Halfway through the year, and we’ve already seen some fantastic fiction hit the shelves. And as we’re halfway through the year, some shortlists are beginning to appear for national book awards left, right, and centre. Of course, as we get closer to exam season and end-of-year deadlines, finding time to read the latest releases can be challenging, so here’s a quick rundown of our favourites for the book awards of 2019 so far.
CILIP Carnegie Medal: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
This is a novel about a poet, a slam poet to be precise. While this isn’t the usual mix of topics to find in young adult fiction, but having already won the 2018 National Book Award and being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 on top of a Carnegie medal, is a combination that works well. While dealing with issues of race, feminism and faith, it’s a book about young people finding their own voice admits a world that doesn’t always want to listen. I found this book to be one about courage, grit and using the words you have to speak out. It’s an inspiring debut novel.
Desmond Elliot Prize: The Chameleon by Samuel Fisher
An 800-year-old man (of sorts) has remained silent his whole life, but now he wants to open his own voice up to the world and tell his story. But as a man who can turn into any book or text ever written, this debut novel takes a complicated turn. It begins with the fable of the ass and the lion, transforms into a Cold War spy narrative, and continues through history on a journey. Praised by critics for its gripping voice and playful tale, this immersive book is well worth a read.
Dylan Thomas Prize: Folk by Zoe Gilbert
From the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award comes Zoe Gilbert’s debut novel. It’s a book that forces a young generation to face its folklore, and critics have praised it for being as dark and unsettling as all fairytales should be. Gilbert’s writing style is captivating and sinister, and her ability to interweave her characters voices with the natural world is stunning. It’s a great read for fantasy fans, as Gilbert set’s it in the mythical island of Neverness, and fans of mythology and magic.
Man Booker International Prize 2019: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, trans by Marilyn Booth
Beautifully translated by Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies is the story of three sisters, their family, slavery, and colonialism. In the microcosm of a small village called al-Awafi in Oman, this book is a coming-of-age tale that hits the significant issues head-on. It questions where we go after colonialism by tracing three generations of a single family through time and space’s they inhabit. Critics have repeatedly called it a book on ‘transition’ so that just as it transitions from one time and society to another, it transforms the reader’s perspective with it.
Rathbones Folio Prize: The Crossway by Guy Stagg
This book fits a new trend, or rather an old trend renewed for modern times. The number of people undertaking pilgrimages, regardless of religious belief, is on the rise, and this book might offer an insight into why that is. Guy Stagg tells the story of his 5,500 kilometres to walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem in 2013, and it is a curious mix of travel and memoir writing, history and current affairs into one. As Stag follows these broader events through the lens of his journey and mental health recovery, this read is an engaging and eye-opening one in the non-fiction mix.
Wellcome Book Prize: The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
This book is a biography you won’t have read before. Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst had filled many roles: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, and trophy wife. Sarah Krasnostein writes about Pankhurst from the unique perspective of an outsider, with a warm heart and an empathetic tone to match. It’s a story you won’t have heard before, but it’s one you’re not likely to forget. Non-fiction is often refreshing in this way, and this book is no exception. And, of course, having won many prizes already, I think this book is in with a fair chance.
Man Booker International Prize 2019: The Years by Annie Ernaux, trans by Alison L. Strayer
This book is for fans of post-modern fiction, who enjoy the continual loss and discovery of the author’s voice as they read, and the dissolving of one narrator into another. This book tells the memoir of 1941 to 2006 by an iconic French memoirist. While the text was published back in 2008, this new translation brings with it a complex uncovering of the narrators ‘I’ for the `we’ (`on’ in French) to create a collective life inextricably intertwined with a private one into the English language.
Women’s Prize for Fiction: Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
From Lancaster’s own Yvonne Battle-Felton, Remembered has been described by critics as ‘humane’, ‘visceral’, ‘compassionate’, and ‘changing’. Battle-Felton sets the bok in 1910, and its narrative focuses on a mother of a dying son after a streetcar ‘accident’ that no one can explain. It composites newspaper articles, reconstructed memories, and a very different narrative to slavery that is often left unexplored.
YA Book Prize: I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
In another highly praised debut novel, Khan’s work has made it onto our highlights. For a book classed as teen fiction, it delves deep into the conflicts of young romance and personal identity. It tells the story of Muzna Saleem, who faces the battle of choosing between her beliefs and her first love, Arif, despite the secret he carries. While critics have praised the book for its fresh new take on British fiction and its insight into the coming-of-age genre, what caught my attention with this book is how it dives straight in at the hard-hitting issues, with fishing and poverty tackled in the first chapter alone.