On Tuesday morning, the National Book Foundation narrowed its longlist down to five finalists for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Kacen Callender for King and the Dragonflies; Traci Chee for We Are Not Free; Candice Iloh for Every Body Looking; Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed for When Stars Are Scattered; and Gavriel Savit for The Way Back.
The annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference will take place on November 16 in partnership with the Miami Book Fair online. The National Book Awards Finalists Reading will again be hosted by the New School on the evening of November 10; this event will be online, free, and open to the public.
The winners will be announced on November 18 during the NBA’s 71st annual ceremony, which will take place online.
Read on for PW’s starred reviews of the books by all five finalists.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press)
“Callender returns to middle grade in this powerful tale of grief, intersectional identity, and love. King shines wholly real as a Black child learning to negotiate shifting interpersonal relationships and navigate sociocultural pressures and expectations.”
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
“Spanning three years, from March 1942 to March 1945, Chee’s accomplished novel about America’s treatment of Japanese Americans is told by 14 Nisei teenagers who have grown up together in San Francisco’s Japantown. Ambitious in scope and complexity, this is an essential contribution to the understanding of the wide-ranging experiences impacting people of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. during WWII.”
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (Dutton)
"In this stunning debut for young adults, Iloh crafts succinct, beautiful poems to illustrate the difficulties of navigating the tangle of family history and obligation, the power of art to heal and express, and the strength it takes to chart an authentic, independent path."
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial)
“Based on coauthor Mohamed’s childhood after fleeing Somalia on foot with his younger brother, this affecting graphic novel follows the brothers’ life in a Kenyan refugee camp. Jamieson and Mohamed together craft a cohesive, winding story that balances daily life and boredom, past traumas, and unforeseen outcomes alongside camp denizens’ ingenuity and community.”
The Way Back by Gavriel Savit (Knopf)
“At once historical and tenderly intimate in scope, Savit’s ambitious novel begins in the Eastern European shtetl of Tupnik in the 19th century, where the arrival of the Messenger of Death sets two Jewish youths on intersecting paths. A bewitching allegorical adventure comprised of small, beautifully composed moments.”