Winner: The Leavers by Lisa Ko (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), 2017
The Leavers is a complex, original, and welcome addition to the body of literature about the immigrant experience. In her debut novel, Lisa Ko addresses undocumented immigration, single motherhood, transracial adoption, addiction, identity, and forgiveness through the lives of an estranged mother and son forced apart by circumstances beyond their control. Writing with clarity, precision, and elegance, Ko deftly captures the voices of an alienated young man who can see colors when he hears music, as well as that of a fiercely independent woman from China determined to be more than what both Chinese and American society prescribe for her. Narrated from dual points of view, Ko unsparingly portrays the difficult and sometimes unflattering decisions her characters make.
Honor: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), 2017
Pulitzer Prize and last year’s APALA Adult Fiction Literature Award winner Viet Thanh Nguyen further demonstrates his literary prowess with The Refugees, his debut collection of eight short stories exploring the Vietnamese American diaspora. Traversing thematic landscapes of displacement, immigration, memory, family, home, and the American experience, Nguyen crafts stories infused with compelling narrative power and honesty.
Winner: Asianfail: Narratives of Disenchantment and the Model Minority by Eleanor Ty (University of Illinois Press), 2017
Using literary and film criticism, as well as social media, Ty makes compelling arguments about the representation of Asian Americans and Asian Canadians in popular culture. She posits that emerging narratives reveal a generation that has begun to reject their forebears’ preoccupation with professional status and money, focusing instead on relationships, personal growth, and cultural success. This is an essential addition to the small but growing canon of non-fiction that addresses the “model minority” myth.
Honor: The Long Afterlife of Nikkei Wartime Incarceration by Karen M. Inouye (Stanford University Press), 2016
Many books on Japanese American relocation and internment during WWII focus on the events directly after the war, but in The Long Afterlife, Karen M. Inouye describes the long-term effects of wartime incarceration on the lives of those who were imprisoned and on generations to come, and the activism that ensued as a result. Inouye’s book is carefully researched, thoroughly documented, well written, and highly engaging.
Young Adult Literature
Winner: It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers ), 2017
Secrets complicate 16-year-old Sana Kiyohara’s life–she suspects her dad is having an affair and she has a crush on her best friend. Sana thinks her family’s move across the country is an opportunity for a fresh start but is confronted with the complexities of race, sexuality, and relationships.
Honor: Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2017
For Janna Yusuf, there are Saints–the people who help you out–and Monsters–like the boy who everyone thinks is a Saint but Janna knows otherwise. Janna, a self-identified Misfit, examines what’s important to her and whether she has the strength to confront the monster in her life. S.K. Ali delivers her debut novel with a well-developed and much-needed representation of a multicultural Muslim family.
Winner: Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami (Tu Books, imprint of Lee and Low), 2017
Maria Singh just wants to play softball (and wear shorts while doing it) but her Mexican Mamá and old fashioned Punjabi Papi don’t believe that girls should play ball. Set in 1945 Yuba City, CA, Step up to the Plate, Maria Singh does what good historical fiction is supposed to do—it provides rich details of the characters’ daily lives, such as the reality of living through a time of rationing and gender inequality, the unfathomability of the internment of Japanese Americans, and the shared meals of chicken curry and tortillas between the extended Indian and Mexican community.
Honor: Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte (Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group), 2017
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is a charming and humorous novel written as journal entries that tell the stories and struggles of a spunky biracial girl. The committee particularly enjoyed that Cilla Lee-Jenkins explored the themes of family and identity through a unique focus on the protagonist’s grandparents.
Winner: A Different Pond written by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers), 2017
A young boy is awakened early by his father to go fishing. The story reveals this morning is more than an average father-son trip when we hear the young boy ask his father, “If you got another job, why do we still have to fish for food?” The two meet other characters in the early morning, but soon we are left with the young boy and father where we discover stories of the father’s past at a different pond in his homeland of Vietnam.
Honor: The Nian Monster written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau (Albert Whitman & Company), 2016
Xingling and her grandmother come face-to-face with the legendary Nian monster who is known to have eaten whole villages. When he makes an unwelcome appearance to eat the city Xingling decides to take matters into her own hands. She devises ingenious ways to outwit Nian with his own voracious appetite. Clever onomatopoeia accompanied by charming illustrations makes accessible to children, the Chinese New Year theme, rarely told from a young girl’s perspective. The Nian Monster is a masterpiece, highlighting Chinese New Year, one of the most important holidays in Asia.