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Reviews of the 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Award Winner and Honor Books

Fiction and Poetry Winner

The Season of Styx Malone
by Kekla Magoon
Intermediate, Middle School    Lamb/Random    298 pp.    g
10/18    978-1-5247-1595-3    $16.99
Library ed.  978-1-5247-1596-0    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-1597-7    $10.99

It’s summertime, and the living is easy. At least it was before narrator Caleb and his older brother Bobby Gene make a bad deal with their nemesis, Cory, leading to four long weeks of morning chores as punishment. It looks like things are going nowhere fast — until they meet Styx Malone, a mysterious, lanky, smooth-talking teenager who adds excitement to the brothers’ otherwise humdrum summer. Living in the small town of Sutton, Indiana, Caleb and Bobby Gene are confined to play within the woods in their backyard. Caleb dreams of a chance to see the world — at least to make it to the big city of Indianapolis—and doesn’t understand his father’s stubborn insistence that they don’t need to travel anywhere outside of Sutton. (Their father’s fears for their safety, as African American young men, is mostly subtext.) Caleb doesn’t want the ordinary life that his family lives, and Styx becomes the magic ticket to escape. The boys embark on a journey that encompasses rule-breaking, laugh-out-loud humor, and nail-biting adventure, while exploring the importance of family ties and deep friendships. Spending time with Styx, Caleb, and Bobby Gene is an experience no reader will soon forget. MONIQUE HARRIS

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

Darius the Great Is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
High School    Dial    313 pp.    g
8/18    978-0-5255-5296-3    $17.99 

Sophomore Darius Kellner doesn’t fit in at his Oregon high school, where he’s bullied by Trent Bolger and his “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy.” But Darius also doesn’t fit comfortably in his own life due to clinical depression, confusion about his half-Persian heritage, and constant awareness of his white “Übermensch” father’s disappointment in him. Darius has only met his mother’s family over Skype, but when the news comes that his grandfather is dying, the family embarks on an extended trip to Iran. Here the book ripens into an exploration of understanding one’s identity — both personally and culturally. When Darius meets his grandparents’ neighbor Sohrab, a Bahá’í young man, in Yazd, a tender and natural friendship begins. Unlike the “Level Seven Awkward Silences” he shares with his stern father, the teen feels comfortable and safe with this virtual stranger: “I could be silent with Sohrab. That’s how I knew we were going to be friends.” Khorram’s debut novel is an affectionate portrait of Iran: the food and aromas, the rich traditions and eclectic culture; the somewhat choppy first-person narrative also explains Farsi phrases and their complex etymology. As Darius’s palpable discomfort begins to give way, readers will understand that home can be more than the physical place you live, and that people who make you feel at home can come into your life unexpectedly. KATRINA HEDEEN 

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 

 

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    453 pp.    g
2/19    978-0-06-249856-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-249857-1    $12.99

If reading The Hate U Give (rev. 3/17) was like listening to 2Pac, intent on capturing the emotional impact of injustice, On the Come Up is more like Biggie, focusing on the experience of “coming up” while refusing to deny the complexity of moving out of one’s community through education, notoriety, or fame. Sixteen-year-old Bri attends a public arts high school and dreams of being a rapper like her father, who was murdered in a gang shooting outside their house when Bri was young. Her mother, a recovering addict, and her studious older brother, recently admitted to graduate school, work hard as they worry about making ends meet, and they face the perpetual indignities of a world that unfairly judges poverty as lack of character. After winning a rap battle in her neighborhood (the same setting as The Hate U Give), Bri — who is already known at her school since being thrown to the ground by security officers — becomes “hood famous.” Doors start to open; her father’s old manager wants to take her on as a client — but it comes at a price Bri isn’t sure she is willing to pay. The narrative builds to a crescendo that forces Bri to decide who she wants to be as a rapper and a person. With sharp, even piercing, characterization, this indelible and intricate story of a young woman who is brilliant and sometimes reckless, who is deeply loved and rightfully angry at a world that reduces her to less than her big dreams call her to be, provides many pathways for readers. Secondary characters — including Bri’s two best guy friends and her fiercely protective drug-dealing gang-member aunt, along with her strict but loving paternal grandparents — make for a remarkably well-rounded cast. A love letter to hip-hop, with Bri’s lyrics and her thought process behind them included throughout, this richly woven narrative touches on themes familiar to Thomas’s readers, such as the over-policing of black bodies and navigating beloved communities that are also challenged by drugs and violence. CHRISTINA DOBBS

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

The 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced at SLJ’s Day of Dialog and via Facebook Live on May 29th, 2019. For reviews of the picture book and nonfiction winners and more, click on the tag BGHB19.

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