CYBILS 2023 Young Adult Fiction Finalists

Ander & Santi Were Here: A Novel
Jonny Garza Villa
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Linh

Ander Martínez’s life is in a time of transition. They grew up embracing the seamless mixture of language, food, and people in their San Antonio neighborhood. Their family has a successful taqueria which gave Ander both their foundation and their inspiration as a muralist. Ander & Santi Were Here is at times an intersection and at others a collision between cultures, people and the worlds that Ander knew and thought they knew. The difference between Ander and Santi is that Ander is in control of their next steps, and Santi, an undocumented immigrant living in threat of ICE while working as a waiter at the taqueria, is not. The relationship that develops between Ander and Santi is one that illustrates masterfully the layers of identities and choices we don’t always see in ourselves, ones we assume of each other, and the ones the outside world imposes upon us.

Jonny Garza Villa writes from their experiences and the result is accessible, believable characters who connect with readers on topics central to young adults as they transition from being family to community members: belonging, responsibility, building new relationship, and taking next steps towards your future. Of note is the way in which Ander and Santi’s evolving relationship illustrates too common assumptions around identities such as Latinx, LGTBQ, undocumented, and ally. Young adults and supportive adults who choose this novel will see or feel seen, because Ander & Santi Were Here.

Erin Conway, Erin Conway

Give Me a Sign
Anna Sortino
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Susan (Blogginbout Books)

Lilah is sweet, hopeful, and totally relatable, yet she struggles to hear every word in a conversation. Because she talks in a “normal” voice, people, including teachers and close friends, underestimate the extent of her deafness and get irritated when asked to repeat themselves. Becoming a Junior Counselor at a summer camp for the deaf and blind, Lilah looks forward to being part of an accepting community and improving her ASL, but when she meets adorable Deaf counselor Issac, she misinterprets a sign in the most cringeworthy way. Isaac volunteers to be her ASL instructor and their blossoming relationship is tender, realistic, and heartbreaking at times. Everything about this book feels so honest and true. It’s no surprise debut author Anna Sortino writes from her own experience. I can’t stop thinking about this enlightening and beautifully written coming-of-age story and want to gift it to everyone I know.

Laura Cooper, Writer’s Rumpus

Invisible Son
Kim Johnson
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Reshama

After being released from a juvenile detention facility in early 2020 for a crime he didn’t commit, Andre Jackson returns to a life drastically different from the one he was living only a few months prior. Staying with his grandparents, he confronts an ankle monitor tracking his every move, a tarnished reputation he’s ready to prove wrong, and a virus threatening both his community and the world. However, the one person he’d like to confront, Eric, the friend Andre took the fall for, is nowhere to be found, and no one else has even looked for him. While Andre investigates his disappearance, author Kim Johnson explores the uncertainty of the early days of COVID-19 along with more general social discord — including protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd. Ultimately, she has created a tension-packed mystery with a serious examination of how both the criminal justice system and the pandemic affect communities of color. With a strong voice, tight pacing, and intense twists, Invisible Son provides a powerful look at a moment in U.S. history that remains relevant today.

Christopher Helton, Plucked from the Stacks

Plan A
Deb Caletti
Labyrinth Road
Nominated by: BecAsh

Ivy is pregnant, and it’s not by her boyfriend, Lorenzo. Complicated. And living in Texas where even her Uber driver could get sued for driving her to an abortion complicates things more. Plan A follows Ivy and Lorenzo as they go on what’s essentially an abortion road trip to a state where Ivy is safe to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. The deep themes of agency and shared experiences in womanhood are explored through Ivy’s generally lighthearted voice, leaving you to both laugh and cry your way through this novel with so much heart.

Gina Adams, @gsreadingspree

Rez Ball
Byron Graves
Publisher/ Author Submission

Byron Graves, an exciting new voice in fiction, delivers a gripping debut novel that explores the universal journey of a young athlete determined to be the hero his Ojibwe community craves. In Rez Ball meet Tre Brun, whose sanctuary lies within the bounds of the Red Lake Reservation high school basketball team. Despite the constant echoes of his brother Jaxon’s tragic accident, Tre finds solace and purpose on the court. When Jaxon’s former varsity teammates extend a lifeline, Tre sees a chance to propel his Ojibwe community to its inaugural state championship — a pivotal step toward realizing his NBA dreams, regardless of the formidable odds stacked against him. As he steps into his brother’s shoes as a star player, Tre grapples with the weight of expectations, striving not to falter on the court, at school, or in his burgeoning friendship with the enigmatic gamer, Khiana — a connection that complicates his quest for glory. Rez Ball weaves a tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring spirit of a community thirsting for triumph. Tre Brun’s journey is more than a quest for a state title; it’s a testament to the indomitable will to fulfill dreams and redefine the narrative etched on the Red Lake Reservation. Byron Graves invites readers to witness a story that transcends generations, proving that as long as dreams endure, the journey is far from over.

Deborah Zeman, @Z_Brarian

The Next New Syrian Girl
Ream Shukairy
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jacob C.

Beautifully written with a sense of love and purpose, The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy is a captivating novel that immerses readers in the compelling journey of a young Syrian girl navigating the tumultuous landscapes of identity, love, and resilience. Set against the backdrop of a war-torn Syria, the story unfolds with raw emotion and unflinching honesty, as the protagonist grapples with the complexities of her past and envisions a future shaped by her own strength and determination. Shukairy’s evocative prose weaves a tapestry of cultural richness, political upheaval, and the indomitable spirit of a generation in search of hope. The Next New Syrian Girl is a poignant exploration of the human spirit’s ability to rise above adversity and find a sense of self in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Tahira Ahmad

We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Kristen

Avery Anderson has the worst start to her senior year. Instead of staying in Washington, D.C., with her friends, Avery, her Mom, and Dad move to Bardell, Georgia to take care of Avery’s Grandmother, Mama Letty, in her final months. It becomes clear quickly that the tension between Mama Letty and her daughter is deep-rooted and not easily resolved. Avery, not knowing much about Mama Letty, works to establish a relationship, knowing her time is short. What Avery discovers is family trauma that is tied to events that took place in Bardell decades before, involving racial injustice and murder. Avery’s budding feelings for Simone Cole, her next-door neighbor, and her friendship with Jade Oliver, the daughter of the town’s richest and most prominent white family, explore themes of LGBTQ love in a deeply conservative small town, generational trauma, and secrets in a town where racial tensions run deep.

Sue Gerth, The Bookalicious Babe