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Recommended Reading: YA Award-Winning Titles

Updated: Jan 3

Multiple book awards are given every year for the best book published during the previous year, and some of these awards are specific to the Teen/Young Adult book category. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) - a division of the American Library Association - oversees many of these awards, and the winners are selected carefully by a committee. Some of the awards from YALSA you will see on this list include the Michael Printz Award, named for a Kansas school librarian; William C. Morris Award, named for an influential person in the publishing world; the Alex Award, supported by a trust fund and named for young adult librarian, Margaret A. Edwards, known affectionately as Alex; and the YALSA Award for Non-fiction. You will also see the 2020 Award Winner for the Coretta Scott King Award - "given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values."

This list highlights five award winners for 2020, but it is by no means comprehensive. You can find a complete list of YALSA awards here. You can also search award-winning titles through YALSA's Teen Book Finder.

Cover of Dig by A.S. King

In Dig, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings have managed to make a small fortune by investing in and building subdivisions. Being only one generation away from being simple potato farmers, the Hemmings cling to their wealth, refusing to pass any of it to their children or grandchildren. Their reason? They want their family members to pave their own paths to success.

There are five grandchildren in the Hemmings family - each of them trying to make their way in the world by their own means. As the story progresses, the decay beneath the surface of the Hemmings' white suburban respectability begins to show. The Hemmings grandchildren must come together and discover the true cost of maintaining a family name. Is it worth the price they must pay?

Trigger warning: multi-generational racism and abuse

Cover of The Stars and the Blackness Between Them

The Stars and The Blackness Between Them is the story of two 16-year-old girls navigating large life changes and determining who they really are. Audre is forced to move to America from Trinidad when her mother discovers her with her secret girlfriend - who also happens to be the pastor's daughter. Queenie, Audre's grandmother, assures Audre that, even in America, she can stay true to her roots. Mabel recently broke up with her boyfriend, Terrell, and is now contending with mixed feelings about their relationship, as well as a moment she had with her friend, Jada, in the woods. As she grapples with these feelings, her father announces that his friend and his daughter, who recently moved from Trinidad will be joining them for dinner.

It's love at first sight for Mabel when she meets Audre. Mabel helps Audre navigate American schools and adjust to life in a new country. But medical test results for Mabel turn her world upside down, and the girls must care for each other as they prepare for an uncertain future.

Trigger warning: child abuse, terminal illness, homophobia

Cover of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Norris Kaplan is the protagonist in The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. A black French Canadian, Norris suddenly finds himself in a new high school in Austin, Texas - not exactly the most welcoming of places for someone like him. But adjusting to the heat and the culture of Texas aren't the only things Norris has to contend with. He's ready to go back to Canada and has little interest in making new friends. So what does he do? Categorizes the students at his high school into neat little cliques - the jocks, the cheerleaders, the loners - you get the picture. But as time goes on, Norris finds out that the students he was so quick to stereotype are actually real human beings, and he may have even developed romantic feelings for that manic pixie girl...

Just as he's starting to warm up to his newfound friends, Norris makes a huge mistake. As he tries to make amends, he realizes that he can no longer hide behind his snarky exterior - he must come out of hiding in order to live his life fully.

Trigger warning: racism, bullying, mentions of suicide

Cover photo of Free Lunch

In Free Lunch, Rex Ogle sheds light on his own school experience as a 6th-grade boy living in poverty. Rex's mother cannot afford to pay for his school lunches, so she signs him up for the free lunch program. However, Rex is in a wealthy school district, so he's the only student in the program. This leads to embarrassing moments in the cafeteria, where Rex has to loudly tell the lunch lady he's on the free lunch program before she will give him food. The book follows Rex through his first semester of 6th-grade - trying to make friends while wearing shabby clothes, battling hunger, and contending with teachers who've already decided he's trouble. On top of all that, Rex and his family must move into subsidized housing. Rex, embarrassed, takes his time going home from school, so no one will see where he lives. Trigger warning: child/familial abuse

Cover photo of The Swallows

In The Swallows, Stonebridge Academy's new creative writing teacher, Alex Witt, poses a writing prompt: "What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want?"

But what Ms. Witt thought was a simple writing prompt turns her world upside down. The students' answers to the prompt are alarming, and soon Ms. Witt realizes there is more going on in the school than anyone on staff is willing to admit. In her quest to find answers, Ms. Witt finds female students who have been questioning the "boys will be boys" mentality of the school, and together they form a resistance. Key students take major roles in the novel - Gemma, part of the resistance, and Norman, who dislikes his role in what is known as The Darkroom, but is unsure how to combat it. The reader learns more about the top 10 social elite in the school, as well as a shady English teacher, Finn Ford, who keeps his eye on Ms. Witt as the story progresses. As events unfold, a full-fledged gender war breaks out between the boys and the girls. But this isn't your typical high school war - the consequences could be deadly.

Trigger warning: sexual content/discussion, bullying

Did you like this list? Stay tuned for more young adult lists or call the library to get more book recommendations!

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