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While the 2020 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago has been canceled this year, we’ll still have an opportunity to celebrate 2020’s Printz award and honor winners at a virtual event on June 28 (for more information, visit http://www.ala.org/yalsa/events). Receiving honors this year are The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi; Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell; Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes; and Where the World Ends, by Geraldine McCaughrean. The book bringing home the medal (or rather, having its medal delivered in the mail) is Dig., by A. S. King. The read-alikes below features titles with similar themes, characters, and narrative styles for teens eager for more.
Dig., by A. S. King (Dutton)
King’s Printz winner surreally tunnels through the consciousnesses of five teens as they grapple with their identities within the context of their families and society. This character-driven, complex narrative reckons with the topics of racism, white power and privilege, and class with increasing intensity as the teens’ stories unfold and entwine.
Devils Within. By S. F. Henson. 2017. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $17.99 (9781510714564). Gr. 9–12.
After escaping a notorious white supremacist compound, 17-year-old Nate tries to live a normal life. His shadowy past and instilled racial prejudices, however, prove difficult to leave behind. This probing story is an all-too-relevant examination of the psychological underpinnings of a young former neo-Nazi desperate to change his life for the better.
I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain. By Will Walton. 2018. Scholastic/Push, $17.99 (9780545709569). Gr. 8–11.
In surrealist poetry, Walton writes an unforgettable ode to coping with grief and addiction. Avery’s summer plans are pulverized when a car accident shatters his patella, putting him on a regimen of painkillers and bed rest. Avery finds respite in poetry, through which Walton fashions a genuine portrayal of complex family dynamics.
Island. By Patrick Downes. 2019. Groundwood, $16.95 (9781773061924). Gr. 9–12.
Rad is shocked when he finds his twin brother, Key, on the cliffside platform behind their house and their father’s body on the rocks below. Could Key have killed him? The subsequent plot wanders a surreal course through Rad’s psyche, forming an interesting study of mental illness within a narrative that also makes space for love and understanding.
The Beast Player. by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (Holt)
This coming-of-age high fantasy, imported from Japan, introduces 10-year-old Elin as she is orphaned and forced to navigate political unrest, even while learning to communicate with the fearsome water serpents and flying beasts that inhabit her kingdom. The beauty and power of the natural world are at the core of this intriguing epic, rich in character, backstory, and world building.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. By Julie C. Dao. 2017. Philomel, $18.99 (9781524738297). Gr. 9–12.
Set in an East Asian–inspired fantasy realm, Dao’s debut reimagines the early life of Snow White’s evil queen. Despite her village’s poverty, 18-year-old Xifeng clings to the promise of a great destiny, foretold by her aunt, but Xifeng can only achieve it if she embraces the evil blood magic that lives within her.
A Small Charred Face. By Kazuki Sakuraba. Tr. by Jocelyne Allen. 2017. VIZ/Haikasoru, $15.99 (9781421595412). Gr. 9–12.
This thoughtful coming-of-age fable contains three linked stories about the Bamboo, Chinese vampires exiled in Japan. It begins with Kyo, a young boy raised by two vampires; continues with Marika, a Bamboo turned as a teen; and concludes in the past, with two royal teen vampires who helped their brethren escape to Japan.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings. Ed. by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman. 2018. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062671158). Gr. 9–12.
The 15 stories in this anthology of Asian myths and folktales—retold by diasporic Asian writers—are followed by statements that elucidate the tales’ varied Asian origins. The styles and subjects are as diverse as the cultures represented, with settings ranging from historical periods to imaginative sf.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (First Second)
Freddy finds herself inexorably pulled into the orbit of impossibly cool Laura Dean, even though their relationship is far from healthy and Freddy’s friendships tend to suffer as a result. In Valero-O’Connell’s pink-washed, deeply expressive artwork, Tamaki touches poignantly on themes of friendship, toxic relationships, and, most important, finding self-worth.
Bloom. By Kevin Panetta. Illus. by Savanna Ganucheau. 2019. First Second, $24.99 (9781250196910). Gr. 9–12.
Ari’s dying to leave his dead-end beach town and job at his dad’s bakery, but endearing baker Hector gives Ari’s dull summer enough sparkle that he’s beginning to reconsider his haste to leave. Rendered in a cinematic style similar to Valero-O’Connell’s, Ganucheau’s warm artwork, particularly her delicious scenes of baking, are full of romance and languorous beach fun.
Heartstopper, v.1. By Alice Oseman. Illus. by the author. 2020. Scholastic/Graphix, $24.99 (9781338617443). Gr. 7–10.
Charlie’s burgeoning friendship with affable rugby player Nick might be growing into something more, but first Charlie must extricate himself from an unhealthy relationship with controlling, toxic Ben. Oseman’s loose artwork leans on evocative gestures and body language to communicate the subtle emotional cues of her charming characters.
Little & Lion. By Brandy Colbert. 2017. Little, Brown, $29 (9780316349000). Gr. 9–12.
Back home after a year at boarding school, Suzette deals with her brother’s spiraling bipolar disorder, a burgeoning romance, her own identity, and the consequences of doing what she knows is right. Like Freddy, Suzette satisfyingly untangles complicated feelings to find pithy, illuminating moments of self-discovery.
Ordinary Hazards. by Nikki Grimes. (Boyds Mills/Wordsong)
Finding family and inner strength are at the core of Grimes’ raw and potent memoir in verse, in which she tackles topics of childhood abuse, foster care, and mental illness and discovers lifelines in writing, reading, and loving relationships.
Brown Girl Dreaming. By Jacqueline Woodson. 2014. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99 (9780399252518). Gr. 5–8.
Though Woodson’s memoir may be directed toward a younger audience, its haunting, eloquent poetry reaches beyond such constraints. As she beautifully relays her young years, Woodson gives context to her life as she recalls racial discrimination as well as the civil rights and Black Power movements.
On the Come Up. By Angie Thomas. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $18.99 (9780062498564). Gr. 9–12.
Bri’s talent as a rapper is undeniable, but her drive to make a name for herself is fueled by more than dreams of stardom; it would be a ticket out of the hood for her entire family. Thomas shows many facets of the Black identity and the Black experience, all while giving readers a resilient, dynamic protagonist to root for.
Shout. By Laurie Halse Anderson. 2019. Viking, $17.99 (9780670012107). Gr. 9–12.
In this memoir in verse, Anderson writes frankly, first about experiencing assault and trauma at a young age, then on writing, living, and reclaiming herself and supporting others through both. A captivating, powerful read about clawing your way out of trauma and learning to use your voice as the weapon it is.
Where the World Ends, by Geraldine McCaughrean (Flatiron)
In 1727, a group of men and boys go fowling on a remote Scottish sea stack and become stranded there indefinitely, fighting for survival as winter comes and wondering what disaster back home led to their abandonment.
The Bunker Diary. By Kevin Brooks. 2015. Carolrhoda/Lab, $17.99 (9781467754200). Gr. 9–12.
Brooks’ bleak, controversial, Carnegie-winning book also centers a small group of people who are forced into isolation and confronted with their darkest instincts as they struggle to survive. Ultimately more fatalistic than McCaughrean’s book, this will make for an intriguing, if disturbing, parallel excavation into the nature of humanity.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds. By Cat Winters. 2013. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (9781419705304). Gr. 9–12.
McCaughrean’s tale, which tracks those at their physical and emotional limits, is largely character study; Winters’ debut, set during the 1918 flu pandemic, likewise looks at those living through fear and containment. Together, these are stories of people pushed to their breaking points, desperate for salvation.
Wilder Girls. By Rory Power. 2019. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780525645580). Gr. 9–12.
The girls of Raxter School are quarantined on an island after they are ravaged by a horrible disfiguring sickness, but when Hetty’s best friend disappears, Hetty escapes to search for her. Like McCaughrean’s novel, this is part survival story, part examination of how isolation strengthens and warps relationships.
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