Book Buzz 2015: Award Winners and Honorees on Brain Hive! (Part IV)

Today is our last installment of our coverage of 2015’s best books for young people, available for $1 checkout on Brain Hive now! We’re finishing up with two fantastically engaging novels for teens.

The Story of Owen – by E.K. Johnston – Carolrhoda Lab

A 2015 William C. Morris Award Finalist – This award honors debut books published by first-time authors writing for teens.

The Story of Owen

The world imagined by E.K. Johnston in The Story of Owen is one that looks very similar to our own, but with one small, though not-so-insignificant difference: dragons. Johnston has reimagined centuries of human history to include the constant presence of dragons with enormous appetites. They feed on humans, of course, but their true tastes lie in consuming on the byproduct of advancing human industries – carbon. Consequently, as civilizations progressed, generations of dragon slayers became necessary weapons against the attacks of voracious dragons looking to feed. Throughout history, these illustrious characters have worked tirelessly to defend civilizations and industrial centers from dragon-wrought havoc. Through the eyes of Siobhan McQuaid, Johnston’s thoughtful and analytical narrator, we are introduced to the Thorskards, a famous family of dragon slayers, after they move to Trondheim, a small community in Southern Ontario. Siobhan and Owen – the youngest Thorskard, a somewhat awkward slayer-in-training – forge a friendship that takes on an unusual aspect when Siobhan agrees to be Owen’s “bard,” composing stories and songs to celebrate Owen’s burgeoning slaying career. Joined by their friend Sadie, an aspiring dragon slayer, these young heroes’ exploits are exhilarating, and the friendship they build is one that is refreshingly uncomplicated by “love-triangle” angst. Johnston has crafted a thorough – and thought-provoking – alternative history for these young characters to inhabit, and the stories that take place in this world are sure to appeal readers interested in fantasy and adventure.

Girls Like Us – by Gail Giles – Candlewick Press

Winner of the 2015 Schneider Family Book for Teens Award – This award honors books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.

Girls Like Us

Believable, high quality portrayals of disability in literature can be hard to come by. All too frequently, characters with disability are either invisible, often being omitted from story lines altogether, or when they are actually present, characters with disability are often relegated to playing flat, stereotyped roles within their respective stories. Not so with Gail Giles’ Girls Like Us. This book is a moving and affecting story that requires us to confront some of society’s assumptions regarding disability. Giles has provided us with a view into the interior worlds of Biddy and Quincy, two young women transitioning out of their high school special education program and into the “real world” of holding jobs and living on their own. Biddy and Quincy share the role of narrating the story, so we are afforded a first-person view of each of their experiences in a world that is often unwelcoming to people who – for whatever reason – do not fit the mold of “normal.” There are some moments in Girls Like Us that are difficult to read; both Biddy and Quincy retell stories of their brushes with abuse, derision, and neglect with heartbreaking acceptance of the idea that somehow, these instances are commonplace and acceptable in the lives of “Speddies,” as they call themselves. The tragedy of these moments in Biddy’s and Quincy’s lives is tangible and realistic, but the triumph of Giles’ book is in her refusal to portray her heroines as passive victims of tragedy. Biddy and Quincy are convincing, multi-faceted characters who defy stereotype, and the Giles’ portrayal of the fierceness, resilience, and strength emerging out of the girls’ developing friendship is a powerful centerpiece for this novel. Girls Like Us would serve as an excellent text to spur on conversations with students about current issues regarding social justice and disability.

Thanks for coming along with us on our journey through this year’s award winners and honorees on Brain Hive! Got any questions? Let us know at or by calling (toll-free) 855-554-4483. Happy weekend, and happy reading!

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