Every year, the Young Adult Library Services Association gives out a number of literary awards.
Although many awards are given to just one book or author, the Alex Awards are given to 10 books written for the adult market but which may have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. Often the protagonists of the winning titles are teens.
Winners are always selected from the previous year’s published titles and usually include a few best-sellers that are already highly popular titles.
Keeping that in mind, some of these titles may have long wait lists.
An eerie futuristic tale, “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher is set in an earth with very few humans left after a mysterious wave of infertility led to a dwindling population. Griz lives with his parents and dogs on a quiet island. One day, a stranger steals their supplies and one of their precious dogs. Griz gives chase, only to discover that the outside world is not quite what he was led to believe.
“Do You Dream of Terra-Two?” by Temi Oh is sci-fi with a focus on the interpersonal. After NASA determines that there is another inhabitable planet called Terra-Two, a small crew of young astronauts are sent to settle there. But before they can reach it, the 23-year journey will test them all to their limits.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir is a graphic novel relating the ups and downs of growing up and finding eir identity as nonbinary and asexual. A great memoir for all readers, this book will be especially meaningful for teens still exploring their own identities.
Sara and Tegan are twins and a successful indie music duo. Their memoir, “High School,” focuses on their teenage years and their tumultuous relationship as siblings, as well as exploration of their lesbian sexuality and an emerging musical career.
AJ Dungo’s “In Waves” is a graphic novel memoir of a romantic relationship and a tribute to his late partner. Dungo weaves back and forth through time sharing episodes of their time together and highlighting her determination to keep surfing against all odds, even after losing a leg and even while fighting bone cancer.
“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead also won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. At the start of the novel, teen protagonist Elwood is an idealist with a bright future until a chance encounter ends with him in Nickel Academy, a horrific and abusive reformatory. There he befriends Turner, who has a more cynical view. Together they attempt to survive an institution bent on destroying them. The novel is based on the history of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida.
Opening in the 1960’s, Angie Cruz’s “Dominicana” is the story of young Ana, who is pressured to marry an older man and move from the Dominican countryside to New York City. In New York City, her husband’s brother cares for Ana in her husband’s absence, allowing her greater freedom than she has ever known. Can she return to the way things were when her husband comes back home?
Best-seller “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston is a light-hearted rom-com. The son of the president of the U.S. is forced to into a performative friendship with longtime rival, the prince of Wales, after news outlets publish photos indicating that the two do not get along. A fresh take on the hate-to-love trope, the budding romance in this story is complicated by the characters’ political roles and very public lives.
“The Swallows” by Lisa Lutz is a psychological thriller with a revenge plot. Set at a prestigious prep school, a newly hired teacher sparks a revolt with a simple writing prompt. The assignments turned in reveal a deeply harmful environment. Unable to stand by, she joins the girls in a plot to bring down sexual predators among the boys at the school.
“Middlegame” by Seanan McGuire is a dark fantasy that follows two children as they grow up and into immense power. Created by an alchemist intent on using them to gain control of the world, the twins were raised apart from one another. In spite of the separation, their connection is unbreakable and their powers are their own.
Grace Benedick is a teen services librarian at Manhattan Public Library.