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Thursday, October 6, 2016

National Book Award (Fiction) Finalists

The finalists for the National Book Awards have been announced.  Here are the fiction titles:

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder
Twenty-two men gather every fall to painstakingly re-enact what ESPN called “the most shocking play in NFL history” and the Washington Redskins dubbed the “Throwback Special”: the November 1985 play in which the Redskins’ Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.  Chris Bachelder introduces Charles, a psychologist whose expertise is in high demand; George, a garrulous public librarian; Fat Michael, envied and despised by the others for being exquisitely fit; Jeff, a recently divorced man who has become a theorist of marriage; and many more. Over the course of a weekend, the men reveal their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they choose roles, spend a long night of the soul preparing for the play, and finally enact their bizarre ritual for what may be the last time.  Along the way, mishaps, misunderstandings, and grievances pile up, and the comforting traditions holding the group together threaten to give way.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world.  An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.  In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio.  Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own.  Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.  Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous.  Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.”  Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.  Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning.  A bomb—one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world—detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents.  Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb.  After a brief stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine.  Woven among the story of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits.  When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.  Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her.  Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.  In Whitehead’s conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.  Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven.  But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens.  And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels.  Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.  (For my review, go to http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/09/review-of-underground-railroad-by.html.)

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t.  For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.  But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared.  A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.


The National Book Awards are a set of annual U.S. literary awards presented to American authors for books published in the United States during the award year.  National Book Awards are currently given to one book (author) annually in each of four categories:  fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature.  For finalists in all the categories, go to http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-2016-national-book-awards-finalists.

The winner will be announced November 16.