The National Book Foundation has announced the five finalists for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Shing Yin Khor for The Legend of Auntie Po (Kokila), Malinda Lo for Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton), Kyle Lukoff for Too Bright to See (Dial), Kekla Magoon for Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People (Candlewick), and Amber McBride for Me (Moth) (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends). The finalists were drawn from a longlist that was announced on September 15.
Magoon was longlisted for the award in 2015; the rest of the finalists are NBA first-timers. Three of the five finalists were published by imprints of Penguin Young Readers.
The annual National Book Awards Finalists Reading, in which all the finalists will read from their work, will be hosted by the New School on the evening of November 9; this event will be online, free, and open to the public. The annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, hosted by Kwame Alexander, will take place on November 10.
The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 17, at the NBA’s 72nd awards ceremony, which will also take place online.
Read on for PW’s reviews of the books by all five finalists.
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
“In 1885, following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese American Mei, 13, works alongside her father at a California logging camp, feeding 100 white lumberjacks and 40 Chinese workers. When tragedy strikes, Mei’s faith in her invented god, Auntie Po, falters. Khor straddles myth and harsh realities via stunning digital pencil and hand-painted watercolor art that highlights cornerstones of Chinese culture. Much will resonate with diasporic readers, though any reader will find Mei’s journey cathartic.”
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
“The year is 1954, and American-born Chinese 17-year-old Lily Hu discovers the existence of the Telegraph Club nightclub by chance: via an ad in the Chronicle featuring a Male Impersonator. Lily secretly gathers photos of women with masculine qualities; she’s drawn toward “unfeminine” clothing and interests such as chemistry, engines, and space. Dawning recognition of her lesbianism comes alongside a budding connection with Kathleen Miller, a white classmate. Smoothly referencing cultural touchstones and places with historic Chinese American significance, Lo conjures 1950s San Francisco adeptly while transcending historicity through a sincere exploration of identity and love.”
Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
“Lukoff makes smart and thought-provoking use of the ghost story framework to reflect narrator Bug’s experiences as a trans boy, using genuinely creepy horror elements to portray dysphoria and societally enforced femininity. Through Bug’s journey to self-realization and self-acceptance, and the wonderfully nuanced understanding of gender he comes to, Lukoff provides a tender rumination on grief, love, and identity.”
“In this powerful history, Magoon presents an incisive, in-depth study of the Black Panther Party. Detailed, accessible text includes ample context around the BPP’s rise and fall, starting with a history of slavery, emancipation, and segregation before diving into the civil rights and Black Power movements and ending with Black Lives Matter. Magoon also describes the community programs that the party created for Black people, its dedication to ensuring all of its actions were legal, and the lengths to which the U.S. government and local law officials went to destroy the party.”
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride
“Desperate for a change, Moth and Sani embark on a road trip out west to the Navajo Nation, where Sani’s biological father lives. As the two travel, visiting national landmarks that connect them to the ghosts of their ancestors, a tender love story unfolds, one that debut author McBride skillfully renders while covering serious topics such as grief and mental health, including suicidal ideation.”