Congratulations to Thanhha Lai, who was named the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature on Wednesday for her verse novel Inside Out & Back Again. There’s a great interview with Lai on the National Book Foundation website.
After all the controversy last month over the Young People’s Literature nominations (see our initial coverage and a follow-up), it was easy to forget that there was still a winner to be chosen, but hopefully now we move the focus to where it belongs: debating whether the right book won.
Personally, I was pretty surprised at first. I managed to read all of the nominees except My Name Is Not Easy, and although I like Inside Out well enough, I don’t think it really compares to Chime and Okay for Now in terms of literary excellence. On the other hand, the National Book Foundation seems to have a soft spot for books with important socio-political messages–see Claudette Colvin (2009), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), and Godless (2004) for examples. A fictionalized memoir of a young family escaping Vietnam and trying to come to terms with life in America, Inside Out definitely fits into that category.
One thing that I really appreciate about the National Book Awards is that they offer a very different view of YA literary excellence from, for example, YALSA’s Printz Award–the two awards have never gone to the same book, and only three National Book Award winners were even nominated for a Printz–and I think their emphasis on message is a great counterpoint to the Printz’s more strictly literary emphasis.
So, in retrospect, Inside Out & Back Again seems like a pretty perfect choice for the National Book Award. What do you think–did the right book win?
— Mark Flowers, currently reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente