My apologies. This was supposed to post on Wednesday, 10/6, but failed to do so. Thus it became Thursday’s post.
The finalists for the 2021 National Book Award were just announced. To me, the books that make this list always feel like they are “ripped from the headlines.” I know. It sounds cliche but it is true. Five books were chosen as finalists for the category Young People’s Literature. In addition to the list of finalists, I will give you the publisher’s description and a comment or two from yours truly.
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor (Kokila/PRH)
Part historical fiction, part magical realism, and 100 percent adventure. Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.
Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman’s daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan–reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Dutton Books for Young Readers/PRH)
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.
But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (Dial Books for Young Readers/PRH)
It’s the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug’s best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life. But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn’t particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there’s something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug’s eerie old house in rural Vermont…and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they’re trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light–Bug is transgender.
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon (Candlewick Press)
In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members—mostly women—and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.
Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history, from the first arrival of enslaved people to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Kekla Magoon’s eye-opening work invites a new generation of readers grappling with injustices in the United States to learn from the Panthers’ history and courage, inspiring them to take their own place in the ongoing fight for justice.
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan)
Description of this novel in verse:
Moth has lost her family in an accident. Though she lives with her aunt, she feels alone and uprooted.
Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover the history she carries in her bones.
Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable.
Here is an exquisite and uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe.
I hope that you see what I mean about the headline quality of these books. There are stories about race and racism, mental health and gender identity. I’m also surprised how little I’ve heard about these books as a whole. The only one I’ve seen press on up until now is Last Night at the Telegraph Club. I definitely hope that my library system has these books on the shelves because I’m off to make my requests. If you’ve read them, which one would you select as the winner?