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Best Teen Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2015

A spectacular prose start for DC Comics' spectacular lady.

FALLOUT

From the Lois Lane series , Vol. 1

A teen reporter busts a cyberbullying ring at her new school in Metropolis. 

Lois Lane is new in town, and she's doing her best to keep her head down and her nose clean. Her Army general father is hoping to make their family's stay in Metropolis permanent, and Lois doesn't want to jeopardize that. She joins the Daily Scoop, a teen subsidiary of the Daily Planet, in an effort to make friends. Of course, trouble always has a way of finding Lois Lane. This first entry in a planned series gets plenty right. Lois is as fully rounded as she is in the comics, headstrong, smart, capable, and equipped with a solid moral compass. Bond (Girl on a Wire, 2014, etc.) provides her with plenty of interesting supporting characters to bounce off, establishing a world worthy of a series. Bond also resists the fan-service urge: there's no mention of Gotham, the Waynes, Lex Luthor, Central City, or any other landmark DC icon. The one big connection Bond makes is a playful one: Lois' online pal goes by the name "SmallvilleGuy," and few readers will not put the pieces together quickly regarding his true identity. Bond plays with their knowledge though, effectively turning this eye-roll–worthy quirk into a knowing smile, similar to the one Supes gives to viewers at the end of many a comic book and film. This lighthearted and playful tone permeates the novel, making for a nifty investigative mystery akin to Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Readers are in for a treat.

A spectacular prose start for DC Comics' spectacular lady. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63079-005-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Switch/Capstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Slyly humorous, starkly thought-provoking, passionate, and compassionate—and impeccably written to boot: not to be missed.

THE SCORPION RULES

From the Prisoners of Peace series , Vol. 1

Once there was war, until an artificial intelligence named Talis took over the world.

Four hundred years later, Talis still rules; he has made the world peaceful, but the price is the blood of children. Should a government declare war, its heir, raised in a U.N.– (and Talis-) controlled Precepture, a monasterylike enclave, dies. Greta, Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, is one of those Children of Peace. When war claims classmate Sidney and his replacement appears in chains, obedient Greta finds herself questioning everything. This is no cookie-cutter dystopia. Talis (whose voice lends a sharp, outsize, and very dark humor to his every word and scene) may not be a bad supreme ruler. The boy (Elián) is not Greta’s love interest (Princess Xie is), and anyway the love story is only a piece of a much larger story about love and war, forms of power, and the question of what is right when there is no good answer, all played out on a small and personal stage. Bow’s writing never falters, from the vivid descriptions of the Precepture goats to the ways in which her characters must grapple with impossible decisions, and she is equally at home with violence and first kisses.

Slyly humorous, starkly thought-provoking, passionate, and compassionate—and impeccably written to boot: not to be missed. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4271-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully...

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THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH

A lovingly realized Depression-era Seattle becomes the field of play for the latest round in the titular, age-old game.

In February 1920, Love and Death choose their newest pawns as infants: Love’s is Henry, a white boy of privilege (though influenza and grief rob him of much of it); Death’s is Flora, the soon-to-be-orphaned daughter of African-American jazz musicians. In spring of 1937, the game begins. Flora sings in—and actually owns part of—the family’s nightclub, but her heart is in the skies, where she flies a borrowed biplane and dreams of owning her own. Henry, a talented bass player, is poised to graduate from the tony private school he attends on scholarship with his best friend, Ethan, whose family took him in upon his father’s suicide. They meet when Henry and Ethan visit the airstrip where Flora works; the boys are in pursuit of a story for Ethan’s newspaper-magnate father. Brockenbrough’s precise, luscious prose cuts back and forth among the four protagonists, according each character equal depth, with Ethan playing a heartbreaking supporting role. The contrast between the youthful excitement of ardent Henry and pragmatic Flora and the ageless, apparent ennui of the immortals gains nuance as readers come to understand that Love and Death are not without their own complicated feelings.

Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s  haunting and masterfully orchestrated narrative. (Magical realism. 12 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Hilarious—all the way through.

HELLHOLE

A dark comedy follows the misadventures of a boy trying to get rid of the devil that has moved into his basement.

Yes, Max starts the book by doing something bad: He steals a silly toy for his sick mom. Then he indulges his paleontology obsession by digging a hole on the hill that looms over his town, only to open a huge, apparently bottomless crater. Sadly, it seems that Max’s decision to embrace the criminal life is enough to bring the powers of hell down upon his head—or rather, into his basement. Upon returning home from his excavation efforts, he finds an actual devil named Burg happily snacking on junk food and declaring himself a permanent resident in Max’s home. Seeing a possible advantage in his new supernatural housemate, Max makes a deal: the constantly wisecracking Burg will cure his mom’s critical heart disease if he can find Burg a free mansion with a hot tub. Lore, a girl who understands Max’s dilemma only too well, teams up with him to try to appease Burg before he starts killing people. Damico, who explored the lives of teenage grim reapers in her Croak trilogy, writes with wry wit and constant dark humor. She mixes in a bit of possible romance, as Max wonders if he has any chance with the vastly different Lore, also to great comic effect.

Hilarious—all the way through. (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-30710-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet.

WILLFUL MACHINES

Same-sex dating is tricky when your dad is a right-wing political figure. Then there’s that whole robot-fueled terrorist attack thing threatening to directly strike at any second.

In the not-so-distant future, robotics enthusiast Lee Fisher is the closeted son of the ultra-conservative U.S. president. With only one kiss under his belt, Lee has earned his nickname, Walk-In (as in closet). His father has a strict moral agenda to steer the country back to ancient ideals, proselytizing the dangers of technology; indeed, Lee's mother was murdered by an “artificially conscious” robot named Charlotte who is now plotting a terrorist attack. Lee, tailed by the Secret Service and scrutinized by the media, wants to keep a low profile. When svelte, charismatic, Chilean Nico Medina arrives at Lee's stuffy prep school, the stakes change. Lee decides to explore romance even if Nico might not be who he says he is—and even if Charlotte has Lee in her cross hairs. Many au courant topics are challenged: equal rights, conservative closed-mindedness, terrorism, global acceptance of same-sex couples, the stickiness of coming out. From a first-person perspective, Lee fumbles from self-deprecation to self-confidence. As varied as his opinions are of himself, so too is the landscape, mixing technology with gothic settings à la Poe and Stoker.

Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet. (Science fiction. 12-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3277-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

Shattering and transcendent.

THE SHADOW BEHIND THE STARS

From the author of the radiant A Creature of Moonlight (2014), a heartbreaking fantasy tackles life’s big questions.

Why do terrible things happen? How is one supposed to keep on going afterward? And what is there left to live for? After her life is brutally destroyed, the devastated Aglaia seeks out the three Fates of Greek myth and demands answers. Motherly Serena and even dour Xinot take pity on the innocent girl, but from the very beginning, youngest sister Chloe, who spins the threads of destiny for the other two to measure and cut, senses that Aglaia—with her stunning beauty, clear vision, and fierce determination—threatens the very foundations of their reality. For as the sisters are drawn inexorably into Aglaia’s suffering and plans for vengeance, they become increasingly immersed in the human lives, filled with all their hopes and joys and tragedies and griefs, from which the Fates need isolation. Chloe’s narrative voice is piercing and poetic, encompassing both youthful heedlessness and eternal power, rich in minute observations, delicate metaphors, restrained accountings of atrocities, and reluctant wisdom. Alongside her sisters, she comes to sing mortals “a tune of cataclysms, of breaking points, of beautiful horrors”—but the final aching chord of helpless love becomes the unexpected triumphant resolution to every impossible question.

Shattering and transcendent. (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3571-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Detailed and quiet, beautifully written with a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling, this unexpected...

A THOUSAND NIGHTS

A loose retelling of The Arabian Nights frame story from Morris Award– and Kirkus Prize–finalist Johnston takes ideas of power and gender, belief and love, and upends them.

Somewhere in the pre-Islamic Middle East, an unnamed girl narrates how, with the intent of saving her beloved sister, she sets herself against a king who has already wed and killed 300 wives before the story begins. Desert spirit Lo-Melkhiin (neither djinn or afrit is used but readers familiar with Arabic tradition will recognize the mythic wellspring) has possessed a king and feeds upon human creativity; he is also the only named character throughout the novel, a bold stylistic choice that shapes the entire tone. This is a story of the unnamed and unnoticed in which women’s unrecognized power (from the prayers of the narrator’s mother, sister, and sister’s mother to the creative genius of women in the qasr, entirely overlooked by Lo-Melkhiin) provides the magic that defeats the demonic presence. Fueled by prayers and love (her family has made her a smallgod, or local deity, something usually done only after death), determined to stop the cycle of pointless deaths, the narrator tells stories that become truths, possibly including her own.

Detailed and quiet, beautifully written with a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling, this unexpected fantasy should not be missed. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4847-2227-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome

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ILLUMINAE

From the Illuminae Files series , Vol. 1

In the wake of an interstellar incident, a post-mortem dossier comprising interview transcripts, memos, instant-messaging transcripts, diary entries, and more is assembled in this mammoth series opener.

Teenage colonists and exes Kady’s and Ezra’s lives are rocked by the 2575 assault on the Wallace/Ulyanov Consortium’s illegal mining colony by their corporate rival, BeiTech Industries. They are among the lucky ones who manage to evacuate—Kady to the science vessel Hypatia and Ezra to the United Terran Authority’s battlecarrier Alexander. The latter escorts both Hypatia and the freighter Copernicus in a monthslong race to safety while pursued by a BeiTech dreadnought, one likely to win should the ships engage again. Ezra’s recruited as a fighter pilot. Kady avoids conscription by flunking tests and highlighting her defiant personality, which allows her freedom to hack the ships. What she discovers disturbs her and leads her to communicate with Ezra again—both for more information and because of their unfinished business. The two teenagers—a focus of the dossier due to their sleuthing—share and uncover disturbing information about an incident with Copernicus, the damage sustained by Alexander’s artificial intelligence system, and a terrifying virus. The design’s creative visuals take advantage of the nontraditional format, which gracefully juggles document types, foreshadowing, clues, voices, and characters. As the characters’ time runs out, the story ambushes readers with surprises. The account completes the incident’s history but not its fallout.

Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome . (Science fiction. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0553-49911-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Difficult, provocative, and unforgettable—the most dangerous kind of fiction.

ARCHIVIST WASP

A ravishing, profane, and bittersweet post-apocalyptic bildungsroman transcends genre into myth.

In a desolate future, young girls marked by the goddess Catchkeep fight to the death to become Archivist, needed but feared and shunned for her sacred duty to trap, interrogate, and dispatch ghosts. After three years as Archivist, Wasp is weary of killing, of loneliness, of hunger, of cruelty, of despair, so she barters with a supersoldier’s ghost to find his long-dead partner in exchange for a chance at escape. But looking for answers in the land of the dead only reveals that everything Wasp knew was a lie. Equal parts dark fantasy, science fiction, and fable, Wasp’s story is structured as a classic hero’s journey. Her bleak and brutal world, limned with the sparest of detail, forges her character: stoic, cynical, with burning compassion at the core; in contrast, the rich and mosaic (if capricious and violent) underworld overflows with symbol and metaphor that tease at deeper meanings never made fully explicit. Meanwhile, the nameless ghost’s history, told through disconnected snatches of memory, encompasses heroism, abuse, friendship, and betrayal in a tragedy only redeemed by the heart-rending convergence of their separate narratives. Names (and their absence) form a constant leitmotif, as identity is transformed by the act of claiming it.

Difficult, provocative, and unforgettable—the most dangerous kind of fiction. (Science fiction/fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61873-097-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Big Mouth House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Fresh, funny, and full of heart: not to be missed.

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THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE

It’s not easy being normal when the Chosen One goes to your high school.

High school senior Mikey Mitchell knows that he’s not one of the “indie kids” in his small Washington town. While they “end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the Alien Queen needs the Source of All Light or something,” Mikey simply wants to graduate, enjoy his friendships, and maybe, just maybe, kiss his longtime crush. All that’s easier said than done, however, thanks to his struggles with anxiety, his dreadful parents, and the latest group of indie kids discovering their “capital-D Destinies.” By beginning each chapter with an arch summary of the indie kids’ adventures before returning to Mikey’s wry first-person narration, Ness offers a hilarious—and perceptive—commentary on the chosen-one stories that are currently so popular in teen fiction. The diverse cast of characters is multidimensional and memorable, and the depiction of teen sexuality is refreshingly matter-of-fact. Magical pillars of light and zombie deer may occasionally drive the action here, but ultimately this novel celebrates the everyday heroism of teens doing the hard work of growing up.

Fresh, funny, and full of heart: not to be missed. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must.

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SHADOWSHAPER

From the Shadowshaper Cypher series , Vol. 1

When walking corpses—and worse—show up in the city, a teen discovers family secrets and ancestral powers.

Sierra’s summer plan is to paint an enormous mural on an abandoned, unfinished five-story building. On an older mural nearby, unnervingly, a painted face changes expression and weeps a tear that glistens and drops. Grandpa Lázaro, mostly speechless from a stroke, grasps a lucid moment to warn Sierra, “They are coming for us….the shadowshapers.” Abuelo can’t or won’t explain further, and Sierra has no idea what shadowshapers are. Her regular world explodes into a “mystical Brooklyn labyrinth” shimmering with beauty but deadly dangerous. Walking corpses with icy grips and foul smells chase her, and a throng haint—a shadowy phantom with mouths all over—almost kills her. In Bed-Stuy, Prospect Park, and Coney Island in the middle of the night, Sierra fights to stay alive and to decipher her role in this chaos. This story about ancestors, ghosts, power, and community has art and music at its core; Sierra’s drawing and painting turn out to be tools for spirit work. Sierra’s Puerto Rican with African and Taíno ancestors; her community is black and brown, young and old, Latin and Caribbean and American. Sometimes funny and sometimes striking, Older’s comfortable prose seamlessly blends English and Spanish.

Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must. (Urban fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate,...

LIZARD RADIO

In a dystopian future, Kivali Kerwin, nicknamed Lizard, is sent to prepare for adulthood at a government-run CropCamp.

Lizard's adoptive family has always resisted authority, but attending camp as a teen makes it easier to avoid being sent to the prisonlike Blight as an adult. As a midrange bender—roughly equivalent, in today's terms, to having a nonbinary gender—Lizard is at risk of being sent to Blight. At camp, Lizard unexpectedly forms deep connections to other campers. At the same time, Lizard increasingly suspects something sinister behind the camp's strong community spirit and the seemingly kind mentorship of director Ms. Mischetti. The world here is revealed gradually. The poetic, evocative prose is littered with unfamiliar neologisms—“skizzer,” “Mealio,” “vape”—with the expectation that readers will either pick up their meanings from context or be willing to wonder. Some words prove more useful than contemporary vocabulary: when Lizard develops a crush on a female camper, the word “jazz”—denoting everything from flirtation to sexual acts—provides a simple but startlingly effective way to talk about sexuality and attraction. Mischetti's warm leadership and disarming tendency to acknowledge disturbing rumors make her a dangerous enemy and mean Lizard's mission is more complicated than simply uncovering the truth.

Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate, suspenseful plot. (Science fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7635-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw...

THE ALEX CROW

Three stories wind round one another in unexpected ways in this science-fiction offering peppered with recurring symbols.

Fifteen-year-old Ariel Burgess survived a nightmarish attack on his home village by hiding in a refrigerator. He was taken in by a family in Virginia, and to his chagrin, he has now been packed off along with his adoptive brother, Max, to stay at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a free perk his family receives for the work done by their inventor father for a research group. A multitude of strange and grimly funny characters populates the camp, including Mrs. Nussbaum, a prim therapist whose forced cheer is at one point hilariously described as being “about one-half-octave above ‘drunkenly enthusiastic’ and just below the sound baby dolphins make” and who offers the first hint that all may not be as it seems. Two other narrative threads—one involving a ship called the Alex Crow stuck in the ice during the 1800s and the other detailing the madness of a character called the “melting man,” who hears various voices urging him to commit acts of violence—are juxtaposed against Ariel and Max’s story, smartly weaving their ways into it right up to the surprising conclusion.

Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw experiences. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42653-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

If you’re going to read one graphic novel this year, make it this one.

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NIMONA

A not-so-bad villain fighting against a not-so-good hero teams up with a spunky shape-shifting heroine in a cleverly envisioned world.

Nimona, a plucky, punk-tressed girl, is determined to be the sidekick of the nefarious (in name only) Ballister Blackheart, the sworn enemy of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and their sporran-sporting champion, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart, intrigued by Nimona's moxie and ability to shape-shift, takes her on, and the two decide they're going to take down the Institution. Nimona and Blackheart learn that the supposedly benevolent Institution has been hoarding a great quantity of a poisonous plant, jaderoot. As they delve deeper into its inner workings, they soon find that the lines that separate good and evil aren't simply black and white. Stevenson's world is fascinating: an anachronistic marvel that skillfully juxtaposes modern conventions against a medieval backdrop. Imbued with humor, her characters are wonderfully quirky and play with many of the archetypes found in comics. The relationships among her characters are complex and compelling: for an antihero, Blackheart dislikes killing and mayhem, while Goldenloin is not averse to cheating and trickery. Stevenson's portrayal of the relationship between good and evil is particularly ingenious, as is her attention to detail and adroit worldbuilding.

If you’re going to read one graphic novel this year, make it this one. (Graphic fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-227823-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

A gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly familiar depiction of the entropic fragmentation of society

MARTIANS

A 15-year-old girl supports herself with a retail job as her close-to-reality dystopia spirals into hilariously surreal (yet tragic) chaos.

Zoë Zindleman doesn't mind school and enjoys math (the foundation of responsible consumer citizenship). One day her weepy, drunken teacher is interrupted by the small-government Governor's shocking announcement: schools are privatized, all students are graduated, and everyone gets an e-tificate of graduation and a job referral. Many students are pipelined straight from the classroom to prison, but lucky Zoë is given two choices: AllMART or Q-MART. Thank goodness for the job, because Zoë's beloved AnnaMom comes home with news of her own: she's off to hunt for a job, leaving Zoë to fend for herself in their empty cul-de-sac. As the quirky humor dissolves into the baffling unrealities of loneliness and commerce, Zoë moves into an abandoned mall taken over by other unwanted children all looking out for one another. As a new AllMART trainee, Zoë—or Zero, according to her name badge—performs menial, unending, and Kafkaesque work, always with a smile: remember, a “smile is AllMART’s welcome mat”! Subtle callbacks to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles enhance the mood of eerie devastation for those who catch the references but don't detract for those who don't. Cheery commercial scripts, news transcripts, and other ephemera of this plastic society punctuate Zoë’s narration, bearing witness to her grim environment, which, heartbreakingly, has no defeatable villain.

A gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly familiar depiction of the entropic fragmentation of society . (Science fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7756-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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