Book Reviews: #CYBILS2023 High School Nonfiction Finalists

If you have ever put a book down because your emotions got the best of you, then this is the shortlist for you.

The 2023 High School Nonfiction finalists are just that powerful. In some cases, the events in these books happened many decades ago – long before this generation of young adults and even their parents were born. And yet. Not only do these books offer compelling, inspiring stories for their time, they inform readers in ways that connect to today’s young reader. Activists, outsiders, refugees, friends … survivors.


Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
Sheinkin, Steve
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Becky L.

Tiffany @ Goodreads – The first thing that drew me to this book was the intriguing and beautiful cover. It was very appealing and immediately brought life to the “characters”. Based on the true accounts of teenagers during the Holocaust, a story of friendship, perseverance and survival. I thought this was very well written and made for an excellent audiobook.

Anne @ My Head Is Full of Books – As soon as I noticed Steve Sheinkin had written another nonfiction book for teens I knew I had to read it. He is a reliably great writer for this population and I’ve found every one of his books to be readable and informative. It is hard to believe that yet another true story of heroism emerges from the ashes of WWII, but here we are. Rudi and Greta’s stories are so worth reading. I enjoy reading narrative nonfiction and Sheinkin gives us enough back story on each of the teens to cause the readers to cheer for their success. There are plenty of source notes and an index to make this book a good tool for student research.

Mary @ Just Read Journal – I never knew the story of Rudi Vrba and Alfred Wetzler’s escape from Auschwitz, but now that I do, I know it’s changed me forever. This book is an important and well-researched account of schoolmates Rudi Vrba and Gerta Sidonova’s lives during WWII that will provide the reader with a great deal to reflect on and continues to be relevant to issues we face today. This powerful true story is a thrilling page-turner, except when the gut-wrenching facts force you to put down the book and cry. This not-to-be-missed story of bravery and fortitude will appeal to teenagers and adults alike.


Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Kimmerer, Robin Wall and Gray Smith, Monique, illustrated by Neidhardt, Nicole
Zest Books
Nominated by: Richetta

Hilary @ Writers’ Rumpus – Blending the science of nature with spirituality is not an easy undertaking, particularly for a book tailored to the young adult audience. Kimmerer (and Smith) do it in a way that is intuitive, but also groundbreaking. I enjoyed learning about her Indigenous approach to naming animals and natural elements with personal pronouns, and capitalizing their names in order to portray the spirits they embody. This would be a fabulous book for the high school classroom to learn more about Native American beliefs systems and cultural practices.

Karen @ Goodreads – I primarily read library books, but this is one that I want to purchase. Robin Wall Kimmerer explains the knowledge that Native Americans have about sweetgrass and other plants – their practical use including medicinal properties of some of the plants. It also adopts the traditional Native American view of the web of life (how everything is interconnected). /the book can help people reconnect to their environment and work to have a healthier interaction, which benefits all–including people.

Muzoon: A Syrian Refugee Speaks Out
Almellehan, Muzoon and Pearlman, Wendy
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

Karen @ Goodreads – Muzoon is often called the Syrian Malala. I took the opportunity to watch a handful of videos about the history of Syria, about the war (and the many countries and groups maintaining a stake in the war), about the refugee crisis, and about Muzoon herself. Yes, right now the world is focused on Palestinian refugees, but Muzoon can narrate some of the concerns that are universal for refugee children who can benefit from an education while they are seeking permanent residence.

Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself
Edinger, Monica and Younge, Lesley
Zest Books
Nominated by: Colleen

Tiffany @ Goodreads – I do not normally gravitate towards non-fiction, but this story is a retelling of the life of writer and abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano. The fact that it was written in verse made it less intimidating to read. I wish this would have been part of my readings when I was in school. I felt like I was reading entries straight from Olaudah’s personal journal.

Genevieve @ Twitter/X – Possibly my favorite read this week was NEARER MY FREEDOM, which took the narrative of Olaudah Equiano and turned it into found poetry, which makes it a perfect read for younger people–and anyone who doesn’t understand language from the 1700s! Such a powerful story. Amazing life!

Mary @ Just Read Journal – This book will inspire readers to develop strength of character, perseverance, and dedication to goals. This book will allow readers to enhance their understanding of world history. This book will prepare readers to take action against racism and fight for justice. This found verse version also includes short notes on relevant topics that help augment and reinforce Olaudah Equiano’s eloquent writings.

Spare Parts (Young Readers’ Edition): The True Story of Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and an Impossible Dream
Davis, Joshua
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: aquafortis

Mary @ Just Read Journal – This is an inspiring story for high school readers that has it all: underdogs to root for, creative solutions to complicated engineering challenges, and an astonishing triumph. This unforgettable experience happened because of inspiring teachers who provided a safe place for these students, pushed them to be their best, and allowed them to prove their potential. You won’t want to miss this heartfelt story of achievement!

Hilary @ Goodreads – I absolutely loved this. You really get to know these four teenagers–their childhoods, interests and hobbies, pain, and dreams. It is an inside look at what it looks and feels like to be a smart, driven, and undocumented child in America. There are dreams fulfilled, but also ones not. This story is amazing uplifting, while still keeping its feet on the ground in reality. A highly satisfying STEM adventure!