2000 Alex Awards
High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places. 1999. Simon & Schuster, $26 (0-684-85361-2); May 2000, paper, $15 (0-684-86545-9).
Admittedly stubborn and driven, Breashears recounts his life story--recollections of his abusive father and tumultuous childhood; his discovery and dedication to mountain climbing, which he has always equated with humankind's belief in hope; and his entry into filmmaking. His account of his 1996 Everest IMAX Filming Expedition, during which he and his crew sought to rescue survivors and reclaim the bodies of the people caught in the well-publicized Everest calamity, is a natural link to Jon Krakauer's 1998 Alex winner, Into Thin Air. The danger, the audacity, the adventure will keep teens enthralled, and send them to the shelves to find similar titles.
Card, Orson Scott.
Ender's Shadow. 1999. Tor, $24.95 (0-312-86860-X).
Call it a parallel novel; call it a companion. Call it sf; call it adventure. No matter what it's called, this exciting novel, by the author of the very popular Ender's Game (1985), is what Card's readers have been waiting for. Bean, an orphan living on the streets, finds himself plucked from desperate straits and placed in Battle School, where his tactical skills earn him respect and a role with Ender Wiggin in battle. Wiggin's world is recognizable, but Bean's voice and character make this return to it extraordinarily fresh. This is a sure bet for Ender's Game's many teen fans, but it also stands very well alone.
River, Cross My Heart. 1999. Little, Brown, $23 (0-316-89999-2); paper, $14.95 (0-316-89998-4).
Strong-willed Alice Bynam is convinced that by moving to Georgetown, her family will have more economic and educational opportunity. That's true, but "whites still rule the roost" in the 1920s, and they've barred 10-year-old Johnnie Mae and her friends from swimming in a local pool. When Johnnie Mae opts for the river, instead, her younger sister, Clara, drowns, leaving her family and community behind to struggle with the personal loss and the legacy of racial injustice.
Codell, Esmé Raji.
Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year. 1999. Algonquin, $17.95 (1-56512-225-9).
Fifth-grader Melanie instinctively knows what Codell finds out when she begins as a 24-year-old first-year teacher in an inner-city Chicago school: "You got to know everything." And that doesn't mean just what the textbooks say. As Codell gamely reveals in her forthright diary entries, it means fighting lazy teachers and unsupportive administrators; it means dealing with violence and racism; it means marshalling energy, imagination, and wit enough to ensure her students the best possible education. Teens who have been through "the system" can't help but recognize the landscape.
Fuqua, Jonathon Scott.
The Reappearance of Sam Webber. 1999. Bancroft, $23.95 (1-890862-02-9).
There's a strong sense of place in this ultimately warm, reassuring novel set in a poor, racially tense Baltimore neighborhood. Sam Webber doesn't like his new home, a smelly apartment light years away from the middle-class area where he spent his first 11 years. Since his father's disappearance, he's felt responsible for protecting his mother, but he's so sad and scared he can't even help himself: druggies and muggers patrol the streets; bullies hound him in school. His only friend is the school's black janitor, who turns out to need Sam as much as Sam needs him. Themes of racism, urban violence, depression, and family structure threaded through the story make the book effective for discussion as well as for independent reading.
Stardust. 1999. Avon, $22 (0-380-97728-1); paper, $6.99 (0-380-86455-7).
Many teens will already know Gaiman from his Sandman graphic novels and Neverwhere (1997). In this book, which makes fantasy accessible to a wide audience, 17-year-old Tristran Thorn pledges to fetch for his beloved a star that has fallen on the far side of the wall that marks the edge of the village where he lives. His quest takes him into the land of Fairie, where nothing along the way is really what it seems. Fantasy fans will see in this the work of many of their favorite writers; teens new to the genre will have a fine first reading experience; all will be charmed by the warmth and creativity of Gaiman's wonderful combination of comedy, romance, and energetic adventure.
The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey. 1999. Hyperion, $22.95 (0-7868-6451-6); June 2000, paper, $14 (0-786-88541-6).
Greenlaw, the captain of the Hanna Boden, sister ship to the Andrea Gail, whose loss was portrayed in 1998 Alex winner The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, tells a different but equally fascinating story of life at sea. Hers is a record of a typical month-long swordfishing trip--the backbreaking work, the danger, the uncertainty of the weather, and the thrill of a gritty job that makes the sea a home. "Writing has proven to be hard work, often painful," she says. "I can honestly say I'd rather be fishing."
Hart, Elva Trevino.
Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child. 1999. Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, paper, $17 (0-927534-81-9).
"My whole childhood, I never had a bed," begins Hart's bittersweet recollections about growing up one of six children in a migrant family that made the circuit from Texas to Minnesota each year. Her stories about her family, especially her stern but caring father, and about breaking away only to return home, show the moving struggle of an immigrant population, but also the universal personal struggle of finding, then acknowledging, oneself.
Plainsong. 1999. Knopf, $24 (0-375-40618-2).
They were always connected--in the way people in small towns are: the elderly McPheron brothers, unschooled but wise in other ways; high-school teacher Tom Guthrie and his mischievous sons, Bobby and Ike; and Victoria Roubideaux, 17 and pregnant, with nowhere to go. In this plainspoken yet graceful story that is at once complex and elemental, Haruf deftly brings his characters together, slowly turning them into a family ready to face private fears with a renewed sense of hope, connection, and even joy.
Imani All Mine. 1999. Houghton, $23 (0-395-83808-8); May 2000, paper, $12 (0-618-05678-5).
This deceptively simple first-person novel takes readers into the heart and mind of 15-year-old Tasha, whose love for her baby, Imani, is as plain as her fear of the rapist who fathered the child. In the stark language of a tough urban neighborhood, Tasha comes alive on the page as she struggles to reconcile her love and hope for her daughter with the violence that resulted in Imani's conception. A sad though ultimately hopeful novel, compelling from its very first page.
The Alex Awards Committee: Bonnie Kunzel (chair), Princeton (NJ) Public Library; Betty Carter, Texas Woman's University, Denton, TX; Susan Farber, Greenburgh Public Library, Elmsford, NY; Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego, CA; David Mowery, Brooklyn (NY) Public Library; Pamela Spencer, Alexandria, VA; Deborah Taylor, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD; Stephanie Zvirin, Booklist/American Library Association, Chicago, IL.