Award Books by Genre: National Book Award/Finalist

Nimona
Stevenson, Noelle
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

It's a rare treat to find a graphic novel with well-rounded characters, an interesting story, and an art style that has range. Even if it started as a webcomic, Nimona shows a surprising amount of depth for the medium. Sure, some of the early parts were clearly encapsulated in a serial format, but they were a quick way to introduce the characters and setting. When the story has some room to grow, it gets even better. It's definitely a page-turner, and I devoured it as fast as I could.

The heart of Nimona is its characters. Flipping the hero's journey on its head and focusing on the villain's perspective was a fun touch. Nimona's chaotic nature was a fun contrast to Lord Ballister Blackheart, who just wanted to do his villainous revenge alone. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how naturally the book handles LGBTQ+ themes. None of it felt forced or odd, even in a science fantasy setting. It was just there, with no winking nods or awkward attention brought to it. Then again, it was also a fantastic adaptation of the "enemies to lovers" trope—or would it be "lovers to enemies"?

As someone who likes to write science fantasy stories, I absolutely loved the science fantasy setting. It has all the trappings of a medieval time, just with video chats, laser guns, and dragons co-existing in a way that makes perfect sense. This is the kind of thing I can completely get behind. If anything, I hope this book inspires more writers to jump into this genre, as I desperately want to read more books like this. It's like the best parts of sci-fi and fantasy brought together in an awesome (but also deeply moving) story.

A science fantasy graphic novel with excellent characters, story, and art, I give Nimona 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Far From the Tree book jacket
Benway, Robin
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"Far From the Tree" by Robin Benway is a exploration of family, identity, and the bonds that tie people together. The book follows the interconnected lives of three siblings—Grace, Maya, and Joaquin—who are all separated and discover each other's existence and embark on a journey to understand the meaning of family. Benway skillfully intertwines the perspectives of these three characters, creating a narrative that unfolds with genuine emotion and authenticity. The story delves into themes of adoption, acceptance, and the profound impact of family connections on one's sense of self.
Awarding "Far From the Tree" a rating of 3/5 reflects my appreciation for the novel's engaging storyline and the author's adept portrayal of complex family dynamics. The characters are well-developed, and their individual struggles and growth are compelling. However, at times, the narrative can feel slightly formulaic, with certain plot points following predictable trajectories. Additionally, while the exploration of adoption is insightful, some aspects of the story may feel a bit too neatly resolved. Despite these minor critiques, Benway's ability to craft a touching narrative around the theme of found family makes "Far From the Tree" a solid and emotional read, deserving a 3 star rating.

Reviewer's Name: Caroline
Invisible Man
Ellison, Ralph
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that explores the complexities of African American identity in a society that refuses to see them as anything but invisible. Published in 1952, the book tells the story of an unnamed narrator who struggles to find his place in a world that constantly denies his existence.

The novel is set in the early 20th century and follows the narrator's journey from his youth in the South to his experiences in the North, where he encounters racism, violence, and exploitation. The narrator's quest for identity is complicated by the fact that he is not only a black man in a white-dominated society but also an individual struggling to define himself.

Throughout the novel, Ellison employs richly symbolic imagery to convey the narrator's experiences and emotions. The use of motifs such as blindness, invisibility, and masks emphasizes the ways in which society seeks to hide or ignore the realities of racism and prejudice. At the same time, the narrator's invisibility serves as a metaphor for the struggle of African Americans to assert their identity and agency in a society that denies them these basic human rights.

Ellison's prose is both poetic and poignant, as he explores the complexities of race, identity, and power. He also addresses issues of class and gender, as the narrator navigates the world of white power brokers, black nationalists, and women who seek to control him.

Overall, "Invisible Man" is a powerful and important work that continues to resonate with readers today. It is a testament to the enduring legacy of racism and inequality in America, and a call to action for all those who seek to create a more just and equitable society. If you have not read this book yet, I highly recommend that you do so.

Reviewer's Name: Aman G.
A Little Life
Yaragihara, Hanya
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"A Little Life" by Hanya Yaragihara is a commendable literary fiction which will make you cry and smile, often both at the same time.
I read this book last year and I still think about it sometimes and that's how I know it's a good book.
Honestly, saying it's a 'good' book is an underestimation.
My sincerest apologies.
Let me correct myself, A Little Life is not a good book, it's a magnificent book. A fine piece of literary fiction.
After a couple of decades this book is going to be considered a classic from this
generation. I have dibs on it.
Reading it was quite an expedition,
It was as if I rode a rollercoaster of
emotions;
whereupon I felt the highest of highs and lowest of the lows, varying from small soothing ecstasies to immense crestfallenness.
The book is bildungsroman of sorts which simply means we follow characters from their childhood towards their adulthood and we basically read them go through their lives.
We circle the lives of four college friends, based in nyc, who technically grow up together.
But our focal point resides on Jude, our protagonist, whom we adore!
A little context: In his adult life, he is a successful litigator who has got his act together,
but little do we know, he's been through hell and back. We untangle his mind-boggling mysteries on this expedition of ours. Its a tragic tale really but despite the unfortunate trajectories there is something so beautiful and pure about this book,
I guess what I'm referring to is friendship.
The bond these college friends share.
These characters grow on you, you can tell they're written with love.
They re so complicated and real and even relatable, sometimes.
Moreover, text is simply elysian. I needn't say more.
The beauty is in the details, in the intricacies.
Once you get through the initial fifty pages, it'll grow on you indefinitely.
and it'll become unputdownable and your fingers would ache since its a mammoth of a book. And you're dread it when you're nearing the end,
dread it because you do not want it to end yet,
thats how lovely these people are, and their story is. Well, lovely and sad.
Once you devour the text,
you'd miss them.
your heart would be left rended all over the place, like mine was
and you'd think how the text wasn't long enough, like I did after reading 800 something pages,
I wished there were more to the book.
Adding some trigger warnings for this book at the end of my review-
sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, scary verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and gaslighting, kidnapping/
imprisonment, many modes of self-harm, suicide, rape.
I think I covered them all, look trigger warnings up once just to be sure.
Read this book. I insist and assure you will have a good time.

Reviewer's Name: Nishtha
Holes
Sachar, Louis
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Stanley Yelnats was walking home from his last day of school, on an ordinary evening when out of the blue, a pair of baseball shoes fell from what seemed like the sky. Once recovered from the sudden shock, Stanley began to recognize this pair of shoes as the famous baseball player Clyde Livingston’s famous cleats. He was in such revelation at that moment that he hardly heard the police car pull up behind him. The officer stepped out, grasped the shoes from Stanley, and in return, placed handcuffs on his wrongly accused wrists. Stanley then travels to Camp Green Lake where he and many others are forced to dig holes exactly five feet deep, and five feet wide by the dreaded warden, the repulsive Mr. Sir, and finally the kind but still quite annoying Mr. Pendanski. It had only been a few days ago when he was unjustly convicted of a crime and sent to supposedly build character in what looked and felt like the most hottest and driest place on the planet. He and the others were forced to live in devastating conditions which included the worst of the worst living conditions. Days and days pass as Stanley meets new friends and foes but also as a newly found mysteries arise. Is the warden actually having the campers dig for character or perhaps something else? Is Stanley here because of the supposed curse on his family? And what other treasures could lie in this vast desert.

This book was an overall spectacular read. I had chosen to read this Louis Sachar novel because many of my friends had requested it to me along with many of my past and present teachers. I thought it would be a fun read and a possible new experience. Some of the many things that I really liked in this book was the exciting and suspenseful story along with the explicit details listed throughout the story. This book was amazing and barely had any flaws but if I had to think of one, I could have liked the organization and structure of the novel to have been a little better. Each chapter was very short and I would have liked them to be at least a little longer, but as mentioned before, there were close to none, if not any, very big dislikes in this wonderfully written novel. Readers who love a little mystery, some suspense, and a great story line would love this book.

Reviewer's Name: Ethan
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Vuong, Ocean
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional autobiography written by Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong. It is written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese-American son to his illiterate mother.

To me, it was a surprise to hear that this novel was a work of fiction. The scenes constructed were so raw and real and written with so much emotion, that I automatically figured that this was a memoir. However, I later discovered that this book was fiction, with a couple of truths sprinkled in. I really loved the format that Vuong decided to use in this book because the letter format felt very lyrical and poetic at times. The book was refreshing and easy to follow, as opposed to the topics discussed in the book. As an Asian-American myself, there were many topics addressed in the novel that I could really sympathize and relate with, and while the subjects addressed could get pretty heavy and difficult to read through at times, I was grateful that Vuong took it upon himself to shed some light to many real issues and experiences. While I personally enjoyed the lyrical writing and could sympathize with the difficult subjects, I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. There are many scenes in the novel that could be triggering and too much to handle, and even I felt like I had to put down the book a few times to get a break. I would recommend that before anyone decides to read this book, they should look up the content and trigger warnings. However, those that do decide to start this novel will definitely not be disappointed.

Reviewer's Name: Michelle Y.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Larson, Erik
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This is a compelling story of the popular World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the serial killer who took advantage of it. Set in the late 1800's, David Burnham and H. H. Holmes receive equal attention in alternating chapters between the fair's fascinating architecture and the growth of a heartless killer. I liked reading about the trials and errors of the fair and technology in the 19th century. Also, Holmes' terrifyingly calm demeanor added suspense to what would happen to his victims. It is a cool turn-of-the-century book, but the shift between monotone construction and graphic murders was an interesting style that isn't for everyone.
Grade 11

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
The House of the Scorpion book jacket
Farmer, Nancy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The House of Scorpion is a book set in the future in a place called Opium with a boy named Mateo who is a clone of a huge drug lord who goes by "El Patron". This book has always been a favorite of mine since I read in 6th grade for the first time, it stuck out to me because the creativity, plot, setting, it is such a fun book to read and the book also has a sequel, so its great that the book continues. There wasn't really a time I disliked the book, it always had my attention, and I think that truly matters when reading a book. I choose this book not only because its a childhood fave but I feel like others might love to read this book as much as I did.

Reviewer's Name: Makaia
Pax
Pennypacker, Sara
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“Pax” is a story about a boy and his fox. Peter has been taking care of Pax since he was a small kit. Over time Peter and Pax became very close. Peter’s father makes him leave Pax in the forest because Peter has to go live with his grandfather. Pax can’t go with Peter to his grandfather’s. After arriving at his grandfather’s house Peter realizes the mistake that he made, he decides to go after Pax. Pax who is hundreds of miles away is still holding out hope that his boy will come back, learns a couple of things about life, and makes a few friends. Peter makes a friend on the way and learns many things on his journey. Both of them want each other but will they find each other again, over hundreds of miles?

“Pax is an amazing, emotional book. It tells an amazing and eloquent story. By showing both Paxs’ and Peter's points of view you become very attached to them and you desperately want Peter to succeed. It portrays a relationship between a human and an animal beautifully. The ending made me feel many emotions. In my opinion, the ending was beautiful but if you really look at it it could be called rush with the way it was written. The ending was amazing and undesirable but at some point in the book, I knew that it would end that way. The book shows change so well, from Peter and Volas's relationship to Bristle and Pax's relationship, and just the characters in general. The writing describes everything and it was a beautiful writing style. We don’t know where the book takes place so things that are brought up in the book throw you for a curve. We don’t see what happens with Peter’s grandfather due to the ending. This book was beautifully written and it touches your heart, while some events in this book are unlikely, so much of this book will remind you of real-life. This is a book about change and it is so applicable to life. “Pax” is definitely a book to read when you want a book that will touch your heart and make you feel many emotions.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
Speak book jacket
Anderson, Laurie Halse
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I thought to speak was a very good book. It was well written and had very deep concepts to deal with. This book made me feel and almost cry for some of the characters.
Melinda is a ninth-grade outcast who goes down a trail of depression. She has a few friends but all her old ones don't like her anymore. As the story goes on you learn about Mel's life and what happened to make her slip up at school.
I personally really enjoyed this book because it was from a perspective of a girl that doesn't live the same type of life as me but I believe even if this is your situation you'll enjoy the book and could relate to the main character. Many concepts that can be hard to deal with are shown in this book. Including depression, school slump, the act of hurting oneself, lying, untrustworthiness, and one of the hardest to grapple with harassment and being shamed for doing the right thing. throughout all the ups and downs of his life as a ninth-grader, this book will give anyone insight into what happens behind the scenes of a troubled teen. How one can fall under the challenges of modern life and what it means to keep a secret that almost ruined your life.

Reviewer's Name: Clare
Book Review: Homecoming
Voight, Cynthia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The main plot of Homecoming begins when Dicey, Maybeth, James, and Sammy Tillerman are abandoned by their mother at a mall parking lot in the town of Peewauket for unclear reasons. Their father had already left them previously, so after many financial difficulties they were forced to take a trip to receive aid from their Great Aunt Cilla in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were left with limited money, not enough for a bus, to somehow make their way to Bridgeport. Led by 13-year-old sister Dicey, they must rely on their wits and survival skills to pave the way to their home. Upon arrival, they hit roadblocks. Despite this, they are able to make more money and discover the valuable information their grandmother lives in the small town of Crisfield, Maryland. They are unsure whether or not she is safe because of the instability that runs in the family. Without anything to lose, they decide to make their way to Crisfield in a second attempt to find their home.

I really enjoyed this book because of how they hooked me in really well by creating an atmosphere of desperation and mystery. For example, "why did their father leave?" or, "was their grandmother crazy?" The even better part about this is at the end of the book, it spun up the story very well for a book in a series. Most books in a series, in my opinion, leave you wanting too much at the end of a book. This one just left us with a few key questions left to answer. One of the characters that I felt like I related to, or rather that I hope to relate to, was a character named Windy. Windy was a student at college who took the Tillerman's in when they needed him the most. He was extremely kind towards them and better yet, he did it in a humble way. I hope I can be like this character so I can shine brightness into someone's life that needs it someday. I believe, even though the year is young, that this will be one of the best books I will have read this year. This book was an amazing tale, which I would recommend to anyone in eighth grade or higher.

Reviewer's Name: Cooper
We Are Not Free book jacket
Chee, Traci
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

We are Not Free, by Traci Chee is about the point of view of Japanese people throughout World War two. The book starts by showing slight racism from "ketos," and how their lives are getting torn apart because of the war. They then get shipped off to internment camps because Americans don't trust them enough to let them be free. The book focuses a chapter on each character to get the full amount of emotions and feelings about being trapped, not being trusted, and racism against each person in the book.
This book is the best book you will ever read. It gives such a great mix of emotions (I was jumping with joy one minute and crying the next.) It opens your eyes to bigger problems in this world and how lucky you might have it. Don't walk, run to the nearest library and read this book!

Reviewer's Name: Mackenzie
The Sun is Also a Star
Yoon, Nicola
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book is cute. We follow Natasha, a science and fact-based person, trying to do everything she can to prevent her family from being deported. And Daniel, a creative, hopeless romantic, is doing everything he can to please his parents by going to a Yale alumni interview. While on their own ways, their paths intersect. Daniel becomes determined to prove to Natasha that love is more than chemicals and is a real thing. While Natasha is determined to not fall in love with Daniel and stop her family from being deported.
As said before, this book is cute and explores what life is and what it can be. It does have a form of insta love, but it works with the setup and plot and is well used. I loved Natasha, she was relatable because of her fact-based ways. Then, Daniel was the kind of person that people are drawn to, funny, creative, and peotic. This book explores how much one person can affect so many other people's lives. It shows so many people besides the main character, and we learn so much about them. It is such a hopeful book and it's sp refreshing. Natasha and Daniel's relationship is rushed especially in the beginning. The social and racial aspects of this book are amazing, it was so well explained. There was history so that you could deeply understand why it was the way it was. This book makes you ponder about life, the universe, and fate. The chapters are so short that is it an easy and quick read. Overall it's a cute book that makes you think about life.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
The Westing Game
Raskin, Ellen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Westing Game is a fun, murder-mystery that follows 16 unlikely people working together to solve a mystery of "who-dunnit?". To sum it all up, this book is about a deceased man named Sam Westing, who planned a gathering for all of his distant relatives at his hotel to play a game that will uncover who murdered him. Sam Westing had said in his will that the very person who murdered him is one of the 16, and whoever had figured out who did it, would win the game and be the heir to his fortune. I liked this book because it was very fun trying to solve the mystery along with our characters and to see all of the different perspectives and thought processes of each of them. I did often find some of the characters frustrating to deal with, however, because they didn't try to work together and only tried to solve it for themselves. If I were to give this book a grade out of 10, I would give it a 7.

Reviewer's Name: Lilleah
Hell of a Book book jacket
Mott, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The premise of the book Hell of a Book by Jason Mott is as follows: an African American author has written a book and is touring the country to promote it. On his tour, he keeps encountering the same small child everywhere he goes. I can't say much beyond that without giving too much away.

This book recently won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction and I just don't think my review of it will do it justice. Not only that, but I hate writing overly exuberant reviews of books that are this unusual, because not everybody is going to love this book. Or understand it. But, that's the whole point, I think.

It's unusual. It's transcendent. It's elusive. It's ironic. It's deep. It's moving. It gives you tons to think about but very little to grasp onto.

I absolutely loved it. And I already want to read it again.

Reviewer's Name: Marika G.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is in the top 10 definitely! To Kill A Mockingbird is a story of prejudice Jim Crowe South and the constant fight for justice. Jem is the older brother of 'Scout', a tomboy constantly trying to fit in with the big kids. In the story, they attempt to fight for a black mans rights in attempt to prove his innocence in a rape trial. I would highly recommend this book to middle and high schoolers. This book has a deep meaning of the powerful message that kids can have and their outlook in bad situations.

Reviewer's Name: Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a novel about Jean Louise Finch (Scout), living through her father Atticus' controversial decision to defend a black man in court. Along with experiencing the tribulations of racism in her home town of Maycomb County, Scout, her brother Jem, and her friend Dill explore the curiosities of the town and investigate the mysterious Boo Radley. The plot gave me excitement to continuing reading, and the joining of the two plots at the end created a perfect ending to the story. I thought that the book was really good due to the knowledge that was gained about the history during the Great Depression and the progression throughout the book that helped develop the main character. This was a school required book, but I would definitely recommend it to readers in high school and above.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Nicola
Look Both Ways
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Look Both Ways By Jason Reynolds is a ten different short stories about kids walking home from school. The ten stories are woven together by the context of a school bus falling from the sky. But no one knows because they were all too busy with their lives. In ten different walks home from school, Look Both Ways captures the humor, poetry, and liveliness encompassing middle school and early high school life. It also explores seeing two sides or more of the same perspective. For example, the ‘bad kid’ may be good-hearted. I think the book was masterfully put together and woven ten stories seamlessly together. This book made me laugh, hope, cry, and believe. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book with 5 out of 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Lucia
Profiles in Courage
Kennedy, John F
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book contained a lot of wisdom from a president’s point of view and was a very useful insight into his perspective. I appreciated the many different stories about many different historical figures and their trials, however, i did notice a strong bias against others and their perspectives. If i was to recommend this book to someone else, I would advise them to be careful about taking every word he says to heart, as he doesn’t phrase things from a neutral perspective. Overall i enjoyed the book, but it should be read by people looking for insight, not as an entertaining or exciting book. Though it may not have been thrilling or suspenseful, overall it was really good.

Reviewer's Name: Aubrey
Book Review: The Color Purple
Walker, Alice
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I loved this book. Celie, Shug, Nettie, and Sofia were such strong women, facing a hard life and rising above it. Celie in particular has cemented herself in my mind as one of the great female protagonists in all of literature. I love how she didn't let her circumstances squash her spirit. I learned so much about a wide variety of things in this book. I learned a lot about Africa in the 30s leading up to WWII and the desecration of the tribal land by the English. I learned about the treatment of African American women by African American men and about their resilience and bravery. I loved the ending. Perfect.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn