Minnesota's literary scene came out to celebrate Saturday night at the 29th annual Minnesota Book Awards. More than 240 books were submitted for the award; the list was winnowed down to 36 finalists in January.
This was the first year to feature distinct awards for both middle grade literature and young adult literature; previously those categories had been combined.
2017 Minnesota Book Award winners
"Worm Loves Worm" by J.J. Austrian
You know the old story: Worm meets Worm. Worms get married. Austrian's children's book illustrates the many forms of love.
Finalists: "Tell Me a Tattoo Story" by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, "This Is Not a Cat!" by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, "Yellow Time" by Lauren Stringer
Middle Grade Literature
"The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse" by Brian Farrey
This fantasy novel unspools on the outskirts and in the depths of a mysterious bog. Legend has it that if any member of the royal house enters the bog, the monarchy will crumble. But a young princess can't resist her curiosity: She strikes up a deal with a peasant girl to find out what's hidden inside. But when the peasant girl doesn't return from her trip into the bog, the princess must journey inside herself, even if it threatens her family's reign.
Finalists: "Little Cat's Luck" by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, "Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story" by Caren Stelson, "Sticks & Stones" by Abby Cooper
Young Adult Literature
"The Memory Book" by Lara Avery
High school senior Sammie has the perfect life — good grades, loving family, new boyfriend — until a diagnosis cuts her plans short. Facing a fatal degenerative disease that will rob her of her memories, she begins writing letters to her future self. Those letters make up "The Memory Book," as Sammie tries to pack as much life as she can into a summer she won't be able to remember.
Finalists: "Assassin's Heart" by Sarah Ahiers, "LGBTQ+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality" by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, "Original Fake" by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, art by E. Eero Johnson
"The Heavens May Fall" by Allen Eskens
Eskens' mystery novel pits two friends against each other as they investigate a murder. Detective Max Rupert is sure he has the right suspect — but the suspect is a client of his lawyer friend, Boady Sanden, who is convinced that he's innocent. Rupert and Sanden's own demons come out as the case unfolds from dueling perspectives.
"Heavens May Fall" includes characters from Eskens' previous novel, "The Life We Bury."
Finalists: "The Born and the Made" by Robert Spande, "Rise of the Spring Tide" by James Stitt, "Stealing the Countess" by David Housewright
"The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It" by Shawn Otto
Our scientific understanding of the world has grown exponentially over the course of human history, yet people still question or attempt to discredit established findings across many fields, from technology to climate change to vaccinations. Otto explores the historical and political reasons behind what he calls "the war on science."
Finalists: "Canoes: A Natural History in North America" by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims, "Designing Our Way to a Better World" by Thomas Fisher, "Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction" by Benjamin Percy
Memoir and Creative Nonfiction
"The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father" by Kao Kalia Yang
Yang's memoir is the story of her father and his journey from his birth place in Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand to resettlement in Minnesota. She explores her father's power with words, and the role he has played in keeping Hmong culture alive.
Finalists: "I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland" by Michelle Leon, "This Is Where I Am: A Memoir" by Zeke Caligiuri, "The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt" by Clyde Bellecourt, as told to Jon Lurie
"The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape" by Cheri Register
Where we now see acre after acre of farm fields, there once were wetlands. Register tells the story of how the Big Marsh in southern Minnesota was once a vibrant wildlife area, until a land developer arranged for it to be drained. She began digging into the story after finding her own great-grandfather's scathing critique of the development.
Finalists: "The Ford Century in Minnesota" by Brian McMahon, "Richard F. Lack: Catalogue Raisonne 1943-1998" by Gary B. Christensen and Stephen A. Gjertson, "Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation" by Virginia M. Wright-Peterson
"Unbearable Splendor" by Sun Yung Shin
From Coffee House Press:
Poetry as essay, as a way of hovering over the uncanny, sci-fi orientalism, Antigone, cyborgs, Borges, disobedience.
Sun Yung Shin moves ideas around like building blocks, forming and reforming new constructions of what it means to be guest, to be host. How to be at home.
Finalists: "May Day" by Gretchen Marquette, "Tula" by Chris Santiago, "Yes Thorn" by Amy Munson
Novel and Short Story
"Wintering" by Peter Geye
"Wintering" is two stories inextricably tangled up in each other. In 1963, Harry takes his son Gus on an excursion into the Minnesota wilderness, braving the coldest conditions of the year. Gus keeps the truths of the trip a secret for 30 years, until his aging father disappears into the woods once again.
In addition to the nine genre-specific categories, the Minnesota Book Awards also honored Steven McCarthy with the Book Artist Award for his "Wee Go Library" project, which featured altered books from Little Free Libraries around the Twin Cities. Lou Bellamy was also honored with the Kay Sexton Award, recognizing his work in promoting African-American literature through theater.
The Minnesota Book Awards is a program of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library.