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Overlooked: The Alex Awards August 22, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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The American Library Association established the Alex Awards in 1998. The Alex Awards are given to ten books annually, published for adults but which also appeal to teens, ages 12-18. Since then, books by many excellent authors have been honored, including Ann Patchett, Lev Grossman, Pat Conroy and Audrey Niffenegger. However, we feel that some wonderful books have been left out, either because they were published before 1998 or were just overlooked. So here is our list. If you agree or disagree with our choices, or have more to add, tell us in the comments.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (1992)

Part of the Tor Fantasy series of re-imagined fairytales, this book combines Sleeping Beauty with stories of the Holocaust. A young reporter must travel to Poland to figure out who exactly her grandmother was, and what happened to her during World War II. While it often ends up on censored book lists because of its violent themes, the compelling mystery and subtle romance make it appealing to teens.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (2002)

Cisneros is probably best known for her book The House on Mango Street, which is curriculum or recommended reading in many places. But I think this novel, narrated by Celaya Reyes who grows up between Chicago and Mexico City is an even stronger portrait of an immigrant family pulled between two countries and cultures. It’s definitely a more detailed and complicated story than Mango Street but also more rewarding for the reader.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

Dodie Smith is best known for writing 101 Dalmations (the good version, not the Disney movie!). Her first novel, however, was this elegant story of an artistic family living in an abandoned castle, set in the 1930’s. The book is written as the journals of the family’s 17 year old daughter Cassandra Mortmain, who chronicles her family’s poverty, her aspirations of being a writer and her first brush with love. This novel expertly captures the awkwardness of being an adolescent as well as the vision of a charming mid-century England.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

The outsider as protagonist is a staple of young adult literature and the search for a home is a theme that the genre shares with many adult immigrant stories. Jhumpa Lahiri, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies, tells the story of Gogol, a young Indian-American and his search for a place to feel at home. The novel covers the stories of both Gogol and his parents as they adapt to American life, grow and change over the years.

Neverwhere (1996) and American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman

Maybe the Alex Award committees thought Gaiman was getting too much love. His novels Stardust and Anansi Boys both won Alex Awards in their respective years. While these books are lovely and very appealing to teens, let’s not forget Gaiman’s other work. Neverwhere is a fantasy action tale reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland complete with murderers, angels, vampires and magical doors. In addition, while we love Anansi Boys, we both feel that American Gods is superior  in depth of theme and complexity of plot.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1979)

Classic. Whether you know every single King Arthur tale by heart or just vaguely remember he was an old guy with a sword, this book gives you a whole new perspective on a key legend. Told from the point of view of several different women, including Morgan Le Fay and Guinevere, Bradley debates questions of power, tradition, faith and sexuality. This should be required reading for every teen fantasy addict.

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