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At ALA’s Annual conference in Washington, D.C. this month, the winners of the 2019 Michael L. Printz awards, administered by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, and sponsored by Booklist, will receive their coveted medals. Honors go to Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold; A Heart in a Body in the World, by Deb Caletti; and I, Claudia, by Mary McCoy, and the top prize will be awarded to Elizabeth Acevedo for her debut, The Poet X. Teens eager for similar titles to these award-winners can find comparable themes, tones, and strong characters in these read-alikes.
The Poet X, By Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)
Amid her mother’s strict Catholicism, her brother’s secrets, and the aggressive comments she receives about her quickly developing body, Xiomara struggles to feel powerful. But when she starts writing down her thoughts and feelings in poems, she finds an empowering voice through her art, which translates stunningly to the page in this novel in verse.
On the Come Up. By Angie Thomas. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $18.99 (9780062498564). Gr. 9-12.
When Bri, daughter of a deceased underground rapper, who’s pursuing her own rap career, makes waves at a rap battle, her artistic ambitions become more crucial than ever: they could be her family’s ticket out of poverty. Thomas delivers a refreshingly realistic character in Bri, who’s dealing with past traumas while still reveling in the joy she finds in her artistic successes.
Solo. By Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. 2017. Blink, $17.99 (9780310761839). Gr. 9–12.
A family crisis sends talented guitarist Blade Morrison on a journey both literal and figurative: as he travels from LA to Ghana, guided by a mixtape of classic rock, he gains a deeper understanding of his identity, his past, his family, and his community. Propulsive poems and Blade’s rock ballads drive this soulful novel in verse.
Watch Us Rise. By Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan. 2019. Bloomsbury, $18.99 (9781547600083). Gr. 9–12.
In a multifaceted format encompassing poetry, blog posts, and more, this empowering, voice-driven novel follows Jasmine and Chelsea, two passionate girls frustrated by the lack of inclusivity at their social-justice-focused high school. When they create a club to elevate women’s voices, they face pushback, but their supportive friendship and steadfast convictions make them unstoppable.
Damsel, By Elana K. Arnold (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray)
Ama’s supposed to be a damsel in distress rescued by a handsome prince, but this pitch-black fairy tale reveals the disturbing reality. Drawing on the language and style of classic fairy tales, Arnold topples conventional tropes to tell a brutal story that lays bare the physical, psychological, and sexual violence undergirding many of our cultural touchstones. Its volcanic ending is sure to spark conversation.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds. By Susann Cokal. 2013. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763666941). Gr. 10-12.
Cokal weaves twisted fairy tales throughout her story set in a sixteenth-century kingdom. Political intrigue, murder, and manipulation abound as the author wends the troubling tale of seamstress Ava and nursemaid Midi, who together orchestrate a daring gambit to keep the reigning queen in power and enact gruesome (but deserved) revenge on the cruel man who sadistically raped them both.
Tender Morsels. By Margo Lanagan. 2008. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375848117). Gr. 10-12.
Lanagan’s skillful use of archaic language gives this challenging novel an otherworldly air as 15-year-old Liga and her two daughters face the encroachment of a nightmarish world on their once-safe haven. Blurring the line between wonder and horror, Lanagan artfully blends fantasy conventions with brutal realities about the most savage aspects of life.
Girls of Paper and Fire. By Natasha Ngan. 2018. Little, Brown/JIMMY Patterson, $18.99 (9780316561365). Gr. 10–12.
In a world structured by castes, Lei, from the fully human Paper caste, unwillingly enters the Demon King’s harem to learn how to be a Paper Girl. As she learns the new limits of her freedom, Lei becomes enchantingly close with fellow Paper Girl Wren, who’s embroiled in deadly plots. This story about violence against women in an intriguingly conceptualized world isn’t easy, but its stakes and romance will capture readers.
A Heart in a Body in the World, By Deb Caletti (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)
When Annabelle Agnelli took off running, she decided not to stop, committing to run all the way from Seattle to Washington, D.C. The physical movement helps with her PTSD in the wake of a shooting she worries she’s complicit in. As she gains attention for her endeavor and surmounts many obstacles, she realizes how damaging expectations of young women can be and starts to find some peace.
What I Leave Behind. By Alison McGhee. 2018. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $17.99 (9781481476560). Gr. 9–12.
Will, 16, believes that things have to be walked out through the soles of your feet, and he has things that need to be walked out: his friend since grade school, Playa, has been raped at a party after he left too early to save her, and his dad committed suicide. The act of walking helps Will process not only his grief but also his guilt and find a way to move forward in this pithy, contemplative novel.
All American Boys. By Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 2015. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $19.99 (9781481463331). Gr. 9–12.
When white Quinn’s de facto big brother, a policeman, brutally beats Rashad, who is Black, the case becomes a cause célèbre dividing their school and community, with events coming to a head in a protest march. Reynolds, writing Rashad’s chapters, and Kiely, writing Quinn’s, together offer a vivid, character-driven novel that closely examines racism, violence, loyalty, privilege, and complicity.
Violent Ends. Ed. by Shaun David Hutchinson. 2015. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, $17.99 (9781481437455). Gr. 9–12.
A school shooting is at the heart of this anthology that features 16 stories from the perspective of teens who knew the shooter. Questions of guilt and responsibility pervade the stories, each written by a well-known YA author, and together they offer insights—but, notably, no definitive answers—about an average teen gone wrong.
I, Claudia, By Mary McCoy (Carolrhoda)
This loose retelling of I, Claudius focuses on the student honor council at Imperial Day Academy, a tony prep school in Los Angeles. Self-proclaimed outsider Claudia narrates this story of political intrigue, but readers will quickly realize that, after years of studying political machines, she’s become one herself. Her skillful manipulations match McCoy’s masterful voice and plotting in this engrossing novel.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. By E. Lockhart. 2008. Hyperion, $16.99 (9780786838189 ). Gr. 7–12.
When Frankie Landau-Banks transforms into a curvy beauty seemingly overnight, she’s drawn into a tight-knit group of seniors at her high-end boarding school, all of whom belong to a secret, all-male society. Barred from entry, Frankie cleverly orchestrates her own guerilla membership, and her brazen action and passionate questions about gender and power will galvanize readers.
S.T.A.G.S. By M. A. Bennett. 2018. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780525578468). Gr. 9–12.
At St. Aiden the Great School, Greer’s largely ignored by the elite crowd, six students called the Medievals. So it’s a surprise when they invite her and two other outcasts to the estate of Henry de Warlencourt, for a weekend of decadent food and luxurious accommodations. But Greer soon realizes that something is terribly amiss.
Tradition. By Brendan Kiely. 2018. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $18.99 (9781481480345). Gr. 9–12.
When Jules decides to speak up about rape culture at her exclusive private school, she challenges the expectation that girls keep quiet about abuse. Her friend Jamie will need to decide whether to use his privileged position as a white, straight athlete to stick up for her and break the long-standing tradition that turns a blind eye to rampant misogyny.
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