Each quarter, the Selected Lists teams compile the titles that have been officially nominated to date. These books have been suggested by the team or through the title suggestion form, read by multiple members of the team, and received approval to be designated an official nomination. At the end of the year, the final list of nominations and each Selected List’s Top Ten will be chosen from these titles.
The City Beautiful. By Aden Polydoros. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, $19.99 (9781335402509).
Amidst the glitz and glamour of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Alter Rosen, a gay, Jewish, Romanian immigrant teen, becomes possessed by the dybbuk of his murdered friend and must avenge the deaths of his friend and a growing number of other local Jewish boys.
Curses. By Lish McBride. Penguin Random House/G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, $18.99 (9781984815590).
When Merit refuses to marry a prince, she is cursed to live as a beast. Tevin’s family runs cons on rich girls, but when his mom runs afoul of the beast she trades him for her freedom. This fresh, gender-bent Beauty and the Beast retelling examines what “beastly” really is.
When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication Date: March 9, 2021 ISBN: 9781534468214
This is it. Senior year. And all Beth wants is to be with her friends as much as possible. Bonded long ago through their shared orchestra experience, Sunny, Jason, Brandon, and Grace are all the family Beth needs. She’s determined to keep them all together and connected, this year and beyond, even if it means losing herself. And she’s also secretly harboring a major crush on Jason.
When Beth and Brandon accidentally witness Jason’s father assault him, Beth is heartbroken that none of them had any idea what he was going through. As Jason spirals into anger and depression, she anxiously tries to both fix him and hold the whole group together. As often happens in senior year though, each friend must choose their own adventure and find a way to hold on to each other as they go forward.
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.
I laughed cried and marveled at Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the biography of Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and was amazed by the thought Fred Rogers put into each episode and the range of current topics he addressed. He looked nerdy and trained as a Presbyterian minister; he was a man on a mission. He chose children’s television as his means to nurture young children and help them make sense of the world. He was very concerned about people’s feelings and making personal connections with his viewers, speaking directly to them and looking into the camera as if looking into their eyes. I think a teen Fred Rogers would enjoy books that do the same sort of thing.
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert Hyperion Books Publication Date: April 10, 2018 ISBN: 9781484726020
Danny Cheng knows what his future holds- a scholarship to RISD and a career as an artist, with the complete support of his parents. When Danny’s father loses his job as a scientist and inexplicably takes a job as a security guard instead, Danny starts digging into his parents’ past, hoping to learn more about their journey from China, and the death of his older sister before he was born.
Conviction is the story of Braden, a teen baseball phenom who has to contend with not just his father’s expectations for sports stardom, but his estranged brother, and his looming testimony in his father’s trial for the murder of a police officer.
Kelly, congratulations on your Morris nomination for Conviction! When did you start writing or know you wanted to be a writer?
Thank you! It’s such an honor, especially to be in the company of Anna-Marie McLemore, Becky Albertalli, Leah Thomas and Stephanie Oakes, extremely talented women (and lovely people) who’ve written truly incredible books that are all must-reads. I got to read both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Weight of Feathers before they came out, and I remember thinking to myself, oh man, 2015 is going to be a banner year for YA if there ever was one. (And I really think it was!)
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been able to read, and the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote was in third grade–I wrote it in my favorite fine-tipped turquoise Crayola marker, and it was concerned primarily with the bedroom of my main character–thinly-disguised wish fulfillment, of course (a canopy bed! A fish tank! An art corner with tons of supplies!). And then I wrote all through my school years, mostly novels (well, “novels”) but occasionally short stories, too.
As someone who is familiar with conservative/evangelical Christianity, I thought you portrayed the nuances of that sub-culture very well. Can you tell us a little bit about writing either from a similar background or research that you did?
I definitely think ‘conservative/evangelical Christianity’ has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it’s one I’ve always felt fluent in–I grew up going mostly to a very pentecostal church in the late 90s/early 2000s, the heyday of Christian phenomena like True Love Waits and Christian boy bands and, like, shirts like this “His Way” shirt. I think the landscape of American Christianity is changing a lot and is much more varied and diverse now, and I know personally faith (which is still a huge part of my life) looks different to me now than it used to. There are many wonderful things from my church growing up that I hope I always hold onto, but at the same time I don’t necessarily believe a lot of the things I did then, and sometimes now I feel like the longer I believe the more questions I have. My current pastor said once that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, and that really resonated with me in a way I think I would’ve dismissed entirely when I was younger.
But for Conviction I wanted to return to that particular sort of faith where everything feels black and white and certain, because I also remember what it felt like to believe that rightness mattered so much, that your highest duty to God was to fall always on the correct side of things. It was important to me to write a story that dealt with faith in a way that felt honest and complicated and nuanced, and so I wanted Braden to have to grapple with what it was like to experience a true crisis of faith–to find that nothing in the world was what he’d always taken for granted, and to have to figure out where that left him. I love reading about people’s journeys and experiences with their respective beliefs, and I’ve read a lot of honest, raw stories about people who left their faith, but (at least when I thought about books I’d read about young people) I didn’t feel like I’d read as many about people whose faith in its current form became untenable and yet they still found shards to cling to and rebuild into something else. And Braden’s faith is really real and defining to him, even if it’s built on certain questionable foundations, and so I didn’t think that ultimately it would be something he’d walk away from entirely; I felt it would be something he’d always have to come to terms with.
Another of the things that I found Conviction does really well is show the truth behind the carefully constructed facade of many families. Braden’s family has many dysfunctions – violence, abuse, lies, bigotry – and Braden struggles to see and understand all of them. What promoted you to write about such heavy topics?
You know, it’s funny, I didn’t actually set out to write many of those from the beginning, but as I was getting deeper and deeper into the characters and asking why each one was the way they were, thinking about their backgrounds and their world views, a lot of those things came up (and then I think a lot of them are inextricably tied together–abuse and a cycle of violence, et cetera). And many things, particularly many of the family’s secrets, were discoveries along the way.