Books Are My Bag Readers Award 2023: Young Adult and Children’s Shortlist
By Emma Rogers, Holly Allwright and Rosie Pinder
Originally established by the Booksellers Association in 2013, Books Are My Bag is a year-round campaign celebrating bookshops across the UK and Ireland. In 2016, they launched The Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, the only book awards curated by bookshops and voted for by book-lovers! The awards include six shortlists: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Young Adult Fiction, Children’s Fiction and Breakthrough Author – along with the Readers’ Choice Award, which is nominated and chosen entirely by readers. In this issue, we will be diving into the Young Adult Fiction and Children’s Fiction shortlists.
Young Adult Fiction Shortlist
Gwen and Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher (Bloomsbury)
From the author of Reputation and Infamous, Gwen and Art Are Not in Love is a historical fiction novel with the fake dating trope at the heart of its story. Arthur, a future lord, has been betrothed to Gwenodine, the Princess of England, since birth. While spending the summer together in Camelot, Gwen catches Art kissing a boy, and Art discovers Gwen’s racy diary entries. The two become reluctant allies, pretending to fall for each other to keep their secrets safe. However, when Gwen grows closer to the kingdom’s only female knight, Bridget, and Art builds a bond with Gwen’s brother, they begin to question how long they can keep up this ruse.
Promise Boys by Nick Brooks (Pan Macmillan)
This next entry on the shortlist, Promise Boys, is an incredibly gripping thriller that focuses on three teen students of colour who must investigate the murder of their school principle or else be implicated in the murder. It is a fantastic premise and exciting read, which also exposes a flawed system full of prejudice against young men of colour. Nick Brooks is an award-winning filmmaker, and this YA novel certainly has a cinematic feel.
The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes (Faber & Faber)
A funny yet honest take on a coming-out story, The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School centres on Yami – the new girl at Slayton Catholic school – who must navigate falling in love whilst trying to lie low and hide her identity. It is a warm book that explores both the joy and the heartache of Yami’s coming-of-age journey.
Girl, Goddess, Queen by Bea Fitzgerald (Penguin)
Continuing the current trend of mythological retellings, Girl, Goddess, Queen is a fiercely feminist retelling of Persephone and her time spent in Hell with Hades. This well-known tale typically depicts Persephone as a weak-willed woman: more a puppet on the gods’ strings than her own woman. Fitzgerald’s tale, however, follows Persephone as she enacts a plan of her own. This highly creative rom-com touches on the subjects of family, romance and myth and is a must-read for any young feminist!
Children’s Fiction Shortlist
Jamie by L. D. Lapinski (Hachette Children's Group)
The first children’s fiction nominee comes from L. D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. Jamie Rambeau is an eleven-year-old, non-binary child who enjoys nothing more than spending time with their two best friends, Daisy and Ash. As they move to high school, the trio discover they will be separated into two schools – one for boys and one for girls. Jamie realises nobody has thought about where they will go, so the trio decide to raise awareness and protest against the binary rules. This is an uplifting story that teaches children to make their own place in the world.
Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury)
Impossible Creatures is an epic fantasy from former Waterstones prize winner Katherine Rundell. It focuses on Christopher – an ordinary boy who must contend with a whole host of magical creatures and embark on a quest alongside a flying girl and a griffin! The book is split between our world and Rundell’s Archipelago – a series of magical islands – and is a must-read for any fantasy lover.
The Skull by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)
This next nominee is Jon Klassen’s gorgeously atmospheric picture book, The Skull, which draws on folktale to create a mysterious story for slightly older readers. A skull lives in an eerily barren house on a hilltop. Odile has escaped into the dark forest, but the house – and the skull – call to her. But all is not as it seems as the skull is scared of something too, and brave Odile must find out what. Witty and macabre, this is a fantastic addition to the shortlist!
Greenwild: The World Behind the Door by Pari Thomson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Pan Macmillan)
Pari Thomson’s debut novel and eco-thriller – illustrated by award-winner Elisa Paganelli – follows Daisy Thistledown’s escape from boarding school and search for her missing mother. Her journey leads her through a doorway to a magical land: the Greenwild. As she begins to uncover the insidious underbelly of this new green world, she learns of an evil she must fight in order to save both her own world and the Greenwild. She embarks on this thrilling mission with a botanical genius, a boy who can talk to animals and a cat. A comforting story about nature, mystery and family, Greenwild is a phenomenal introduction to the thriller genre and eco-issues alike.