How Do Award Judges Feel About the Books They Were Unable to Honor?
Best YA and Middle-Grade novels: Throwback to 2007 with Pete Hautman, author of Eden West.
Back in 2007 I was a judge for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. I read more than 200 books in a five month period, mostly Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. It was a transformative, exhausting, humbling, and joyful experience. After much discussion, the other four judges and I chose five books as finalists (the winner that year was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). I stand by our choices—they are all amazing books.
But over the past eight years a few of the also-rans have stuck with me. Here are five books from 2007 that didn’t make the final slate, but nevertheless found a place in my heart.
By Laura Tarshis
Laura Tarshis’s first novel is a middle-grade masterpiece about two very different girls with much in common. Emma-Jean is a precociously intelligent but socially awkward and lonely 12-year-old. She is befriended by Colleen, whose kindness and sensitivity are exceeded only by her desperate need for approval. The story is funny, touching, and entirely satisfying. Tarshis has written a sequel: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell In Love. It’s on my list.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Puffin Books | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-0142411506
By Sara Varon
A wordless graphic novel so sweet and seemingly simple it’s easy to overlook how smartly and precisely and elegantly it is composed. Also, it has a robot. And a dog. And it might make you cry.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: First Second | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-1596431089
By Shannon Hale
I’m not a big fan of fairy tale retellings (this one is based on the lesser-known Grimm Brothers tale “Maid Maleen”), and reading about two girls stuck in a tower for three years is not my idea of a good time, but I opened this book one night and the next thing I knew the story had ended and it was two a.m. Shannon Hale is that good. So I read it again the next week.
Ages 12-17 | Publisher: Bloomsbury USA | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-1599903781
By Peter Cameron
James Sveck is one of the most irritating characters since Holden Caulfield, but man, is this book good! I read it three times, and it kept getting better. Cameron is a fabulous writer, and the story of Sveck’s somewhat stalled-out and painful coming-of-age will resonate with older teens. It was made into a low-budget indie movie. You should read the book instead.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Picador | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-0312428167
By Helen Hemphill
A funny, poignant, and honest tale of a girl struggling to grow up in 1960s Kentucky, Runaround is the story of motherless 11-year-old Sassy Thompkins, who falls in love with an older guy and attempts to win him by taking instruction from Love Confessions magazine. Despite its horrendous cover, I fell in love with this book on page one and I loved to the last page. I guess I have a soft spot for stories about “spunky” girls. I blame it on Pippi Longstocking.
Ages 11-14 | Publisher: Front Street, Incorporated | 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-1590787779
About the Author
Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash. His “young adult” novels range from science fiction (Rash, Mr. Was, and The Obsidian Blade) to mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless, Sweetblood) to romantic comedy (What Boys Really Want.)
His latest book is Eden West, the story of a boy growing up in an isolated doomsday cult in Montana.
By Pete Hautman
Twelve square miles of paradise, surrounded by an eight-foot-high chain-link fence: this is Nodd, the land of the Grace. It is all seventeen-year-old Jacob knows. Beyond the fence lies the World, a wicked, terrible place, doomed to destruction. When the Archangel Zerachiel descends from Heaven, only the Grace will be spared the horrors of the Apocalypse. But something is rotten in paradise. A wolf invades Nodd, slaughtering the Grace’s sheep. A new boy arrives from outside, and his scorn and disdain threaten to tarnish Jacob’s contentment. Then, while patrolling the borders of Nodd, Jacob meets Lynna, a girl from the adjoining ranch, who tempts him to sample the forbidden Worldly pleasures that lie beyond the fence. Jacob’s faith, his devotion, and his grip on reality are tested as his feelings for Lynna blossom into something greater, and the End Days grow ever closer. Eden West is the story of two worlds, two hearts, the power of faith, and the resilience of the human spirit.
A heartbreaking, uplifting, and fantastic read. —School Library Journal
Thought-provoking and quietly captivating. —Booklist
In this novel that cuts to the core of adolescence, Hautman walks the line between those of pure faith and those who stray, creating full-blooded characters who feel real and flawed. —Shelf Awareness
Jacob’s emotional turmoil is hauntingly believable, and the story’s examination of religious faith and fervor is wholly absorbing. —Horn Book
Check out Pete’s “Eden West Unboxing Video” featuring feathers, chains, and a chain saw.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Candlewick | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0763674182
Discover more young adult books like Eden West, by Pete Hautman, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Young Adult Fiction.