It’s a happy day when a reader finds a book they love. As soon as the book is closed, the instinct to reconnect kicks in, and the search is on for other books the author has written. Sometimes this leads to a rich vein of titles; other times the investigation leads to a brand new author. And sometimes the author becomes a long-time literary companion, a partner in creating the inner discoveries of a life.
The Alex Award winners play a unique role in this discovery of favored authors. In the vast universe of adult reading, these books beckon specifically to teen readers. Now that there are 150 books that have received the Alex Award, there are ample choices in a variety of genres, formats, and narrative styles.
Take Jon Krakauer, for example. As a journalist for Outside magazine, Krakauer was part of an expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1996. When a freak blizzard hit the mountain, Krakauer and fellow expeditioners were caught in a horrific struggle to survive. His first-person account, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, “will grab YA readers from the very first page,” the award committee said.
Hooked by Krakauer’s balance of detail and suspense, teens will discover his first book, Into the Wild. College graduate Chris McCandless hitchhiked into the Alaskan wilderness in an act of renunciation and a return to nature. His emaciated remains were later discovered; he had starved to death. Krakauer also authored Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. Has nonfiction ever been so gripping?
In 2002, Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague won an Alex Award. Not for the faint of heart, Wonders is about a 17th century village that is infected with bubonic plague. Many villagers wanted to bolt, hoping to escape the plague’s terrible death. But the rector convinced the people to stay isolated, to make this sacrifice to avoid spreading the contagion. Taking this moral high road does nothing to stop the bodies from piling up until the villagers are reduced to violence and superstition.
Four years later, Brooks again examines the clash between lofty beliefs and degradation in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March. While Marmee and her little women wait patiently for his return, Mr. March is experiencing the cruelties of the Civil War and the slave institution. This is the story of a man with high ideals who is crushed by the savagery of the world beyond his New England village. Most recently, Brooks has published Caleb’s Crossing, the tale of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Narrated by twelve year-old Bethia, daughter of a Calvinist minister, Brooks again turns her fine literary talent to examining the clash of belief and truth.
The 2004 Alex Award winners included Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, all of which became favorites of book clubs and summer reading lists. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi demonstrates the power of a graphic novel, even in sophisticated storytelling.
But perhaps the most delightful discovery on the 2004 list is Mary Roach. Her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a marvelous tour de force focused on a forbidden subject: dead bodies. Roach asks the nosy questions we’d all like to voice, and delivers the answers with humor and clarity. But don’t stop reading Roach there. Check out Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and for really forbidden subject matter, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. This year is bringing us Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, sure to answer questions you never knew you had.
If you have never read a Jodi Picoult book, try 2005 Alex winner My Sister’s Keeper. Heard of Neil Gaiman? Try the 2006 Alex Award winner Anansi Boys. Also in 2006, A. Lee Martinez’s gory madcap adventure Gil’s All Fright Diner and Jeanette Walls’s disturbing memoir, The Glass Castle, introduced many teen readers to new flavors of literature.
If you had read the 2007 Alex winners, you’d know about The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis long before Sandra Bullock starred in the movie. The following year, 2008, featured a nonfiction book with the amazing American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crouch; An Odyssey in the New China by Matthew Polly, as well as Patrick Rothfuss’s brilliant fantasy, The Name of the Wind. Subsequent years included Alex Award winners Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King (2009), The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Meeler (2010), Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (2010), and The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton (2011).
Have I missed any? You bet. Now it’s your turn to go out and discover some favorite authors! Take a look at the 2013 Alex Award winners!
Diane Colson, currently reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and listening to People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry and read by Simon Vance