a series of short vignettes from different perspectives over the course of Michaux's whole life. The result was that it felt at times like a very interesting Wikipedia article, skimming the surface of Michaux's life without getting in too deep, where I felt like a book concentrating on the most interesting and important years--the height of the bookstore's influence in the fifties and sixties--could have been more powerful. But it's a quick read and, like I said, a truly interesting story, so I'd certainly recommend it and was happy to see it get this honor.

Odyssey Award (recognizing audiobook production)
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, honor book: I am perhaps biased because Beth is a good friend, but when I saw her wonderful book up on the screen, I pretty much did back flips! Also, because I'm dumb, I chose that exact moment to go to the bathroom, and wandered back into the room just fast enough to see a flash of Beth's gorgeous cover (and have a heart attack). I haven't talked enough about Beth's book here on the blog, but for the record, it's a smart, well-done, well-researched romance/mystery/ghost story/historical/mermaid book (but not the kind of mermaids you're thinking of). It's like a mash-up of awesome, and I am so so thrilled that it got a little extra attention this week. I haven't listened to the audiobook, but hearing more about it, it sounds absolutely fantastic. Narrator Katherine Kellgreen researched all the book's different languages and dialects (contemporary, nineteenth century, mermaid-talk, Native American) to get them to sound just right.

Stonewall Book Award (for books relating to the LGBT experience)
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman, honor book: I also read this one for the Cybils, and it's another out-of-the-box pick. It's a series of poems told from multiple perspectives (including inanimate objects) about the murder of Matthew Shepard. I'm old enough to remember when this happened, but I thought it was interesting that this book was targeting kids who perhaps had never even heard of him. There's a good amount of information bookending the poems for readers who want to learn more, and it struck me as a book that would also have a lot of appeal for adults.

William C. Morris Award (for a debut YA book)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, honor book: I mentioned this one in my Top Ten Books of 2012 post, and for good reason--it's just an exceptionally well-written novel that deals with a hard subject with grace and intelligence. I really could see this book getting taught in high school classrooms and college lecture halls, and I think Danforth is a stunningly-gifted writer. That a debut showed such skill and talent is remarkable, and I'm sure she'll be a big name in the YA world for a long time.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, winner: I'll go back to my post last week, where I fully admit that I'm not a fan of fantasy, even as I can recognize that Seraphina is a well-written, smart little book. A lot of people were cheering this one on, and Hartman certainly has a lot of talent (also, I think it's great that the winner of a debut is also the first in a series--more please).

Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in YA)
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, honor book: No surprise here! Verity was on so many best-of lists and was just so damn good that it would have been a crime had it not ended up on the list somewhere. It was also the only book I was able to predict because (duh) everyone predicted it! Smart, well-written, entertaining, powerful--it has everything I'd look for (and more) in a great YA read.

Verity was also the only book on the list that I'd read. Aristotle and Dante, an honor book, had a remarkable day, winning the Belpre Award (for best book portraying the Latino culture) and a Stonewall Honor, and while it's been on my TBR list for a long, long time, I haven't gotten around to it just yet.

Dodger is another one I saw around but haven't read. It was a Cybils nominee, but other judges read it and, as I recall, thought it was well-done and charming. I've also never read a Terry Pratchett book before (I know!) so here's another to add to the list!

The White Bicycle sounds really interesting (also talk about dark horse!). It's the third book in a standalone series (so, I guess maybe companion book?) about a girl with Asperger's. It sounds ambitious and complex and also seriously unknown--it has only one review on Goodreads--but I'm guessing it'll get a lot more attention now.

And ditto In Darkness by Nick Lake, which won the Printz this year! I'm not sure if this one is technically SFF (based on the summary, it seems to have some fantasy flashes), but if it was fiction, it didn't even land on the Cybils nominees list. I have a request in at the library for this one, and I can't wait to read it. The room seemed to be stunned into silence for a second when it was announced, and I imagine the general response was whaaa? Which, I have to admit, is sort of great--I love when an unknown is able to blow away the competition. And it certainly makes for an exciting list and a great conversation!

Going back to my predictions on Monday, here were the five I thought had a chance at winning:
Code Name Verity
Never Fall Down
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Verity I got right, Cameron Post got a Morris nod, Seraphina won the Morris, and Moonbird got honors for best children's and YA nonfiction. The only book I picked that didn't win anything was Never Fall Down, which I have to admit surprised me, since it addresses a really fascinating topic in a very well-done way. 

All in all, I had a blast watching the ALAYMA ceremony. It's like book Oscars! Except cute librarian glasses and sensible shoes instead of fancy gowns and diamond necklaces. Congratulations to the winners, and I hope everyone has some great picks to add to their reading list!

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