As you may remember, I was a judge for the National Book Awards this year. This meant reading 256 books in four months and discussing them with the other judges: Pete Hautman, James Howe, Patty McCormick, and Elizabeth Partridge. All of these folks are wonderfully smart and fantastic to talk about books to, which made the crazy-making reading schedule not only survivable, but a real pleasure.
They are all also terribly polite, which is a good thing. Here’s why: the judges meet the DAY OF THE AWARD CEREMONY to decide the winner of the award! We had lunch at a secret location and spent three hours hashing out which of the five nominees was the winner. It was stimulating and wonderful, and also heart-breaking to pick only one.
(Rumor has it that the non-fiction judges argued all the way up to that night, with many insults and brickbats thrown. But we were all very nice. That’s YA for you.)
There was barely time to rush home and get into black tie for the gala ceremony. Justine and I did the whole prom night thing and took photos of ourselves. It was also our sixth anniversary, so we had two excuses for frocking up!
And, of course, the only thing that’s more fun than wearing black tie is wearing black tie on the subway. Here we are in our finery en route to Times Square:
The best thing about selecting the winner that day was that I only had to keep the secret for five hours. So now the news is out: The winner in the young people’s category was Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, who gave a lovely and heartfelt speech about how much cooler it is to write YA than adult fiction. Amen, dude.
The book is about a Spokane Indian kid who commutes from his impoverished reservation to attend a relatively wealthy all-white school. It’s wickedly funny, an incredibly easy read, and yet has all kinds of epic emotional impact. Great cartoons as well.
But I must mention that all the nominees were great. Here are the other four in alphabetical order:
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One
Two stories, set decades apart, intertwine and show how magic reenters the world. Dark and fascinating, and one of the more complex narratives I’ve read in years. (12 up)
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow
A teenage girl in a Hatian family in the US tells how she killed her abusive step father. A darkly funny glimpse into a brutal immigrant experience, with a vast emotional wallop. A first novel! (14 up)
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Told half in gorgeous pictures and half in text, a young boy discovers mechanical secrets inside the walls of the Paris train station. Magical storytelling, completely original. (10 up)
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl
A seventeen-year-old girl in a small town lives with a bad reputation. Pitch perfect realism. Another first novel! (12 up)
Go read them all!