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The 2021 ALA Annual Conference will once again be held virtually this year, from June 23 to 29, and the 2021 Michael L. Printz awards were celebrated on the net, as well, with a recording available on demand to Annual attendees. Receiving honors this year were Apple: Skin to the Core, by Eric Gansworth; Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang; Every Body Looking, by Candace Iloh; and We Are Not Free, by Tracie Chee. This year’s winner was Everything Sad Is Untrue (a true story), by Daniel Nayeri. For those readers who can’t get enough, the read-alikes below feature titles with similar themes, characters, or narrative styles.
Everything Sad Is Untrue (a true story), by Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido)
Nayeri’s Printz Winner follows 12-year-old Khosrou, aka Daniel, as he knits together a patchwork tale of his youth in Iran, his family’s perilous flight from home, and their oppressive life as refugees in Oklahoma. Told in an unforgettable voice that walks the line between fiction and non-, this meta-memoir is heavy with loss, light with humor and familial love, and rich in culture.
Boy, Everywhere. By A. M. Dassu. 2021. Lee & Low/Tu, $19.95 (9781643791968). Gr. 6–8.
Another middle-eastern refugee tale, this heartbreaking upper-middle-grade novel explores the Syrian civil war. As the fighting inches closer to Damascus, Sami and his family flee their comfortable life to seek refuge in the UK—that is, if the journey doesn’t break them first.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay. By Adib Khorram. 2018. Dial, $17.99 (9780525552963). Gr. 8–11.
In this bildungsroman, Darius is dealing with racist bullies, clinical depression, complications with his father, and feeling like a misfit. When his family travels to Iran to visit his grandparents, it opens Darius to new people, places, culture—and a deep friendship with Sohrab, the boy next door.
A Step from Heaven. By An Na. 2001. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $19.99 (9781481442350). Gr. 9–12.
This 2002 Printz Winner also tells a wrenching immigrant story, following Young Ju—after her family’s move from Korea to California—from early childhood through her teen years, focusing on their home life, the struggle to adjust culturally, and her father’s descent into alcoholism and domestic violence.
Apple: Skin to the Core, by Eric Gansworth (Levine Querido)
Gansworth’s timely memoir in verse and lyric prose plays off the derogatory term apple (red on the outside, white on the inside), often used in Native communities, and explores the realities of growing up on the rez, being subjected to racism and poverty, and learning to navigate the white world. Poems recount his family influences, love of the Beatles and superhero comics, and strong sense of Indigenous identity.
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices. Ed. by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. 2014. Annick, $19.95 (9781554516872). Gr. 9–12.
The voices and lived experiences of young contemporary Native Americans are centered in this collection of art, prose, poetry, song, and memoir, redolent with not only the pain of racism and the isolation of stereotyping but also the sheer raw confidence of youthful expression.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and others. 2019. Beacon, $18.95 (9780807049396). Gr. 7–12.
This adaptation adds historical context to Gansworth’s story, telling of the resistance to the brutal removal of Native peoples over the course of U.S history. The lack of sugarcoating, debunking of origin stories, and linking between ideology and actions forces readers to reflect on their own prior knowledge.
Ordinary Hazards. By Nikki Grimes. 2019. Boyds Mills & Kane/Wordsong, $19.99 (9781629798813). Gr. 9–12.
Finding family and inner strength are at the core of Grimes’ raw and potent memoir in verse, in which she tackles topics of childhood abuse, foster care, and mental illness and discovers lifelines in writing, reading, and loving relationships.
Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien (First Second)
In this graphic novel—part memoir, part sports history, part rumination on the creative process—Yang follows the men’s basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd High School, where he teaches. It’s a team with a hallowed, yet complicated, history, and as he traces their path to the state championship, he examines the young players, the history of basketball itself, and the nature of creativity and drive.
Attucks! Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City. By Phillip Hoose. 2018. Farrar, $19.99 (9780374306120). Gr. 9–12.
For fans of basketball history, this absorbing work chronicles a pivotal time at the intersection of sports and civil rights, examining the legendary basketball program at Crispus Attucks, a Black high school in Indianapolis where the 1954–55 team won the state championship and gained the respect of the largely segregated city.
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures. By Noelle Stevenson. Illus. by the author. 2020. HarperTeen, $19.99 (9780062278272). Gr. 8–12.
In this compilation of Tumblr posts, supplemented by additional comics that add layers to the self-portrayal, Stevenson recounts the successes and mental-health struggles of their twenties, illustrating prose reflections with spot art. A heart-wrenching exploration of the reality behind creative success.
They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood. By Sugar Rodgers. 2021. Akashic/Black Sheep, $14.95 (9781617759291). Gr. 9–12.
Readers interested in the success stories of individual athletes will find inspiration in this memoir of Ta’Shauna Rodgers, aka Sugar, who grew up in difficult circumstances but had the wits, confidence, drive, and support to “get out of the hood” and become a WNBA All-Star.
Every Body Looking, by Candace Iloh (Dutton)
Ada heads to college far from her Chicago home, her father’s religion, and her temperamental mother; this artful novel in verse weaves Ada’s childhood and young-adult experiences into an exploration of how they shaped the woman she becomes, imparting knowledge of the values she was taught, the cultures that shaped her, and the traumas she can’t quite let go.
Calling My Name. By Liara Tamani. 2017. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062656865). Gr. 9–12.
This novel, set in the 1990s, weaves a story of family, friendship, and identity through 53 vignettes of Taja’s middle- and high-school experiences. Living in Houston with devout Christian parents, she grows up through crushes, first kisses, and losing her virginity, all while grappling with the societal pressures put on girls.
Somebody Give This Heart a Pen. By Sophia Thakur. 2020. Candlewick, $16.99 (9781536209921). Gr. 9–12.
This raw poetry collection mirrors generally the process of personal growth: grow, wait, break, and grow again. Woven into the collection of loosely related poems are affirmations of Black girlhood, ways of coping with breakups, reflections on past hurt, and how to grow beyond old mistakes.
The Stars and the Blackness between Them. By Junauda Petrus. 2019. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525555483). Gr. 9–12.
Told through unflinching prose and poetry laced with astrological themes, Petrus’ work breaks the mold of traditional writing and uses unconventional dialogue and voice to bring life to the story of two authentic, unapologetic Black girls as they face the hardest truths head on and discover everlasting love.
We Are Not Free, by Traci Chee (HMH)
Chee uses her own San Francisco–based Japanese American family’s history to inform a blazing and timely indictment of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. The interconnected stories of 14 distinct, nonstereotyped teenagers beautifully demonstrate the disintegration of family life—so important to Japanese culture—in the camps.
Internment. By Samira Ahmed. 2019. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316522694). Gr. 9–12.
Set shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Ahmed’s novel presents a chilling depiction of America, in which 17-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are among many Muslims rounded up and transported to Manzanar, an “internment” camp for Muslim American citizens. A poignant story that paints an unsettlingly plausible picture.
Light It Up. By Kekla Magoon. 2019. Holt, $18.99 (9781250128898). Gr. 9–12.
This tragic, timely story faces readers with the harsh realities of racial violence and racial profiling in America. After 13-year-old Shae is murdered by police, unrest mounts in her community, and the narrative unfurls in vignettes told from various perspectives of those closest to Shae and her death.
The War Outside. By Monica Hesse. 2018. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316316699). Gr. 9–12.
In 1944, Japanese American Haruko and German American Margot and their families—both regarded as enemy aliens—have been remanded to the Crystal City, Texas, “family internment camp.” As the two girls connect, they are changed by their growing friendship and their joint incarceration.
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