Teens, I finished Sabaa Tahir’s young adult novel “All My Rage” last night…at midnight. You should know that my usual bedtime is like, the minute the sun goes down, so it’s saying something that “All My Rage” crawled into my lap and held my eyes open way past my usual tuck-in hour. It then slinked into my heart and left me in a puddle, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me rewind.
In January, the American Library Association (ALA) announced its 2023 Youth Media Award Winners. Some of these awards you’ve probably already heard of, like the John Newbery Medal for outstanding contributions to children’s literature, and the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, but those two are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults is basically the “Album of the Year” Grammy in the teen book world. And as you may have guessed, the 2023 Printz Award went to (drumroll) “All My Rage” by Sabaa Tahir. Now I don’t always love award-winners. Sometimes I read them and think to myself, “Yes, I can see why an adult would give this book an award, but would a real, live teen like it?” Teens, it is my hypothesis that you—a real, live teen—might love this book. Let me tell you why.
This book is deep. It’s real. It doesn’t shy away from difficult issues. The characters are flawed but likable and relatable. The book follows the stories of Pakistani American teens Sal and Noor, bouncing around in time and perspective (but not so much that it gets annoying), and details the ways they deal with some majorly distressing issues (think parents dying, addiction, racism, poverty, and so much more that would be terrible of me to give away). There are many surprises in this book, things that I probably should have seen coming, but didn’t, that make it totally satisfying, even though in many ways it’s a real modern tragedy. It’s also written beautifully if you’re into good writing. And you might cry if you’re into crying.
If you’re not convinced by the 2023 Printz Award winner, no problem…I have another option for you up my pajama sleeve, and it also won an ALA Youth Media award! This next category is an interesting one: The Alex Award. The Alex Award is given to the ten best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. Yes, there are ten winners, but I’m just going to tell you about one: “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by Jennette McCurdy. “What a dreadful title,” you might be thinking to yourself. But you also might be thinking, “I’m weirdly interested.” You should follow that instinct.
“I’m Glad My Mom Died” is a memoir by McCurdy, whom you may recognize from her roles on the Nickelodeon sitcoms “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.” There are many ways a memoir written by a younger person could go wrong, but this one doesn’t. McCurdy is so skilled at telling her story—offering honest glimpses at scenes from her life that are sometimes funny, often times heartbreaking—that we feel like we’re right there with her as she deals with an eating disorder, a narcissistic mom, dysfunctional relationships, and a Hollywood industry that happily makes money off her while turning a blind eye to her real-life suffering. It’s another one of those books that refuses to be put down and is authentic in a way that resonates—even if you might not be glad if your own mom died. Remember, this book was written for adults, so be sure to check in with your families to see if this might be a good fit for you.
Teens, if you choose to read either of these titles, please come find me in the library (I promise I’ll be awake) and let me know if you think the awards committees—and my hypothesis—got it right. And if you’re interested in discovering more young adult award winners, visit www.akspl.org/teens, where we link to these and many more teen literature award lists…trust me when I say we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Kristina Naftzger is a Youth Services Librarian at A.K. Smiley Public Library, where one of the only things she likes better than falling asleep at the crack of sunset is crying her eyes out over a good book.