#BFYA2019 Nominees Round Up, December 14 Edition

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
ISBN: 978-0062696724 

The experiences of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 are told through the story of one unnamed teen. She lives a quiet life with her family in a villiage and dreams of testing well enough to win the award that will send her to college. Instead, she is among a large number of girls who are kidnapped; her father is killed and her brother is also taken away by Boko Haram. The girls are taken to a camp where they are taught to behave properly and are prepared for lives as wives. Her best friend embraces this new life; other girls resist, sometimes losing their lives as a result. The girl describes her life as wife to a stranger, the challenge of fitting into her new community, and her attempts to escape.

The girl’s experiences are drawn from interviews with real-life survivors of the events in Chibok. Simple, spare language describes the anguish of seeing family members killed, the fear during the long journey into the deep forest, and the hope for rescue, giving a voice to the women and stories that went untold and were otherwise silenced during this terrifying event. An extended author’s note explains the history of the Chibok kidnapping and Boko Haram, and describes how the story came about.

This book will appeal to readers who appreciate stories pulled from the headlines or tales of surival under duress. Give this to teens who enjoyed Hostage Three, What is the What, or A Long Way Gone.

Cathy Rettberg and Kimmie DePinto


Dream Country by Shannon Gibney
Dutton Books / Penguin Random House LLC
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
ISBN: 978-0735231672 

Five generations of family history unfold against the backdrop of the founding of Liberia in Gibney’s haunting novel. The five-part book begins in present day Minnesota before moving backward and forward in time, telling the stories of young people trying to find a home while also exploring what it means to be African as opposed to African American, or an immigrant versus a member of an indigenous people. In Liberia, tensions between the founding government and native rebel forces become a bloody civil war and day to day survival becomes the primary focus. In America, teens of Liberian descent live in a world defined by slavery, or struggle to assimilate in modern times. Each of the central characters in this story seeks their own definition of home in the reality of their time.

In each time period the central characters speak in a clear voice that reflects the era and culture in which they live. Liberian dialect – “Liberian English” – is reflected in the stories from modern times, while the actions of women from earlier time periods show a strength that belies the social expectation of docility. Relationships between generations are illustrated with a stylized family tree at the beginning of each section. An author’s note explains the two-decade journey that led to the publication of this book; a timeline of Liberian history, a list of recommended readings and a discussion guide offer further insight into the story.

Give this book to teens who appreciate historial fiction or who are interested in stories of immigrants. Teens who enjoyed Amerianah, You Bring the Distant Near, or American Streeet will be drawn to this title.

Cathy Rettberg and Celeste Rhoads


American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott
Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
ISBN: 978-1627797412 

It’s 2008 and the financial crisis is at its peak. Teodoro’s father lost his job and his family lost their house; now they live in a small rundown rental. Things start to look up when T begins a friendship – or is it more? – with Wendy, and decides to see if he can improve his grades enough to get into the University of Washington so they can attend together. But life gets complicated when T’s brother Manny comes home from Iraq with severe PTSD. Manny’s violence and depression leave the family feeling hopeless, until T’s sister Xochitl decides to take her brothers on a summer road trip of family reconnection, self-discovery and healing.

T’s story is told through first person narration; the developing relationship with Wendy unfolds largely through text messages during T’s junior year and then during the two months of the road trip. Spanish and English conversations have just enough context to make the Spanish understandable to those who don’t speak the language. Hispanic cultural references are authentic and add to the overall atmosphere of the book. The effects of PTSD on the entire family are painfully and honestly portrayed but there is plenty of humor to balance the darker aspects of the story. The three siblings are well-drawn characters who grow emotionally during their journey; each finds a new path toward fulfillment and happiness. Final pages provide information and resources for those facing PTSD, and information about the Veteran’s Administration health care system.

Share this story with fans of road trip stories and with teens who have family or friends who have gone to war. Fans interested in the depictions of PTSD in The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson or Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss will find this book a satisfying read.

Cathy Rettberg


Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Publication Date: February 5, 2018
ISBN: 9780545156660  

After Charlie’s sharecropper father dies in a freak accident, Charlie is coerced into helping Cap’n Buck, the overseer of the next plantation over, into pay off his father’s outstanding debts. Believing he is to help Cap’n Buck collect stolen cash, Charlie finds himself on a journey through pre-Civil War America from Possum Moan, South Carolina to Detroit, and then on to Canada with the most fearsome overseer in Possum Moan, South Carolina. Soon, he discovers that he’s expected to help find escaped slaves and return them to the plantation, and on the journey, he also finds his narrow world view expanding.

Marketed for middle-grade readers, the complex dialect both sets the tone of the story and makes the tale a worthy challenge for teens who enjoy historical fiction. Told in rich prose and vibrant southern dialect, this novel addresses the pre-Civil War period from a new perspective, and through the eyes of a character that will resonate with readers who question what it means to be a good person. The novel’s exploration of the choice to be a bystander or take action is thought-provoking and timely and the dialect and dialog add elements of authenticity to an already powerful novel. This is a short novel that packs a punch, and will surely find fans with younger teens as well as older readers who enjoy strong literary novels.

Curtis included a highly readable and detailed author’s note that will appeal to young writers and historical fiction fans alike, as well as offering fodder for classroom or book-group discussion.

Hand this to fans of Christopher Paul Curtis’ other works (his characters, here, are as vibrant as ever), and of period novels such as The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

Celeste M. Rhoads and Carol Maples