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The Cybils YA shortlist

January 7, 2008

There were 123 books nominated in the YA category, and since only seven titles made it to the final round of judging, that means each book had a .8% chance of making the shortlist. (I had to use a calculator to figure that out, unlike Josh Mendel.)

Reading and talking about the books with the other panelists was fun, but picking the final seven was really hard. There were so many deserving books that we just didn’t have room for. But here is the shortlist we came up with, blatantly stolen from the Cybils blog:

Parttimeindian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown
Meet Junior, a skinny, teenage Spokane Indian with hydrocephalus, ugly glasses and too many teeth. He knows that to make his dreams come true, he has to go where no one in his tribe has gone before—a white high school outside the reservation. Sherman Alexie’s semi-autobiographical novel comes at you with its chin up and fists flying. You’re guaranteed to fall in love with this scruffy underdog who fights off poverty and despair with goofy, self-deprecating humor and a heart the size of Montana.
—Eisha, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
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21mdyeg1ndl_aa_sl160__2 Billie Standish Was Here
by Nancy Crocker
Simon & Schuster
Summer 1968. Billie Standish is a young girl with a lot of heart and soul whose life is about to change forever when the rains come pouring down. Newly befriended by a neighbor, Miss Lydia, neither suspect how close danger lurks to young Billie—and it’s not danger from the rising storm waters threatening the town’s levee. Billie Standish is a story of friendship, courage, and devotion that will charm readers young and old as they fall in love with Billie’s world.
—Becky, Becky’s Book Reviews
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Boytoy Boy Toy
by Barry Lyga
Houghton Mifflin
Eighteen-year-old Josh Mendel can calculate batting averages and earned run averages in an instant, but coming to terms with his past has been impossible. Until, perhaps, now. Bypassing the tawdry and sensational, Barry Lyga takes a ripped-from-the-headlines plot (Teacher-Student Sex Scandal!) and explores the devastation it leaves behind. Told with intelligence and sensitivity, Boy Toy is a powerful story that may occasionally disturb, but ultimately captivate readers.
—Trisha, The YA YA YAs
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Offseason The Off Season
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin
Farm girl and football player D.J. Schwenk’s refreshing voice and self-deprecating humor return in this continuation of her hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking coming-of-age story. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s characters are authentic and fully realized, and the story perfectly captures the rhythms and conventions of life in a small, rural town. D.J.’s straightforward and endearing personality shines as she faces up to everyday adversity and struggles to find her voice.
—Anne, LibrariAnne
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Redglass Red Glass
by Laura Resau
Random
Sophie, an Arizona teenager full of insecurities and phobias, becomes the foster sister to an orphaned illegal immigrant boy. When the boy’s family is located in southern Mexico, Sophie goes along on the trek to return him, all the while hoping he’ll decide to come with her back to the U.S. As she journeys through Mexico and beyond, evocative settings and vivid characters immerse the reader in Sophie’s world. Sophie finds guardian angels along the way, and discovers inner strength.
—Stacy, Reading, Writing, and Chocolate
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Tips Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend
by Carrie Jones
Flux
Tips is in many ways a typical high school story—loves lost and won; navigating the social minefields of a small town; figuring out who you are, measured against the way others see you. It depicts a week in the life of Belle, a high school senior who’s just been dumped by her “true love”—for another guy. Belle progresses through heartbreak to jealousy to anger, to genuine concern for Dylan (her ex), whose road will be much tougher than her own. And Belle’s gradual realization that she and Dylan weren’t meant to be opens her to new possibilities. Belle is a sweet and optimistic narrator with quirky but believable friends and family.
—Stacy, Reading, Writing, and Chocolate
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Wednesdaywars The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion
Condemned to spend every Wednesday afternoon alone with a teacher he is sure hates him, Holling despairs. When two demon rats escape into the classroom walls, and Mrs. Barker brings out Shakespeare, Wednesdays seem to grow even worse. But despair has no place in this very funny and deeply moving book about 7th grade love, the Vietnam War, heroes, true friendship, and the power of giant rats.
—Charlotte, Charlotte’s Library
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I’m so glad I had the opportunity to serve on the panel. Not only did I get to talk books with six great people, it also introduced me to books I probably would not have otherwise picked up. Billie Standish Was Here? Love, love, love it (the book was great, and, oh, Harlan… What can I say? Some of the nominated books had really awesome love interests), but I think I would have passed it by had I not been on the panel. So, if you haven’t already, go and read these books. They’re all wonderful.

But when only 5.6% of all possible titles make it on to a shortlist, there will be some great books that get left out simply because there’s no room for them. Two books that I feel truly deserve a wider audience, but which did not make the shortlist, are Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie and How to Get Suspended and Influence People by Adam Selzer.

Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds is set in Brooklyn, 1977. Fourteen-year-old April Lundquist agrees to help escort her neighbor, Larry (who seems to be autistic, though it’s never specified), to school. Is this just a way of paying her off? Larry’s father is a mobster, $100 suddenly start appearing in April’s books, and Larry’s father seems to be warning her about her older brother’s relationship with the daughter of a fellow mobster. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about the story, what it does it does well. In a way, it’s a very refreshing book, simply because it’s not another high concept, plot-first story. It’s also a really funny book. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the humor. It’s not loud or mean or snarky, it’s just plain funny, and I had a good time reading it, which is always nice.

I do have to admit the setting did make me wary at first. Did I really want to read a book set in the 1970s? Ultimately, it’s a coming-of-age/slice-of-life (thanks, Jackie) story first, a book set in 1977 second. Lurie strikes a good balance of establishing the period, making it come alive in a positive way (by which I mean, she makes the era seem fun, not like other historical novels that make you think, “Man, I’m glad I wasn’t alive back then”) and depicting characters who are products of the setting, while making the story almost timeless—it definitely has teen appeal and is written for teens, not nostalgic adults—and not overwhelming readers or the characters with minutiae. And did I mention it was funny?

As for How to Get Suspended and Influence People, well, among the trends I noticed while reading the nominated books were long titles and awful, or just plain insane, parents. Leon’s parents fall into the insane category, but I mean that in a good way. Leon’s parents love him and are really supportive, but they’re nuts! Again, in a good way. His father’s an aspiring inventor who won’t listen to his son whenever Leon points out that the things he wants to invent have already been invented. His mother likes to cook purposefully bad food—Leon’s parents call themselves “food disaster hobbyists”—with recipes from cookbooks with titles like The Wonders of Lard and You and Your Artichokes. It therefore shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when Leon’s advanced studies class is assigned to make educational videos for 6th and 7th graders, Leon decides that his project will be an avant-garde sex ed video. This is a hilarious book with a strong message about intellectual freedom but never comes across as preachy. Just fun.

As for me, as great as the Cybils experience was (and I would totally do it again), I’m very happy that I now have enough time to finally watch Veronica Mars Season Three and Jumong Volume Four. But mostly that I can read The Sweet Far Thing.

Oh, and two of the shortlisted authors have previously been interviewed by a panelist. Read Becky’s interview with Barry Lyga and Jackie’s interview with Sherman Alexie. They’re worth your time.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2008 1:39 am

    Looks like I have some more reading to do! You are absolutely right about How to Get Suspended and Influence People. It is a fabulous book, and has circulated very well. Adam Selzer has at least one more book coming out (Pirates of the Retail Wasteland) and I am looking forward to that!

  2. January 8, 2008 10:30 am

    Ok, I love what you did with this! I love your thoughts on both BB&OCM and HTGS&IP.

    Yeah. Let’s lobby for shorter titles.

  3. January 8, 2008 1:30 pm

    Ms. Yingling – Glad your kids like How to Get Suspended…! And it sounds like Pirates of the Retail Wasteland also has a social message, so I’m interested in reading that, as well.

    Jackie – Yes, let’s lobby. To be fair, there were some short titles, like Bloom and Tamar, but it sure seemed like there were a lot more long and medium-length ones.

  4. January 8, 2008 2:05 pm

    Hi Trisha,
    Thanks so much for your very kind words about Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I have a new YA coming out in May 2008 – The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine. If you’d like an ARC, let me know, and I’ll ask RH to send you one.

    April

  5. January 8, 2008 8:11 pm

    I bought Boy Toy. Will read it soon.

  6. January 9, 2008 1:01 pm

    Even though we’ve been actively promoting Alexie’s book at the library because my coworker loves it, very few students want to read it. Of those we’ve persuaded to read it, none have even liked it (let alone loved it).

    Of these, The Off Season is definitely my choice.

  7. January 9, 2008 5:02 pm

    re: the Alexie book

    Oh, interesting. I didn’t have any teen feedback for this one. I read the ARC, then gave it to the branch manager. The library’s copy has been off filling requests (including two adults at our library), but it hasn’t actually been on the shelf yet. We’ll see how it does. Although, a school in the area does have one of Alexie’s adult books on their summer reading list for seniors (I think), so that may affect it once it does come back.

  8. January 10, 2008 5:20 am

    Thanks a lot for the kind words about HTGSAIP (yeah, there are times when I wish I went for a shorter title!) “Pirates…” will be out in a few months – close enough to make me nervous about it ! The message in that one, if there really is one, is about poor city planning and sprawl – and about protesting something genuine vs. protesting for the sake of protesting.

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