As a teen librarian and YA lit fan, the Youth Media Awards (YMAs), announced in early January, are kind of like my Oscars/Emmy’s/Grammy’s/[insert fancy awards show here]. I’ve prided myself on picking the winner of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award the last two years (The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner in 2017, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli in 2016). I feel like the 2018 winner is a given — if Angie Thomas’s powerful novel The Hate U Give doesn’t win the Morris, I’ll be more shocked than the majority of liberal voters were last November 9. But I’d like to highlight some other 2017 debuts I think could be finalists for this award.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I’ve gushed about this book here and on Twitter before, but it really is everything I want in a romance. A driven female lead with an interest in STEM, believable characters and conflicts, and insights into a culture that isn’t my own. Here’s the summary from Amazon:
The rom-com that everyone’s talking about! Eleanor & Park meets Bollywood in this hilarious and heartfelt novel about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage.
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers … right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him — wherein he’ll have to woo her — he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I love the way Garber immerses readers in her settings, and the plot of this one kept me turning pages long after I should have gone to bed. Here’s the summary from Amazon:
Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval … beware of getting swept too far away.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson. The voice is great, and this story blew my mind. Months later, I was still thinking about it and discussing the ending with colleagues. I’m less certain an official awards committee will pick it up, but I think it deserves recognition. Here’s the summary from Amazon:
Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.
Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted — and their unborn child — to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. Though I haven’t read this book yet (it doesn’t come out until October 17), it was long listed for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and based on reviews and excerpts I’ve read, I have high hopes for it. Here’s the summary from Amazon:
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?
There are many other excellent YA debuts from this year, but if I had to choose just five that I think would be Morris finalists, I’d go with these. Honorable mentions to Dear Martin by Nic Stone (I have high hopes for this book, but it doesn’t come out until October 17, and I’m not sure the committee will choose two books that come out that late in the year) and American Street by Ibi Zoboi.
What are some of your favorite debuts from this year?