Three years ago, I sat in a locked room and deliberated with my Morris Award Committee colleagues. We laughed and argued over the merits of each of our five finalists before reaching a decision. I was teary-eyed as our winner was announced and the audience cheered. I celebrated at the Morris/Nonfiction Award Ceremony and flew home that night, exhausted.
There is something special about the Morris Award because it is given to a debut novel. I feel a special connection to the five debut authors whose work I spent a lot of time with. Sort of the way I feel about my nieces and nephews — proud, but not because I had any real part in their creation. Like a good Auntie following my siblings’ children, I have followed the career paths of the five 2016 Morris finalists. Here’s what they have been up to since 2016.
Becky Albertalli, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda
The Upside Of Unrequited (2017)
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit and Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season’s pass to the Ren Faire. There’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
Leah On the Offbeat (2018)
When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat–but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom. Even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends–not even her openly gay BFF, Simon. Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting–especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended
What If It’s Us (with Adam Silvera, 2018)
Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a show-stopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things. When Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?
Leah Thomas, Because You’ll Never Meet Me
Nowhere Near You (2016)
Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity — and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone. Along the way they meet other teens like them, other products of strange science who lead seemingly normal lives in ways Ollie and Moritz never imagined possible. Suddenly the future feels wide open for two former hermits. But even as Ollie and Moritz dare to enjoy life, they can’t escape their past, which threatens to destroy any progress they’ve made.
When Light Left Us ( 2018)
When the Vasquez siblings’ father left, it seemed nothing could remedy the absence in their lives . . . until a shimmering figure named Luz appeared in the canyon behind their house. Luz filled the void. He shot hoops with seventeen-year-old Hank’s hands. He showed fourteen-year-old Ana cinematic beauty behind her eyelids. He spoke kindly to eight-year-old Milo. But then Luz left, too, and he took something from each of them. As a new school year begins, Ana, Hank, and Milo must carry on as if an alien presence never altered them.
Wild and Crooked (coming in 2019)
Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he’s either known as the “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself. When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families’ pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar.
Kelly Loy Gilbert, Conviction
Picture Us in the Light (2018)
Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. When he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and files, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined. Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember. With a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of, it seems his path is set. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble.
Stephanie Oakes, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
The Arsonist (2017)
Molly Mavity and Pepper Yusef are dealing with their own personal tragedies when they are tasked by an anonymous person with solving the decades-old murder of Ava Dryman, an East German teenager whose diary was published after her death. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.
When the Moon Was Ours (2016)
To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. As odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, they stay away from the four Bonner sisters, rumored to be witches. They want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. They’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
Wild Beauty (2017)
For nearly a century the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds and lush estate gardens of La Pradera. They have a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. When a strange boy appears in the gardens, he is a mystery to Estrella and to her family. But he’s even more a mystery to himself. He knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, they uncover secrets as dangerous as they are magical.
Blanca & Roja (2018)
The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. Because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game. It will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan. When two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods. All four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them.
– Adrienne Gillespie, currently reading Unpresidented by Martha Brckenbrough