The Reading Life: Award-Winning YA Lit

I am of the opinion that winning an award does not mean a book is actually good. I’ve read award-winners in the past that I thought were extremely overrated and not deserving of whatever award it might have been. However, there are some books in the young adult field that have won awards in the past ten years that I highly recommend.

It’s pretty easy to suggest award-winners to people; they might respond, “Oh, it won the Newbery! That means something!” These books are also pretty readily available at libraries and bookstores. For the foreseeable future, no library will be without a copy of The Graveyard Book.

Winning an award also means that the book has been vetted by librarians and/or teachers. Take from that what you will. Librarians and teachers are people with their own tastes in books, so things they like aren’t necessarily what other readers will like.

And now, without further ado, some award-winners (and nominees) that I think are worthwhile.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Newbery Medal, 2009)

This is the story about  a boy named Bod who grew up in a graveyard, and the friends he made there. Although the Newbery Medal is given to the author who contributed most to American children’s literature, this isn’t really a kid’s book. If anything, I’d say it’s a middle grade to young adult novel. You be the judge, but please read it. It is funny and lovely and sad, and if they ever try to make it into a movie, I’ll hurt someone. It’s not that kind of book.

how i live now by Meg Rosoff (Printz Award, 2005)

I’ve mentioned this book here before. It’s about a teenager, Daisy, who moves from New York to England to live with her cousins. While she’s there, in the gorgeous countryside, England is invaded by an unnamed enemy. Daisy and her family must fight to stay alive, and Daisy must ward off some unusual feelings she’s beginning to have. This is a short book (194 pages) and it packs a punch. It contains the saddest sentence I’ve ever read in my entire life. The Printz Award is given out by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), so it recognizes works intended for ages 12-18.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (Printz Award, 2006)

John Green is fantastic, and I recommend all of this books, but this one in particular. Alaska is a messed up girl at a boarding school, where she’s friends with Miles and a guy called the Colonel. The story is told from Miles’ point of view, which makes the story all the more compelling; the reader is unsure about anything Alaska says or does. This is another Printz Award-winner, and it was also John Green’s first young adult novel.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Newbery Medal, 2010)

I was really skeptical of this book at first because the premise is kind of weird: a girl in 1970s New York City is helping her mother prepare for an appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid when strange things begin happening involving her friends and the book A Wrinkle in Time. However, I finished this book in one sitting, then stared at a spot in the wall for twenty minutes because I was so amazed. If you like A Wrinkle in Time, or you are fond of sci-fi, please read this book. That’s pretty much all I can say without ruining it, except for this: I participate in a Mock Newbery Medal club at a local library, and this is the book we chose, too.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (Printz Award, 2007)

Three stories about Chinese identity ring true and awkward in this graphic novel. Yes, graphic novel. Get over it. I didn’t really want to read it, but then I finished it in a half hour and wanted it to go on forever. The story is fantastic, and there’s  a plot twist that floored me. Beyond being entertaining, American Born Chinese is a powerful story of what it means to be “Blank-American.” Fill in that blank with whatever you want. Hyphenated identities are common in the United States, but what impact do they have on young adults? Give this book to a teenage guy in your life.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Printz Honor Book, 2009)

This is a tongue-in-cheek look at boarding school and what a young woman can do when she really wants something. Frankie wants to join a secret order at her school, but it’s men-only. She won’t let that stand. The story seems to be told by an older Frankie (but that’s never confirmed). The novel is full of wordplay and satire; it’s a smart book. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award; I loved it, and not just because Frankie is from New Jersey.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Newbery Honor Book, 2010)

I championed for this book in my Newbery Medal club, but alas. It still won an honor, both in our club and in real life. You don’t find many books set in Texas at the turn of the 20th-century, and you don’t find many books for young adults where the concepts of evolution and Darwinism are woven expertly into the plot. Here’s one that fits both of those. Calpurnia is a spunky girl who has three older brothers and three younger brothers. She also has a grandfather of whom she’s afraid, but one day he takes her under his wing so they can explore nature together. Each chapter opens with a quote from Charles Darwin. This novel is sort of like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for girls… but more interesting and with less annoying dialect. Overall, I loved this book, and I think anyone who liked/loved/was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables will appreciate the main character’s spirit.

What do you think of book awards? Let us know in the comments!

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About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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