2010 Finalists: Young Adult Novels

Dirt Road Home
by Watt Key
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: Kate Coombs

Fast paced, gripping, and heartfelt, Dirt Road Home was a book that we just couldn’t put down. The story follows Hal, who is looking for a clean slate inside the Hellenweiler Boys Home, a juvenile detention facility. What he finds is a jungle where the only rule is for inmates to pick a side in the brewing gang war. When Hal refuses, he becomes a target, which sets off a string of events that makes Hal’s goal of staying on the straight and narrow hard to keep. His earnest voice and straightforward point of view are world weary while still being fresh, and Watt Key has masterfully crafted a book that is not only about second chances, but about staying true to yourself even when you aren’t sure who you are. —Justina Ireland

Harmonic Feedback
by Tara Kelly
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Alex Stein

One of the issues du jour seems to be main characters on the autism spectrum or those struggling with Asperger’s syndrome. What the panel loved about this book is that Drea is very much a girl any teen can relate to. Yes, she has Asperger’s, but that is not the sum total of her existence. She is also a teenager, a musician, a girl who has moved a lot and has a crotchety old grandmother to live with. All of these things contribute to a personality readers can easily connect with, and Drea’s straightforward way of looking at life is refreshingly honest. —Ami Jones

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else
by Erin McCahan
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Robin Prehn

Using wit and a whole lot of charm, author Erin McCahan has created a unique coming-of-age story centering on Bronwen, a strong-minded 18-year-old in search of a place to belong. Never having felt connected to her own family, Bronwen finds herself on the verge of getting married, hopeful that a life with Jared will give her the family she’s been looking for her entire life. The complex nature of what marriage means, as well as what ultimately makes a family is addressed in a refreshing and, at times hilarious, way. The humor woven amidst a plot with a very serious topic is what ultimately led the panel to fall in love with Bronwen (a.k.a Phoebe Lilywhite) and her quest to find herself, a real family and true love. —Amanda Snow

by Mark Shulman
Roaring Brook
Nominated by: Rosa Sanchez

An instantly engaging voice is the first clue that there’s more to this school bully than stealing lunch money. Shulman’s expert structure maintained a delicate balance of tension and humor, while his subtle character development creates entire back stories for secondary characters in a single, artful sentence. Shulman takes a familiar technique with journaling and manages to make it fresh and unique all the way to the brilliant last page. Readers can’t help but cheer for the self-described loser, Tod Munn, as he navigates through expectations, loyalties, and aspirations. —Jackie Parker

Some Girls Are
by Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin
Nominated by: Kelly Jensen

You haven’t seen mean until you’ve seen the girls in Some Girls Are. Picked for its strong, sparse writing, tight pacing, and gut-wrenching grit, the cast of flawed characters in this noir story will leave you gasping–and maybe hoping for mercy–through each new blow. This one begs the question: can high school kill? —Kelly Jensen

by Swati Avasthi
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: El

Sixteen-year-old Jace hasn’t seen or spoken to his older brother Christian in five years, ever since Christian broke off all contact with their abusive father and disappeared to another state. Now Jace is the one fleeing home, bruised in both mind and body, seeking refuge with the brother who left him behind. The two scarred brothers–one emotionally closed-off and one barely able to contain the rage that churns within him–struggle to trust each other in an onslaught of painful memories and tense interactions. Jace’s voice is raw and wry and honest, drawing the reader into his pain and his fear: fear for his mother’s safety and for the person he’s afraid of becoming. Like Jace’s father, this powerful novel pulls no punches. Our panel was collectively wowed by its candor, its nuanced characters, its visceral emotional impact, and its strong, authentic narrative voice. —Melissa Wiley

by Lucy Christopher
Chicken House
Nominated by: Adele Walsh

Stolen is a haunting novel that explores the fine line between love, lust, and obsession and a book that generated intense, impassioned debate among the panelists. Sixteen year-old Gemma is kidnapped from the airport by Ty, a man who has been fixated on her for years. Written as a letter to her captor, Gemma begins to uncover her true feelings about what happened–feelings she hasn’t even wanted to admit to herself and feelings even the reader will question. What really happened between Ty and Gemma in the desert? Psychologically thrilling and twisted, Stolen is a breathtaking masterpiece. —Cherylynne Bago