Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Thumbs Up 2019

It's Thumbs Up time!!! If you missed my post about this last year or if you are not a Michigan librarian the Thumbs Up is an award given by the Michigan Library Association to the top teen book of the year. Unlike the majority of literary awards the Thumbs Up also includes a teen vote. A committee of Michigan youth librarians reads a ton of books (and, yes, I mean that literally) and whittles it down to ten nominees. Teens are then encouraged to read the top ten books and vote for their favorite online.
There were so many amazing teen books published in 2018 that narrowing it down to only ten titles was not an easy task. Overall, though, I think that the committee came up with a list of nominees that is diverse in characters, plots, settings, and genres. I think that there is really something that every reader will enjoy.

Without further ado, here (in no particular order) are the ten nominees for the 2019 Thumbs Award:

1. Sadie by Courtney Summers
And it begins, as so many stories do, with the body of a dead girl.

Sadie is one of those books that even months after finishing I still keep thinking about. Part of what makes Sadie stand out is its unique format. The story has a dual narrative. The first being by a investigative reporter doing a podcast about a girl, Sadie, who went missing soon after that the violent murder of her younger sister. In between podcasts and the reflections of the reporter are flashbacks written from Sadie's point of view.

We have all watched true crime shows like 48 Hours or Forensic Files that go behind the scenes, so to speak, of a major crime.   Sadie takes the premise of these shows and turns them upside down by transforming the silent victim into a courageous and compelling heroine.

I read Sadie, but I have been told that the audiobook version is amazing.  In fact Sadie was the recipient of the 2019 Odyssey Award, which is given to the most outstanding audiobook for children and teens each year.

Whatever format you choose, Sadie is not a book to miss. You will cry, rage, and, most importantly, hope for a future in which Sadie, and all indomitable young women like her, find peace and happiness.

2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
So, we all have genres that we prefer to read and fantasy is mine. I actually first heard about Children of Blood and Bone when Jimmy Fallon announced that it was going to be the inaugural book for his Tonight Show Summer Read.  First, let me get out of my system how awesome it was that a popular late night show promoted reading and chose a young adult fantasy written by a Nigerian-American woman. Honestly though, I do not think that Children of Blood and Bone even needed the extra publicity, because Adeyemi's writing, world building, and characters in this first book of the Legacy of Orishi trilogy are phenomenal.

Years ago the king of Orisha attempted to eradicate magic from the land by slaughtering the majority of adult magi (wielders of magic). Those left behind, easily identified by their white hair, have lost all connection to magic and are despised and disenfranchised. It is up to Zelie, who witnessed the brutal murder of her mother, to restore not only magic but peace and balance to Orisha.

Not only is Children of Blood and Bone fresh and exciting with a kickass heroine, I cannot express how important I think it is to see African mythology and characters in fantasy literature. Let's be honest, there are not very many black characters in fantasy, let alone main characters. I understand that as a white woman I can never truly understand the importance of representation, but I believe that there should be more diversity in all genres of books. I remember once having a conversation with a good friend and her telling me that just because she is black doesn't mean she only wants to read about the Underground Railroad or the Civil Rights Movement. Don't get me wrong, those are incredibly important stories to tell, but there needs to be more horror, more mysteries, more fantasies, more stories of every genre featuring all kinds of people.

3. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
What would you do if someone you loved did something despicable? That is is the dilemma Mara faces when her beloved twin brother is accused of raping his girlfriend. Everyone, including her parents, expect Mara to stand by Owen. How can Mara be a supportive sister when she believes Hannah's version of events?

Girl Made of Stars is an important story of sexual assault and the courage it takes for victims to come forward. Blake examines the scrutiny, harassment, and skepticism that sexual assault victims frequently encounter from peers, law enforcement, community members, and even family.

4. I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall
I have been describing I Am Still Alive as Hatchet on steroids. Seriously, if you loved Gary Paulsen's Newbery Medal winning book about a young boy stranded in the Canadian Rockies following a plane crash you should check out I Am Still Alive.

After losing her mother and suffering severe injuries in a car crash Jess is sent to the Canadian wilderness to live with the father she has not seen in a decade. Embittered and grieving Jess has no interest in adapting to her new home. However, when her father is murdered and their cabin burned Jess must learn to survive on her own and quickly before the arrival of the harsh northern winter.

Even though it made me cry like a baby for days, I Am Still Alive was one of the best books that I read last year. Marshall made me feel like I was right beside Jess in a snow covered forest, alone, desperate, and unsure if I could endure another day.

5. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
This is probably the most "lighthearted of the titles on this list. That being said The Prince and the Dressmaker addresses significant issues such as gender identity and acceptance. The story is set in 19th century Paris and Prince Sebastian's parents are desperately hoping to marry him off. Sebastian is less interested in brides than in setting the Paris fashion scene on fire as the daring Lady Crystallia. Aiding Sebastian is his friend, Frances, a young and talented designer. A rift grows between the two, though, when Sebastian asks Frances to put her own dreams on hold in order to maintain his secret. 

If you are not familiar with Jen Wang, I hope that you will pick up The Prince and the Dressmaker or check out some of her other work. If you are a gamer, In Real Life, which was written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Wang is awesome! Wang's artwork is unique and fun and sure to appeal to teens. The Prince and the Dressmaker uses her engaging and lively artwork and storytelling to deliver a message that is relevant to today's teen readers.

6.The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
I know that novels in verse are a hard sell. I even wrote a whole post about novels in verse hoping that more kids and teens would check them out.  I do talk a lot about The Poet X in that previous post so I do not want to repeat myself too much here. Let me just say that I read The Poet X in less than a day and the majority of that was on my phone which I was holding in one hand while I pushed my toddler on a swing with the other. That is one of the great things about novels in verse (especially good ones); they do not take very long to read.

If you do not want to take time to read The Poet X, the audiobook is read by the author and since she is famous for performing at poetry slams I cannot imagine that it is anything less than fantastic.

I feel like I learned so much reading The Poet X. About Dominican culture, Catholicism, New York City, and also the wonderful outlet that poetry can be for teens to express themselves. It may be out of your lane, so to speak, but please give it a go. Literature (in all genres and all formats) is a way for us to connect to people, ideas, cultures, places, etc. that we may never have the chance to experience in person.

7. I Have the Right To:  A High School Survivor's of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope by Chessy Prout and Jenn Abelson
I am going to be honest. While reading a good portion of this book, which is set in an elite ninth through twelfth grade boarding school , all I kept thinking was "Where the hell are all of the adults!!!!"  This is the autobiographical account of a young women, Chessy Prout, who while a freshman is targeted and raped by a senior boy. As a mother of young men and a young woman I Have the Right To was incredibly difficult for me to read. First off, if I found out that any of my three sons were speaking of or treating women like the boys at this school I would be really pissed and ashamed, like I had failed as a mother to teach them basic morality. As a mother of a daughter a part of me wants to say "you need to be smarter and more careful", but then I am angry that I feel like I need to place the responsibility on her. Why do we place all of the blame on girls? Just because a girl goes on a date or is alone with a boy does not mean that whatever he chooses to do is her fault.

This book is all about addressing the culture that says girls need to be constantly vigilant because boys will be boys. And that is a major discrepancy that needs to be addressed and changed (at least in my opinion ). I cannot express the admiration I feel for Chessy who because she was only fifteen could have remained anonymous. She chose to tell her side and bring into the light how society has enabled this behavior from our young men. We can and should expect more.

8. Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
This was another tough book for me that I could not stop thinking about weeks after I finished it. As a parent we also become so close to our children's friends. What would I do as a parent if I saw something wrong with one of my child's friends? Would I intervene? I hope so. Monday's Not Coming is a tragic and powerful story of friendship, abuse, and poverty. I feel like if I go into the details of the plot I will give too much away. All I can say is you should definitely read this book. It will make you think and cry and think and cry some more.

9. Dread Nation by Jessica Ireland
Jessica Ireland wrote and alternate ending to the civil war involving zombies and it totally worked.  Not just worked, but was amazing! I still am in shock that I enjoyed Dread Nation as much as I did because, to be honest, I think that zombies have been a bit overdone lately.

In the midst of the civil war the dead, both gray and blue, begin to walk and they do not care who they kill. In this new world racism only strengthens its grip on America when it is deemed that negroes remain little more than slaves, expendable soldiers that can protect whites from the zombie plague.

As a young, black woman the best Jane can hope for is  to become a companion, a trained fighter paired with a white lady of society to protect her from zombies. Jane's penchant for breaking rules and questioning authority already makes becoming a companion a near impossibility but when she begins investigating missing families she is entrenched in a conspiracy that will have her struggling just to stay alive.

Action packed and weird yet still a dramatic and poignant commentary on racism in America Dread Nation will have you on the edge of your seat.

10. A Heart in a Body of the World by Deb Caletti
A Heart in a Body in the World is why you should never judge a book by its cover or its title. Even when other librarians told me how amazing this book was I did not want to read it. It just did not look or sound interesting to me and the title is so long and cheesy. Honestly, by that title I assumed it was a typical teen romance that was going to be high on angst and low on actual plot. I could not have been more wrong. A Heart in a Body in the World is beautifully written and thought-provoking story about gun violence, the #MeToo Movement, PTSD, and so much more.

What do we teach our daughters? To be polite and friendly, but not too friendly. What is the difference between being polite and flirting? Are we afraid of being labeled a tease or a bitch? A Heart in a Body in the World made me think of all these questions. Unfortunately, I still don't have the answers, but I hope that this novel at least starts the conversation.

Well that is the 2019 Thumbs Up top ten. I hope that you will read at least a couple of them and if you do please vote at Happy reading:)