Who should judge YA awards?

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The Alex Award, the Carnegie Medal, Michael L. Printz Award and the Bookseller YA Book prize. Just a few of the most prestigious YA awards on Earth, prestigious to such an extent that if any young adult author was bestowed one, happiness and pride would be positively emanating from their being. Yet who should be on that committee: who truly deserves to have the right to decide which authors can smugly plaster ‘award stickers’ across their novel’s front covers, and others be content with the trudge to the longlist? When the award is related to Young Adults, there are many controversies as to who should be in charge of making the final decisions.


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Who makes up the actual audience of YA books? 

When considering who should be the judges of a YA book award, it is essential to consider the intended audience, because what appeals to elderly women will probably not coincide with the interest of teenage boys. Of course, young adult books are read by a vast amount of teenagers, but that isn’t the full extent of it; ultimately the actual audience must be taken into consideration, as the novels must be judged against the suitability for the audience. Yet today more adults from across the age spectrum are immersing themselves into the genre too- does that mean that having adults as adjudicators is wrong though? Because if they aren’t the direct target audience, then the novels aren’t aiming to please them, and shouldn’t their opinions then be ignored? Definitely not! If there are enough people from a certain catergory interested and engaged in that type of novel, then what they think is just as important as young adults.

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Who is judging YA awards right now, and why?

Right now, the vast majority of prizes are awarded by a committee of adults. This irritates me, because surely it should be the reverse: that most of them should be awarded by adolescents, with only a sparse number of adults on each judging board? Generally what appeals to teens, regarding their experiences and perspective on the world, will be different from that of an adult- this can affect what aspects of novels engage and please them.I only mention this, because for example, toddlers can’t decide who wins picture book prizes, as they are not objective enough yet. This situation is not similar, and is  unique because of the entire intended vs. actual audience dilemma, and which would be the better in terms of decision making.

As for the why, well I feel that all we need to do is look at the YA Bookseller award’s committee: the judges are embellished with impressive titles, like Director of World Book Day, Director of the Hay festival and columnists from famous newspapers like the
Guardian Weekend. The point is, these people are leading industry figures, and thus have a certain type of status- something which appeal to some people as it can warrant their final decision as more reasonable, if any dispute should come of it like it did with the book that won the Carnegie, The Bunker, a few years ago. Even if the choice is controversial, it is widely accepted because they have these fool-proof CVs. This is most likely intended because when comparing the judgement of a  person with an accolade of impressive experience that of a student, unfortunately people are often prejudiced to vote against the student.

Naturally this is merely a hypothesis, but I think that teenagers are being excluded from judging committees because they aren’t renowned in literary circles and haven’t built a name for themselves. (I must mention that with this particular prize, teens themselves are involved with the final standings, but I am referring to prizes in general, not the YA Bookseller prize in particular). The frustrating element is that this doesn’t mean young adults can’t spot a decent novel, just because they haven’t personally edited 25 themselves! Similarly, despite the unescapable fact that most young adults haven’t been a senior librarian for over 5 years, it doesn’t mean that they are any less adept and useful as part of the judges board. As a whole, young adults cannot gain the qualifications to become “renowned enough” to be a judge and have these various required occupations (such as librarian) that are after sought after if you would like to apply, because they are actually previously engaged with a marvellous pastime called school.

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What am I suggesting as a solution?

I suggest that more teenagers become involved on judging panels, and that their view is represented fairly with the majority of awards. This is not disrespecting the previous outcomes of awards in the past, because it is clear to see that amazing novels have been shortlisted previously, but I believe that introducing a contrast in age on the committee will involve in offering differing perspectives, the younger generation’s perspective, and will change the outcome these honours for the better. I think that we can initiate this change by nominating adolescents with a keen passion for reading to be on the these boards, and perhaps one day our point will get through!

So what do you think of this idea? Do you think that more young adults should participate in judging the winners of prestigious YA awards, or are you satisfied with the current state of affairs?

Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley

An eloquent, impressive and poignant novel about the integration of black students into the previously segregated Jefferson High, Virginia, 1959.

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Sarah is one of the ten black students starting at Jefferson High this year; after years of persistent battling in court, she’s finally going to get the best education possible. But the abuse she and her friends receive when they start is overwhelming, and they all feel a wave of despair when it doesn’t even start to cease. And then Lindsay Hairston catches Sarah’s eye. The daughter of the state’s most influential pro-segregation journalist, and Sarah can’t stop thinking about her. And now Sarah isn’t only afraid of what society will think of this aching desire, as tendrils of disgust and fear are already writhing around her own heart. Because not only is she afraid of everyone’s opinion, but startlingly, she’s frightened of what she is feeling, too.

Firstly, this is a novel which admirably recreates and explores the racial tension that society strongly felt at the time. It is an arduous topic to write about, especially to such high standard, so that Talley deserves credit for that. But occasionally I felt that the plot became slightly flat because Talley got so caught up in the issues she was writing about, that there was less of a drive in certain parts of the novel. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Lindsay, which enhanced the novel because it was useful to see the contrast between the two characters’ lives.

Sarah, the protagonist, is a resilient, intelligent and kind character, which is fortunate for her, because everyday at school she faces physical and mental abuse. In fact, soon after you pick up the novel, you will find yourself cheering for Sarah as she starts to forge her own destiny out the prejudices she faces.

The title is smart; it relates to the rest of the novel because every chapter title is a lie; the lies the various characters tell themselves. I thought that this was a clever touch because often the title of a novel is seemingly irrelevant, detached to the actual content of the novel that follows. On the other hand, there was one major fault; eventually, the chapter names became increasingly similar, to the point of sharing the same meaning with previous titles i.e ‘Lie no. 11 If I keep pretending everything will be alright’ and ‘Lie no. 15 Pretending will make this go away’ or “lie no. 17 I give up” compared with “Lie no.19 There’s no use fighting”. I understand that at one point there will only be a limited amount of options, but I doubt that it is not so limited that there is a lack of variation in this when performing this smart idea.

The themes in this novel are obviously racial tension and violence, (as there are several aggressive episodes in towns and public places throughout the novel where the black and white students are locked in confrontation), and then, there is LGBT+, as Sarah finds herself falling in love with Linda. Truth be told, I was disappointed with this aspect of the novel; admitted, there were instances when thoughts were uncovered showing that they both had feelings for each other, but there were only a few romantic moments, and most of the romance was lost in the  violence towards the end, or two characters lamenting about how sinful and evil they both apparently felt they were. I wasn’t convinced in the end that they were going to become an interracial lesbian couple because there were only a few instances where they honestly faced their feelings.

This novel is great if you have an interest in civil rights, or historical YA fiction. This topical novel is definitely one to watch, and overall is a great debut! Also, please note that this appeared first on the Guardian’s site. So have you read this novel? What did you think of it?

 

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman

Buffalo Soldier is an eye opening account of the Cavalry Regiment in the Civil war, told through the eyes of soldier Charley.

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This is a stunning historical novel, particularly for those who are ignorant about America’s civil war. Admittedly, I knew very little about the American civil war, and this book, for the historical information alone, was fantastic (at filling me in, to say the least). However, it is also an interesting read because it reads into the fate of slaves once they’ve been freed. Many assume that once the slaves were freed, the world was theirs, but as we learn, that was far from the case. As well as that, Landman uncovers some of America’s darkest history, making it a challenging, yet worthwhile read.

Charlotte grew up as a slave, facing years of hardship and deprivation, and was mistreated, to say the least, by the family that owned her. Then the war came around and she was ‘freed’. Yet freedom turned out to be far from the salvation that she desperately sought out, and as a result, Charlotte spent years after her master’s house had been burned down, facing severe hardship and extreme prejudice. It turns out that she was far from free, and after years of insecurity, she finds herself with incredibly limited options. So Charlotte turn to the army, the Cavalry to be precise.

Charlotte, (from this point on called Charley, because she had to pretend to be a man; after all only men were allowed in the army,) and the rest of the soldiers in her regiment, bond through their shared experiences, and they find strength in each other’s companionship. I thought that her fellow soldiers had very rich characters, and it was clear that their friendship with Charley was valued highly, so it was slightly bizarre that we were given only basic information about them.

They were the Buffalo Soldiers, the members of the U.S 10th Cavalry Regiment, and yet even in the army, where they were all working towards the same goal, there was still signs of racial tension. This reminds the reader again, that although the slaves are freed, this by no way means that they are respected and treated equally.

Charley is a bold, independent, resilient and intelligent person and I think that her character will appeal to everyone. She is evidently naive, yet after everything she has experience, she is ultimately wiser. The book is written from her point of view and gives us an utterly unique view of the civil war. Notably, the novel is written in Charley’s dialect, so it can be quite difficult to adjust to, and I think that whilst others will love this style, because it makes you feel immersed in the character, it can on the other hand be quite off-putting.

I thought it was fascinating to have a direct comparison to the way the pioneers of America were treated and the freed slaves, because often the freed slaves were viewed as lowest in society, and yes, they were treated appallingly, but in comparison to the Native Americans, they were living in luxury. It was also interesting to observe that instead of sympathising with the Native Americans, slaves, or ex-slaves, shared the same opinion as their master/ everyone else. As the book progresses though, we see that Charley’s opinion of them changes, as she realises that although so of the pioneers’ actions were questionable, they had unfairly been given a label.

Overall, an intriguing novel, and will delight those interested both in historical novels and YA. This book is not recommended for those under 13 because of the human cruelty and violence featured and is also probably not for those who find American history dull!