National Book Awards

The five National Book Awards, Young People’s Literature finalists. For more on the Awards process, see the NBA website. One thing to note: when talking any award, each one is different, from the nomination process to the make-up of the selection committee to the criteria to the selection process. Comparing awards and finalists can be fun, but bottom line, often it’s comparing apples, pineapples, and pine trees.

November 16 is the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, which will feature all five Young People’s Literature Finalists at the Schomburg Center of The New York Public Library.

November 17th is the National Book Awards Dinner & Ceremony. You can follow the events on Twitter at NationalBook.

A recap of the five finalists:

Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co.)

From my review: “Ship Breaker is breathless, non stop action, with barely room to breathe. Getting lost in ships, hurricanes, deadly infections, knife battles, and that’s just the first third! The world-building is done so seamlessly that it’s not noticed. Along the way, much is given to the reader to think about. This is set in the future, but all the big questions are about our today: the divide between the haves and have nots, the ecological impact of actions, the use of child labor, as well as questions about loyalty, choice, and fate.”

Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird (Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group) – NBA Interview

From my review: “A child dying. Who understands that? Who knows why? How can anyone, adult, parent, friend, know what to do when faced with such a tragedy? It’s a community tragedy, because Devon was killed at school. Two other children shot a teacher, Devon, and another student. Erskine takes that tragedy and makes it so much worse, because of how Caitlin processes the world around her. It’s not so much that sees the world in terms of black and white as that she wants to see it in black and white.”

Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Alfred A. Knopf) – NBA Interview

From my review: “I was reading this on the train, and I was surprised to discover I had lost track of time as I was drawn into Pearl’s world and Fallbrook. Luckily, I did not miss my stop! . . . In addition to the beautifully written setting and descriptions, Dark Water is full of metaphors and connections — the types where it is left to the reader to connect the dots. McNeal respects her readers enough to know that they will figure it out.”

Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown
(Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) – NBA Interview

From my review: “Reese feels like he has no choices. But does he? And if he believes he has no choices, does that mean that once he’s released something will happen and he’ll just wind up back in Progress? If he believes fighting is freedom, will he ever be free? Myers brings you into Reese’s world and the limitations, offering no easy answers. I read somewhere that any good book ends not with an ending but a beginning. Lockdown ends with the beginning of Reese’s life.”

Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer
(Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) – NBA Interview.

From my review:  “I love the Gaither sisters! I love how they stick up for each other in public, yet get mad at each other in private. I love how they have this thing where they don’t just finish each others sentences — when taking on someone, they converse as if one, a solid family unit.”

Young People’s Literature Judges: Laban Carrick Hill, Kelly Link, Tor Seidler, Hope Anita Smith, Sara Zarr

Who will win? I have no idea. Both One Crazy Summer and Ship Breaker are on my favorite books read in 2010 list. So, obviously, I’m hoping for either of those books. One Crazy Summer dares to allow a flawed parent to not just exist, but to be loved by her children. Ship Breaker warns of a nightmare future where life has little value, but that makes living all the more important. Though I remain unconvinced that Pearl and Amiel love each other in Dark Water, I am convinced they are rea and the setting — I still think I was there, in California, as the fires burned. Reese from Lockdown stays with me, also; long after the book is over, I hear his voice . While only are in Reese’s world for a few weeks, I am caught up in wondering about not just Reese’s future but that of his sister and friends. And Caitlin in Mockingbird breaks my heart, with her wanting to connect, to be a friend, but not quite being able to. E.M. Forster said, “only connect,” and in her own fashion that is what Caitlin wants to do. Isn’t that what we all want?

Why these five books, then? The National Book Awards is decided by authors, and authors view each other’s work with a different lens than readers. The way these authors have created settings you can see, feel, touch; the way you think you can pass any of these characters on the street; the use of images, metaphor, symbolism — each book is distinctive in its own way. Being finalists shifted three of these books (Dark Water, Lockdown, and Mockingbird) to the top of my “to be read” pile, and I’m glad I read them all.


6 thoughts on “National Book Awards

  1. Out of the list I’ve only read Shipbreaker and thought it was quite good. Not a favorite read for me like it was for you, but I still enjoyed it a good deal. Quite interesting. I believe I have Mockingbird on audio, I should make the connection with that one sooner than later it seems.


  2. I wonder how MOCKINGBIRD works on audio. It’s definately a voice driven book, and if you don’t “buy” the voice, the book is a disappointment. Since the reader can make (or break) a book, I’m interested in hearing how it works.

    Moira, I was rooting for SHIP BREAKER because I love the world building.


  3. Liz, to be fair to the competition, I haven’t read either “Mockingbird” or the others. But I so enjoyed “One Crazy Summer” I was rooting for it.

    I really want to read “Shipbreaker.” I’m glad there’s a rise in interest in science fiction for young people. A few days ago I overheard a mother in a bookstore tell her son that they’d look for science fiction. He was too young for “Shipbreaker,” or I would have mentioned it.


  4. Moira, that is how I feel about most of the Newbery discussions — I root for one book, because it’s the only one of the discussed books I’ve read. SHIP BREAKER is so great from a science perspective, and it shows you can have science fiction without spaceships.


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