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Reviews of the 2016 CSK Author Award winners

Winner:

williams-garcia_gone crazy in alabamaGone Crazy in Alabama
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Intermediate, Middle School   Amistad/HarperCollins   291 pp.
4/15   978-0-06-221587-1   $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-221588-8   $17.89   g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-221590-1   $9.99

Williams-Garcia says goodbye to the Gaither family (One Crazy Summer, rev. 3/10; P. S. Be Eleven, rev. 5/13) in this involving and emotional concluding installment. It’s been a year since Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern visited their Black Panther mother, Cecile, in California. Now the sisters are heading to Alabama to visit their grandmother, Big Ma, and their great-grandmother, Ma Charles, and Pa has to warn them: “None of that black power stuff in Alabama. Black Panthers strut about in Brooklyn and in Oakland, but they’re not so loud and proud in Alabama and Mississippi.” Twelve-year-old Delphine is reading Things Fall Apart and is concerned that the title reflects her own life: “Our family is scattering, piece by piece.” While down South, Delphine learns much about her large, twisting family tree and about family lore, including a Creek Indian patriarch; the estranged half-sister of Ma Charles who lives across the creek; and even white relatives with ties to the Klan. When a tornado strikes and disaster looms, Delphine sees how her scattered family has the strength to come together, all under one roof, to hold one another up. She takes Cecile’s words to heart: “Things do fall apart…But you’re strong enough to walk through the storm.” Williams-Garcia’s novel has the feeling of a saga, an American story of several generations, related effectively from Delphine’s first-person point of view — and with help from some feisty elders. DEAN SCHNEIDER

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books:

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America. ANASTASIA M. COLLINS

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

reynolds_boy-in-the-black-suitThe Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds
Middle School, High School   Atheneum   257 pp.
1/15   978-1-4424-5950-2   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-5952-6   $10.99

High-school senior Matt wears a black suit because he has a job at Mr. Ray’s funeral home (setting up chairs and food for services), but also — metaphorically — because he himself is in mourning, for the mother who died just before the book begins and the long-on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. Although his work responsibilities end when the funerals begin, Matt finds himself sticking around to find “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will perhaps help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Matt is a good kid with a good best friend, Chris; their Bed-Stuy neighborhood is gritty but also a place of true community. There’s even a sweet romance between Matt and a girl he meets at her grandmother’s funeral. With When I Was the Greatest (rev. 1/14) and now this book, Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, that the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded. ROGER SUTTON

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

shabazz_xstar2 X: A Novel
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
High School   Candlewick   375 pp.
1/15   978-0-7636-6967-6   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7425-0   $16.99

Shabazz, Malcolm X’s third daughter, and YA author Magoon (Fire in the Streets, rev. 9/12; How It Went Down, rev. 11/14) team up to present a vivid, immediate fictionalized portrait of the civil rights activist and the forces that shaped him. Readers are immersed in young Malcolm’s world, from his fractured and tragic Depression-era childhood in Lansing, Michigan (father killed, mother committed to an asylum, siblings placed in separate foster homes), through his heady teen years in Boston and Harlem (where “everything’s a hustle, and I got my own hustle now”), through his conviction and imprisonment for larceny, ending with his conversion to Islam in his mid-twenties. Thanks to the strength of the intimate first-person voice, readers experience right along with the adolescent Malcolm his thirst for excitement, the seductive “siren call” of 1940s Roxbury and Harlem street life, his increasingly risky and dangerous choices, and finally his growing awareness of the impact of racism on his and his family’s past and on his present and future. In prison: “The guard who knocks me down and puts his foot on my face…he didn’t build these walls. He didn’t invent the word nigger, however well he’s learned to throw it. It’s all so much bigger, and so built-in.” The direct cause-and-effect connection between Malcolm’s epiphany that he doesn’t need to “fight Papa” anymore and his acceptance of Islam feels imposed, but there’s very little else that doesn’t ring true in this powerful, compelling work of historical fiction. Extensive back matter includes a bibliography that steers young people toward further reading about Malcolm X and black history. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2016.

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