Back in January I wrote about one of my favorite memoirs, Jesus Land, which was also named an Alex Award winner. This month, I want to talk more about the Alex Award because there are some fantastic books highlighted each year, books that might escape many teachers and readers.
The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have particular appeal to young adults (ages 12 through 18). “Titles are selected by the YALSA Adult Books for Young Adults Task Force from the previous year's publishing and are part of the Adult Books for Young Adults Project, which explores the role of adult books in the reading lives of teenagers” (http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/alex-awards).
The list is a goldmine in terms of depth and breadth of titles—fiction and nonfiction across many genres—that have also made numerous bestseller and award lists. In addition, many of the titles have gone on to be made into popular feature films such as The Martian (2015), The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea (1998), Room: A Novel (2011), The Blind Side (2007), Flags of Our Fathers (2001), and The Girl With a Pearl Earring (2001), just to name a few. For a complete list of winning titles see http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/awards/231/all_years.
Ivory Walker writes about My Friend Dahmer—2013 winner; Parker Furman describes Juvenile In Justice—2013 winner; Chelsie Allender comments on Those Who Wish Me Dead—2015; Hadassah Jean Philippe writes about Mr. Pip—2008
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Teenagers are into some pretty interesting and weird things. Some of those things involve crimes, or serial killers, and graphic novels. There’s just something about them that hooks us and drags us in. The graphic novel My Friend Dahmer combines these things. The novel is from the point of view of Derf Backderf, a “friend” of the famously known killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. In this book you follow the teenage years of Dahmer and learn what his life was like and how he started out.
As James Ellroy, the American crime writer (e.g., L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia), describes it: “A solid job. Putrid serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s origins are explored in this fine book. Dig it- it’ll hang you out to dry.”
Reading it brought a cluster of emotions: anger at Dahmer’s tormentors, disgust at what he was doing, and, of course, sadness and heartbreak from the life he was living as a teenager and the reasoning behind why he did what he did.
Other teens would enjoy this book because it follows Dahmer throughout his younger years. It amazes me, and others too, when as you’re reading this story you think about how this could have actually happened.
Juvenile In Justice by Richard Ross
This documentary style book gives the reader a visual experience of the day in the life of a juvenile in the detention system of the United States. There are dialogues between the kids and the author that give a first-hand account of how life is for these young people--the day to day struggles they must face, the feeling of isolation in their cells, and the idea that they have no one out there who is willing to help them. The pictures drive home these ideas and really fill the reader’s mind with a glimpse of life inside and a voice crying out for someone.
For a young adult, reading a book like Juvenile in Justice would invite them to open their minds up to think about more than themselves. As young people, myself included, we fall victim to our own self interests. We shut the world out and don't understand much of our neighbors’ hardships. These neighbors would be those in juvenile detention. They are just like you and me. But one thing sets us apart: these kids have been through hell and have not had a voice nor a helping hand to escape such a place. This is something the majority of us are grateful we do not have to experience. However, for those who are less fortunate, they become just another statistic. That is not right.
After reading this book and getting a view of what these kids must endure without anyone to be there for them is heart breaking. Yes, there are some very troubled children in these establishments, but the way we go about dealing with them has proven to only make things worse. I know that after reading this, it makes me want to do something to reform the way our government deals with such matters. These kids need a voice and who else better to help them then the next generation.
Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a thriller written by Michael Koryta that will strongly appeal to both children and adults. In this novel, a teenage boy witnesses a horrible murder and must obtain a new identity. To protect him, he is hidden away in a wilderness skills program for problematic teenagers. This plan was supposed to keep him away from the killers until they were caught by the police; however, “the result is the start of a nightmare.”
The intense action and unexpected events are substantial enough not only to keep a teenager entertained but also longing to see what will happen next. Throughout the novel, the reader is kept on their toes and is easily consumed with the fast-paced plot. I recommend this book to anyone seeking adventure and excitement.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2007, and it won the Commonwealth writers’ prize for one of the best books of the year. As a girl 16-years of age, I really enjoyed that book. It is a great novel that teenage girls of all ages would love and enjoy reading. Although it might seem like a documentary because of the mention of civil wars, it relates greatly to teenagers’ worries today.
The novel is the story of a girl caught in the throes of war on the island of Bougainville. It is through the guidance of her devoted but strict Christian mother and teacher (Mr. Watts) that Matilda survives but, more importantly, through her connection with Pip, a fictional creation in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Pip helps Matilda maintain a desire to live, especially after her mother, the wise Mr Watts, and her island home cease to exist. Matilda becomes a teacher in Australia in order to fulfill her dream and educate people but to also keep the memory of Watts alive.
There is always a story behind the success of a person, and behind that story, someone. Someone who at one point in your life, when everything was upside down, supported you, listened you, advised you, became a model to you, or did an action that completely changed your way of thinking about your life and brought you to a new path that makes you the successful person you are today. This “someone” might not be physically with you; it can be an actor from a movie or a person from a book, and through their actions or words totally change your life.