Reviews of the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Award Winner and Honor Books

Fiction and Poetry Winner

King and the Dragonflies
by Kacen Callender
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    263 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-338-12933-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-12935-9    $10.99

In their second middle-grade novel (Hurricane Child, rev. 5/18), set in contemporary small-town Louisiana, Callender masterfully balances resonant themes of grief, love, family, friendship, racism, sexuality, and coming-of-age. Twelve-year-old King copes with the sudden death of his beloved older brother, Khalid, who used to talk in his sleep while dreaming about visiting another universe. King believes his brother has "left his body behind like a second skin" and become a dragonfly. He tries to keep Khalid close by remembering the dreaming Khalid's philosophical musings ("There's no such thing as happiness. No such thing as sadness, or anger, or anything else...There's just you...That star inside you"). Meanwhile, King is keeping secrets: his friend Sandy has run away from an abusive father (the town's sheriff), and King is sheltering him; Sandy is gay, and so, King gradually accepts, is he. Both boys know they are facing homophobia, which will be even more oppressive for King because it's compounded by racial prejudice (King is African American; Sandy is white). Callender's portrayal of tween angst and awakening — including King's authentically devised evolution — anchors this deeply affecting, memorable novel. Well-rounded supporting characters are believable and relateable in a story line that addresses serious issues with unreserved honesty and heightened sensitivity. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Clap When You Land
by Elizabeth Acevedo
High School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    422 pp.    g
5/20    978-0-06-288276-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-288278-3    $11.99

In this sharp and compelling verse novel (a 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book honoree), sixteen-year-old Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic and dreams of medical school. Sixteen-year-old Yahaira Rios is a native New Yorker who plays competitive chess. Although the two girls share a last name, they are strangers. But after flight 1112 from New York City to the Dominican Republic crashes with the man they each called Papi on board, Camino and Yahaira learn of each other’s existence. In two distinct voices, Acevedo (The Poet X, rev. 3/18; With the Fire on High, rev. 5/19) explores the rich inner lives of the sudden half-sisters as they grapple with their ­complicated feelings about their father and the secrets he kept. Yahaira narrates in stirring non-rhyming couplets; Camino in intense three-line stanzas. Moving toward their inevitable meeting, Yahaira feels like “a spool of thread / that’s been dropped to the ground…rolling undone / from the truth of this thing,” while Camino wonders, “If I find her / would I find a breathing piece / of myself I had not known / was missing?” An author’s note further explains the title of and inspiration for the novel, which was influenced by the tragic crash of flight AA587 out of New York that killed more than 260 people, most of them of Dominican descent, shortly after September 11, 2001.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


When You Trap a Tiger
by Tae Keller
Intermediate, Middle School    Random House    298 pp.    g
1/20    978-1-5247-1570-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-1572-4    $9.99

Korean American middle schooler Lily thinks she has to take on a magical tiger in order to save her beloved Halmoni (grandmother), but the truth is much more complicated. An ambitious number of themes — coming of age, family relationships (particularly between sisters and between generations), belonging, friendship, grief, and end-of-life — intertwine in a heartfelt novel. Debut author Keller incorporates Korean folktales throughout, adding richness and depth. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


The 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced at SLJ's virtual Day of Dialog and via live stream on May 27th, 2020. For reviews of the winning titles and more, click on the tag BGHB20.

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