2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Final Check In

yalsa morris nonfiction seals

This is it! There are less than 24 hours until the Youth Media Awards at the American Library Association Midwinter conference. (Watch the livestream here.) Tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM Eastern, everyone will find out which book won the 2014 Morris Award and which won the 2014 Excellence in Nonfiction Award. (Among other awards.) Did you read all the nominated titles? Congratulations! Please fill out the form below and give yourself a big pat on the back. If you didn’t read as many as you hoped to, that’s OK! You can still read them after tomorrow.

And keep your eyes on The Hub where we will soon announce the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge, encompassing all of YALSA’s 2014 award winning books and finalists, as well as top ten lists, the Schneider Family Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award.
Happy Almost Youth Media Awards Day, everyone! It’s our own Librarian Oscars! Can’t wait to hear about (and read) the winners.

~Geri Diorio, currently reading Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George

Morris Award Finalist: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Carrie Mesrobian is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award for her debut novel, Sex & Violence.  The award Photo Dec 03, 4 17 40 PMhonors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

Evan Carter has moved around from one town to another his entire teenaged life. His father, a Ph.D in math and computer science, is hired by clients all over the country and he drags Evan along. Not since Evan’s mom died when Evan was 11 has his dad really been present in Evan’s life in any sense. Evan, nearly 18, is used to his dad’s distance because he’s got other preoccupations – girls. Even though he might be the new guy at all his schools, he’s never had any trouble meeting and hooking up with them. He even has a strategy and can profile a girl as “The Girl Who Would Say Yes.” That’s worked well for him until he hooks up with the wrong girl named Collette at his Charlotte, NC school and finds himself nearly killed after her ex-boyfriend and another guy savagely assault him in the school’s communal showers. Afterward, Evan and his father move to the family lake in rural Pearl Lake, Minnesota so Evan can recover from a multitude of injuries, including a broken nose & ribs, hearing loss in his left ear and the removal of his ruptured spleen.

During the spring and summer at the lake he has the chance to hang out with other local teens his age. They are celebrating their last summer before college doing “last things” they haven’t done before. Evan tries to fit in with them and pretend everything’s okay but he’s quiet and withdrawn and is suffering from PTSD. Therapy helps but he’s still unable to shower inside so the lake becomes his nightly bathtub. He’s also obsessed with having short hair since when he was beaten up it was long and easy for his attackers to grab. Continue reading Morris Award Finalist: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Morris Award Finalist: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Charm & StrangeStephanie Kuehn is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award with her debut novel, Charm & Strange.  The award honors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

This story is about the struggle of Andrew Winston Winters and will keep you guessing to the end.  We know his family suffered a tragedy and that he was somehow involved.  His brother and sister are dead and he was shipped off to a boarding school.  Before the traumatic event he was known as Drew.  After that he goes by his middle name, Win.  Win excels in science.  The title gets its name from both the names of quarks and how people see Win.  Some find him charming, but most will agree he is strange.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the present and the past.  The present is “matter” and the past is “anti-matter.”  Kuehn does an excellent job weaving the details of Win’s current war within himself while giving us clues to his past.  Win has some serious anger issues and is prone to violence.  In one instance, he takes it out on a boy who beats him at tennis.  Win’s family is full of secrets that will have the reader wondering whether they have supernatural powers or issues with abuse.  Win has problems with his roommate.  Kuehn weaves the details of their relationship as she develops both characters.

It is too simple to call this a werewolf book.  The book is beautifully written.  I read through the book quickly because I had to know what happens next.  Readers who like more cerebral supernatural fantasy will eat this one up.

-Kris Hickey, currently reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

I am happy to continue our series of 2013 Morris Award finalist interviews with a chat with Elizabeth Ross, author Belle Epoque. Check out Alegria’s review of Belle Epoque, the story of a plain girl hired to become a beauty “foil” for an attractive society girl in 1880s Paris. Elizabeth was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel and even provided us with some pictures used in her research!

In Belle Epoque’s afterword, you mention that Emile Zola’s story ‘Les Repoussoirs’ in part inspired the story, but what made you want to set the book in this time? What do you think is so fascinating to many people of this time in history, and especially in Paris? I’m thinking the enduring love for the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec and other Post-Impressionists, and the continuing romance of the bohemian lifestyle. What is it about that time?

Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Paris at the end of the 19th century was a pivotal time in history. Technology, architecture, art and culture were exploding. It was the dawn of the modern age, where the ‘new’ was at odds with old ways of thinking in so many fields.

I’m glad you mentioned Toulouse Lautrec because his art was a huge inspiration for my repoussoirs. The world he painted and the Paris Zola wrote about show the ugly underbelly of a city that we usually associate with romance and luxury. These unbeautiful elements, such as extremes of class and gender inequality, helped augment the stakes and drama for my characters.

Lastly, setting my story in belle époque Paris meant I could examine lots of ideas about today’s society but disguise them in another place and time.

Continue reading An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Cat Winters

In the Shadow of the Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Continuing our author interviews of the 2014 Morris Award Finalists, we turn to Cat Winters, author of In the Shadow of the Blackbirds. Winters takes readers to deadly 1918, when the Spanish influenza spread rapidly across the globe even as World War I continued to rage. Sixteen year-old Mary Shelley Black has been send to live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason. The scene is inconceivable to contemporary teens; ordinary girls covering their faces gauze masks, ordinary boys returning from war with shredded minds and bodies. Winter’s use of historical photographs delivers an additional wallop to this powerful portrayal.

Congratulations! It’s quite an accomplishment to have your debut novel selected for the Morris Award.  In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is an excellent book on so many levels, most particularly the detailed historical setting. Is that where your inspiration for the book started, with the time period? Or was it something else?

Thank you so much! I was incredibly honored to learn In the Shadow of Blackbirds was selected as a Morris Award finalist. The news still feels surreal to me.

This book definitely started with the time period. Way back when I was twelve years old, I saw a Ripley’s Believe It or Not TV episode about the Cottingley Fairies, a real-life story of two English girls who fooled the world into believing they had photographed fairies during the tumultuous World War I period. Years later, I came across more Cottingley Fairy info, as well as the history of séances, in the 1997 Smithsonian magazine article “The Man Who Believed in Fairies,” by Tom Huntington. Ever since I read that article, I’ve been fascinated with the way WWI, the deadly Spanish influenza, and the Spiritualism craze intersected in 1918 to create a tense atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It took me quite a while to figure out how to successfully incorporate that history into a novel, but once I started focusing on the spirit photography fad of the era and decided to make my protagonist a sixteen-year-old girl, everything fell into place.

Why “Mary Shelley” Black? Is this a personal tribute to the author Mary Shelley?

Mary Shelley Black was always a strong, vivid character who first tried making her way into a couple other plot possibilities that never actually progressed beyond the idea stages. She seemed like a person whose name should start with an M, so I toyed with “Mary” and “Moira.” Once I decided she’d make the perfect narrator for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, she insisted on being called Mary Shelley Black. I know that explanation makes me sound a little like one of my spirit medium characters, but that’s truly how her name came about. I studied and loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a college undergrad, so once I knew I’d be writing from the point of view of a girl named after the author, I let a few other nods to the classic horror story slip into the book.

Continue reading An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Cat Winters