Shining the spotlight on stand-out Indian YA

Karthika Gopalakrishnan, Director, Neev Literature Festival, Head of Reading,
Neev Academy shares how books are shortlisted for the Neev Award.


Homegrown literature for young adults in India has evolved over the last few years to embrace a variety of genres, including relatable historical fiction; gritty realistic fiction; and exquisite graphic novels.

Neev Book Award…

Established in 2018, the Neev Book Award—which completes five years of its founding in 2022—recognizes the best Young Adult literature to emerge from India annually, alongside stellar books in the Junior Readers, Emerging Readers, and Early Years categories.

The Award recognises outstanding writing that leads to a fuller understanding of India, Indian lives, and Indian stories: books that build empathy and resilience; explore conflict; negotiate identity; and inspire change. It spotlights stories that offer Indian children reflections of their own lives and experiences. Ever since its inception, the hope for the award is that it will help encourage and promote Indian children’s literature globally.

The winners are chosen from a shortlist of books which illuminates a changing India. It is these authors who give voice to India’s evolving characters and the challenges her children face.

The selection…

For the awards process, publishers across the country submit titles for consideration. A global,independent jury—composed of children’s authors, school teachers, global librarians, and ananthropologist—shortlists these using a rigorous process followed by a detailed reading and discussion of each book.

The criteria for the Neev Book Award include the quality of the writing, interpretation of theme,development of plot, portrayal of characters, depiction of setting, and the presentation of thebook.

The winners…

Over the years, the winners of the Neev Book Award in the YA category have included pathbreaking work from Duckbill Books, Juggernaut Books, and Tulika Publishers. The roster of award-winning titles—currently available in print and digital formats—is made up of Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari (2018 winner); Year of the Weeds by Siddhartha Sarma (2019 winner); The Prince by Samhita Arni (2020 winner); and Oonga by Devashish Makhija (2021 winner).

In 2018 and 2019, the titles Ela by Sampurna Chattarji (Scholastic) and What Maya Saw by Shabnam Minwalla (HarperCollins) as well as the graphic biography Indira by Devapriya Roy (Context) were declared Honor Books respectively.

While the winners of the award traverse the landscape of the historical to the contemporary,each of them remains an example of exemplary writing, keeping the sensitivities of young adult readers at their core.
As mentioned in the citations assembled by members of the jury for each of the winning books,Queen of Ice—a book about a queen who ruled Kashmir in the 10th century CE—raises awareness of an important period in history and provokes questions on gender stereotypes.

Year of the Weeds presents an insightful critique of the abuses of democracy and capitalism through the lens of the Gond, an indigenous people of India, through a diverse cast of characters and subtle humour.
The Prince—an intriguing, fast-paced historical fantasy set in the Sangam period—focuses on the storyteller of the Tamil epic Silappadikaram and imaginatively reconstructs how it came to bewritten.

Oonga uses the adventure story as a vehicle to explore how tribal protectors and conservators of nature can be historically marginalised and misunderstood by those in power. It helps young readers and adults see how we might move closer to stewardship by viewing the earth as tribal people do, and away from ownership and the resultant devastation that comes from the urban‘developmental’ view point.

As a part of her speech during the virtual announcement ceremony of the 2021 Neev BookAwards, Noor Sabharwal, now a student of Grade XI at Neev Academy, Bangalore, sheds light on why YA books appeal to their target audience, which includes readers like her.
“Young Adult literature is a complicated category because it tackles the complexities of life for people who have little experience of it. It is different from books for Early Years, Emerging Readers, and Junior Readers because our horizontal and vertical identities are starting to form.We are ready for more complicated stories of pain, prejudice, and injustice while being ready for inspiration from anywhere. Experiencing these complexities vicariously through literature is a low-risk but authentic way for readers like me to explore these and many more questions.”

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