Friday, October 16, 2009

The National Book Award Finalist

In 2009, 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books for the 2009 National Book Awards. The total number of books submitted to the category of Young People's Literature was 251. Out of the 251, the following five finalists were chosen (reviews by Horn Book with the exception of Stitches):

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)

In 1838 Charles Darwin, then almost thirty, drew a line down the middle of a paper and listed the reasons for marrying on one side and the reasons for not marrying on the other. After much consideration, he opted for the former, and from his prospects he wisely chose his cousin, Emma, who was open-minded but devoutly religious. She supported her husband, even editing his work, but she feared for his eternal welfare should he follow his revolutionary theories to their logical end. Charles, in turn, was equally tortured, wanting to please his wife, wanting to believe in religion, but not at the expense of science. With great empathy and humor, Heiligman’s lively narrative examines the life and legacy of Darwin through the unique lens of his domestic life, an inspired choice that helps us understand that for all the impact his theory would have on the world, nowhere did its consequences resonate so loudly as within the walls of his own home. Here is a timely, relevant book that works on several levels: as a history of science, as a biography, and, last but not least, as a romance. A bibliography, an index, and notes are appended. j.h.

Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

It’s 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, and fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin is in the thick of things. She refuses to give up her seat on the bus (nine months before Rosa Parks) and is also one of the plaintiffs in the federal case that ends segregated buses, yet her story remains largely unknown. Hoose fashions a compelling narrative that balances the momentous events of the civil rights movement with the personal crises of a courageous young woman. Because Claudette was young, pregnant, and unwed, it was the more respectable Rosa Parks who was thrust into the national spotlight as the face of the movement. But Claudette’s story is no less inspiring, and Hoose reasserts her place in history with this vivid and dramatic account, complemented with photographs, sidebars, and liberal excerpts from interviews conducted with Colvin. Recent books have done a commendable job of exploring the civil rights movement beyond the iconic figures of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks — A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter, Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum, Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman — and Hoose’s thoughtful book now joins their ranks. j.h.

David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)

David Small’s Stitches is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. Stitches is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels. (Fran├žoise Mouly, Art Editor of The New Yorker )

Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)

Review forthcoming from Horn Book.

Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

One morning, before classes start, Trina flits by Dominique; Dominique takes it the wrong way, vowing to fight Trina after school; and Leticia happens to witness it all, but despite the urging of her friend does nothing to stop it or even warn Trina, who is oblivious to the danger. The fight goes down, with devastating consequences for both parties, and though Leticia continues to insist that “what’s going on between Dominique and Trina don’t have nothing to do with Leticia,” the reader is left to wonder what might have been had she intervened. Sandwiched between an intriguing setup and provocative conclusion are character studies relayed in alternating first-person voices. Mixed-race Trina is flirty, artistic, and just a little bit ditzy. Tough basketball player Dominique is consumed with bitterness about being benched for poor grades. Leticia is notably average — more interested in friends than in classes, more willing to go with the flow than to take a stand, but with family and school problems of her own. With Leticia’s central dilemma nearly lost in the shuffle of voices, the character studies lack a cohesive focus. Nevertheless, this latest novel from Williams-Garcia (Like Sisters on the Homefront, rev. 11/95; Every Time a Rainbow Dies, rev. 3/01) offers a piercing snapshot of three girls in an urban high school, their daily struggle to realize their hopes and dreams, and the threat of school violence to shatter them all. j.h.

YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE JUDGES: Kathi Appelt, Coe Booth, Carolyn Coman, Nancy Werlin, Gene Luen Yang

The Winner in each of the four categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and People's Literature – will be announced at the 60th National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 18.

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