The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.
The award is sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust and named after Edwards, who was called “Alex” by her friends. Edwards pioneered young adult library services and worked for many years at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. She has served as an inspiration to many librarians who serve young adults.
Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow’s head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.
Night after night, Mackenzie’s dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina’s untimely death: a weekend at the family’s lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too—a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina—Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.
Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams—and make them more dangerous.
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of the Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly popular, highly controversial profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators, and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom.
In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death matches before packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, Thurwar considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games. But CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo, and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.
Chlorine by Jade Song
Ren Yu is a swimmer. Her daily life starts and ends with the pool. Her teammates are her only friends. Her coach is her guiding light. If she swims well enough, she will be scouted, get a scholarship, go to a good school. Her parents will love her. Her coach will be kind to her. She will have a good life.
But these are human concerns. These are the concerns of those confined to land, those with legs. Ren grew up on stories of creatures of the deep, of the oceans and the rivers. Creatures that called sailors to their doom. That dragged them down and drowned them. That feasted on their flesh. The creature that she’s always longed to become: the mermaid.
Ren aches to be in the water. She dreams of the scent of chlorine, the feel of it on her skin. And she will do anything she can to make a life for herself where she can be free. No matter the pain. No matter what anyone else thinks. No matter how much blood she has to spill.
Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant. She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.
Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom’s protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
The Hard Parts: A Memoir of Courage and Triumph by Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters was born in Ukraine—in the shadow of Chernobyl—seemingly with the odds stacked against her. She came into the world with one kidney, a partial stomach, six toes on each foot, webbed fingers, no right bicep, and no thumbs. Her left leg was six inches shorter than her right, and she was missing both tibias.
Relinquished to the orphanage system by birth parents daunted by the staggering cost of what would be their child’s medical care, Oksana encountered numerous abuses, some horrifying. Salvation came at age seven when Gay Masters, an unmarried American professor who saw a photo of the little girl and became haunted by her eyes, waged a two-year war against stubborn adoption authorities to rescue Oksana from her circumstances.
In America, Oksana endured years of operations that included a double leg amputation. Still, how could she hope to fit in when there were so many things making her different?
I Will Greet the Sun Again by Khashayar J. Khabushani
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley with his two brothers, all K wants is to be “a boy from L.A.,” all American. But K—the youngest, named after a Persian king—knows there’s something different about himself. Like the way he feels about his closest friend, Johnny, a longing that he can’t share with anyone.
At home, K must navigate another confusing identity: that of the dutiful son of Iranian immigrants struggling to make a life for themselves in the United States. He tries to make his mother proud, live up to her ideal of a son. On Friday nights, K attends prayers at the local mosque with Baba, whose violent affections distort K’s understanding of what it means to be a man and how to love.
When Baba takes the three brothers from their mother back to Iran, K finds himself in an ancestral home he barely knows. Returning to the Valley months later, K must piece together who he is, in a world that now feels as foreign to him as the one he left behind.
Maame by Jessica George
It’s fair to say that Maddie’s life in London is far from rewarding. With a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana (yet still somehow manages to be overbearing), Maddie is the primary caretaker for her father, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson’s. At work, her boss is a nightmare and Maddie is tired of always being the only Black person in every meeting.
When her mum returns from her latest trip to Ghana, Maddie leaps at the chance to get out of the family home and finally start living. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she’s ready to experience some important “firsts”: She finds a flat share, says yes to after-work drinks, pushes for more recognition in her career, and throws herself into the bewildering world of internet dating. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to face the true nature of her unconventional family, and the perils—and rewards—of putting her life on the line.
Smart, funny, and deeply affecting, Jessica George’s Maame deals with the themes of our time with humor and poignancy: from familial duty and racism, to female pleasure, the complexity of love, and the life-saving power of friendship. Most important, it explores what it feels like to be torn between two homes and cultures―and it celebrates finally being able to find where you belong.
Starter Villain by John Scalzi
Inheriting your uncle’s supervillain business is more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you discover who’s running the place.
Charlie’s life is going nowhere fast. A divorced substitute teacher living with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell, all he wants is to open a pub downtown, if only the bank will approve his loan.
Then his long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie.
But becoming a supervillain isn’t all giant laser death rays and lava pits. Jake had enemies, and now they’re coming after Charlie. His uncle might have been a stand-up, old-fashioned kind of villain, but these are the real thing: rich, soulless predators backed by multinational corporations and venture capital.
It’s up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyperintelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.
The Talk by Darrin Bell
Darrin Bell was six years old when his mother told him he couldn’t have a realistic water gun. She said she feared for his safety, that police tend to think of little Black boys as older and less innocent than they really are.
Through evocative illustrations and sharp humor, Bell examines how The Talk shaped intimate and public moments from childhood to adulthood. While coming of age in Los Angeles―and finding a voice through cartooning―Bell becomes painfully aware of being regarded as dangerous by white teachers, neighbors, and police officers and thus of his mortality. Drawing attention to the brutal murders of African Americans and showcasing revealing insights and cartoons along the way, he brings us up to the moment of reckoning when people took to the streets protesting the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And now Bell must decide whether he and his own six-year-old son are ready to have The Talk.
Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
Jay Gardiner has given himself a fool’s errand—to find the remains of his deceased father in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monastery Beach. He knows it’s a long shot, but Jay feels it’s the only way for him to lift the weight of guilt he has carried since his dad’s death by suicide the previous year.
The dive begins well enough, but the sudden appearance of a giant squid puts Jay in very real jeopardy, made infinitely worse by the arrival of a sperm whale looking to feed. Suddenly, Jay is caught in the squid’s tentacles and drawn into the whale’s mouth where he is pulled into the first of its four stomachs. He quickly realizes he has only one hour before his oxygen tanks run out—one hour to defeat his demons and escape the belly of a whale.