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A look at the National Book Awards nominees / Young Adults

November 14, 2002

It's not as easy as it looks. Some of the most critically successful authors took a crack at writing for young adults this season. Michael Chabon's " Summerland " tried to replace Harry Potter's Quidditch with good old-fashioned American baseball, but Chabon's overlong book couldn't hit the snitch out of the park. Strangely, Carl Hiaasen's "Hoot" lacked the comedy and energy fans have come to expect from his quirky adult novels. And Joyce Carol Oates has never released a book into such obscurity as her "Big Mouth & Ugly Girl." But it wasn't for lack of interest from readers: While adults bought fewer books for themselves (hardcover sales fell 17 percent compared to last September), they were buying more for their kids, pushing children's sales up almost 13 percent. Nevertheless, none of these award-winning adult novelists managed to impress the National Book Award committee for Young Adults. (Neil Gaiman's wonderful " Coraline " isn't eligible for this Americans-only award.)

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It's a challenging field, as the five challenging nominated books below attest. The best writers for young adults manage to negotiate the transitional nature of their audience, never speaking down to teens or neglecting their concerns about the world.

The $1,000-per-plate awards dinner will be hosted for the fourth year in a row by writer-comedian Steve Martin and attended by about 800 authors, editors, and publishers. Reviews of the nominations for fiction and nonfiction appeared in the Monitor on Oct.24 . Poetry ran on Nov.7 . We'll report the winners live from Times Square on our website Nov. 20.