YALSA's Alex Awards recognize ten books a year written for adults that have an appeal for young adult (12 - 18yo) readers as well. These books all have teen protagonists dealing with heavy issues - no fluffy reads here!
Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas
I love books with multiple narrators and complicated mother figures, so Mother, Mother was right up my alley. Teenage siblings Violet and Will Hurst alternate chapters as they explore the recent events of their family. Eldest sister Rose has left the family in dramatic and mysterious fashion, Will has been recently diagnosed with autism and epilepsy, and Violet begins experimenting with Eastern philosophy, meditation, and fasting. When a violent incident at the home results in a visit to the hospital for Will and a stay in a psychiatric institution for Violet, the carefully constructed Hurst family begins to unravel. While you are never sure if Will or Violet is telling the true story, one thing becomes clear - everything seems to revolve around their mother, Josephine. A twisty, intense psychological thriller.
Brewster by Mark Slouka
Sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher spends a lot of time running. Running for track, running away from his emotionally absent family, running towards anything that isn't his current life. Set in Brewster, NY in 1968, this book manages to be both a look at a changing America (Vietnam, race relations, women's liberation), and the story of someone growing up in a small town and looking for a way to break free. Jon, his best friend Ray, and Ray's girlfriend Karen make their way through their senior year and begin to look for a path out of Brewster and into a new life. This is a book that is so much bigger than its plot. I was drawn in by the characters - read this one on a chilly fall weekend.
The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
"Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am 15. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."
That's how The Death of Bees opens, and readers, it is no spoiler alert to tell you that this book gets grim. Two Scottish sisters deal with their status as orphans after the deaths of their neglectful parents, trying to avoid the notice of the police, social services, and their neighbor's dog that keeps digging in their garden. Told from the perspective of multiple narrators, this book will keep you wondering when the truth will get out - and if we even know what the real truth is.
Learn more about the rest of the 2014 Alex Award winners at YALSA's website.
Why are they called the Alex Awards?
From YALSA: "The award is sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust. Edwards pioneered young adult library services and worked for many years at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. Her work is described in her book Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts, and over the years she has served as an inspiration to many librarians who serve young adults. The Alex Awards are named after Edwards, who was called “Alex” by her friends."