By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 21, 2020
Some of us have been experimenting with parent-kid book clubs and looking for books that can be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike. So we were excited to discover the Alex Awards, established by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). For over two decades now, the Alex Awards have honored ten crossover titles per year. These are books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. Here are the 2020 winners, as well as those from past years. And YALSA publishes lists of the nominated books as well. Here we've selected 23 titles—one from each year of the award's existence—that we've enjoyed. They run the gamut, from nonfiction to realistic fiction to memoir to sci-fi to historic fiction to graphic novels.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
This real-life thriller explores the history of and science behind the last, fatal voyage of a fishing boat that went down off Nova Scotia in 1991 when two massive storms collided creating a disastrous meteorological event.
Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago
From the barrios of Brooklyn to the High School of Performing Arts to Harvard, this memoir was a long-awaited follow-up to the Puerto Rican-born author's first book. This volume charts her search for independence and cultural identity.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, this moving contemporary novel weaves together the lives of several disparate characters in a story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity. A finalist for the National Book Award.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
When a sixteen-year-old servant girl becomes the muse for Vermeer, her life is transformed. History and fiction merge in this richly-imagined story of the young woman who inspired one of the Dutch painter's most celebrated works.
Black, White, and Jewish by Rebecca Walker
The Civil Rights movement brought author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal together, and their daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1969. Her poignant memoir explores her search for personal identity, in a story both unique and universal.
The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
A bright, personable young Black student from an inner-city New York neighborhood discovers what it's like to be "the only chip in the cookie" when he enrolls in an exclusive New England prep school.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This graphic memoir depicts the author's experience growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Wise, funny, and heartbreaking it is at once a coming of age story and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression.
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
The title of this book says it all! The author, who started swimming almost as soon as she could walk, recounts her adventures, starting at sixteen, as she broke world records with swims across the most treacherous waterways in the world.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Suspenseful, moving, and beautifully atmospheric, this gripping dystopian mystery generates lots of interesting discussion around the dangers of human arrogance and the treatment of the vulnerable and different in our society.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Suddenly orphaned and penniless during the Great Depression, a veterinary student jumps a third-rate circus train and finds romance, danger, and a bond with a special elephant named Rosie.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
In this rare and mesmerizing account, the author tells the riveting story of how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and was soon conscripted as a child soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Two teenage boys encounter cannibals, murderers, prostitutes, and assassins as they struggle to complete an impossible task during the freezing Siege of Leningrad in this funny, shocking, and briskly written tome.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The first in a series, this modern, urban fantasy introduces Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant but miserable high school student. When Quentin is suddenly, and unexpectedly, admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, everything changes.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
This exciting debut novel depicts the experience of an immigrant girl growing up stretched between two cultures. It's a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
In this gritty but tender novel about family and poverty, Hurricane Katrina bears down on a small Mississippi town. As their alcoholic father tries to prepare for the storm, fifteen-year-old Esch and her brothers struggle with their own worries.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
An attack on his mother near their Ojibwe reservation home leads thirteen-year-old Joe on a quest to solve the crime. This coming-of-age story highlights family, friendship, tradition, and the uneasy relationship between tribal and white communities.
Lexicon by Max Barry
In this fast-paced, cutthroat sci-fi thriller words are weapons and poets are the ones who wield the swords. Teen prodigy Emily may be the finest poet ever until she makes the catastrophic mistake of falling in love.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This Pulitzer Prize-winner is the story of a blind Parisian girl and an orphaned German boy conscripted by the Nazis. Their paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The author writes an open letter to his fifteen-year-old son about the hazards of being Black in America and his own intellectual, political and emotional confrontation with the need to live fully, even in the face of a racist culture.
In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero
After Diane Guerrero returned from school one day to find her parents deported, the fourteen-year-old struggled with severe depression and anxiety, before finishing her education and becoming a successful actress and activist.
Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing
Blending stark realism with the surreal and fantastic, this imaginative exploration of Black girlhood and womanhood travels from the streets of 1990s Chicago to an unspecified future, deftly navigating the boundaries of space, time, and reality.
How Long 'til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin
The three-time Hugo Award winner and bestselling author challenges and delights readers with her first collection of short fiction. These weird, wild, and original narratives celebrate action and speak truth to power.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
The author, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, started this graphic memoir as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual. What emerged is a powerful guide on gender identity for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
Because of their wide appeal, diverse genres, and broad subject matters, many of the Alex Award winners and nominees work really well as gifts. Peruse the lists to find the perfect book for everyone on your list. And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily book recommendations, literary tidbits, and more.