In addition to getting to know a new collection and a new school’s way of doing research, I’ve been working on the 2017 Alex Award Committee. If you’re not looking at adult reads being published in 2016, you’re missing out (trust me on this).
The charge of the Alex Award is to find books with teen appeal, something that is at times difficult for me to suss out. As someone in her second half-century, putting myself in the mindset of a teen isn’t always easy! There have been occasional meme-based responses to our Instagram posts and, well… luckily I have staff who are much closer to that age group and get memes. With Alex, I’m looking for a plot that might interest them – even in non-fiction, as I learned working on the ENFYA Committee and as I’m telling our sixth graders, there can be a narrative arc! – with characters that make sense. That doesn’t mean I’d expect them to “relate” to Hannibal Lecter, but so many teens love to read Silence of the Lambs thanks to the horror and “creep factor” that it’d probably have gotten the Alex, had it existed when the book was published.
A few weeks ago I booktalked some recently published novels by American authors to an American Lit class. We came up with twitter “reviews” to pique their interest (eg, “Orange blossoms mean fascination. Chrysanthemums mean you’re a good friend. More subtle than emojis, flowers speak volumes” for The Language of Flowers, a 2011 nominee) and they were asked to choose one, read it and then present (to the class and others) on how that book mimicked or expanded on themes in the books they were reading for class. Talking with them as they chose these books was interesting, with many excited to read something new and not being taught in class. One or two have even asked for more by that author, or in that genre.
Our fiction collection here was not necessarily bought with teens in mind – Ferrente’s Neopolitan novels, for example – but traditionally we have had a lot of faculty who use our collection for their pleasure reading. As I continue to read for Alex, I’m wondering about that “teen appeal” part and reflecting on some of the books I’ve read in the past, like Millay’s Sea of Tranquility, which (to my mind) had little adult appeal but was not published at a YA book and thus won the award in 2014. It will definitely guide my purchasing for our collection in future, as we try to balance “adult appeal” with what will actually appeal to our students. It will also be interesting to see how we can market these books to both faculty and students without one or the other feeling as though their needs are not being met.