Louise O’Neill was yesterday (19th March) announced as the winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize.
The Irish author was given the £2,000 award at a ceremony at Foyles’ flagship bookshop in Charing Cross, London, for her debut novel Only Ever Yours (Quercus), a dystopian, feminist satire on how society judges women for their appearance.
In the book, 16-year-olds freida and Isabel are in their final year of school and waiting to see if they are selected as wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative, life as a concubine, is too awful to contemplate, so the intense competition between the girls over their looks starts to mount.
The judges praised O’Neill for her “startling and refreshing” take on the dystopian genre. Melissa Cox, head of range and children’s at Waterstones, said Only Ever Yours is a “fantastic and challenging book that pulls no punches”.
Another judge, Rick O’Shea, presenter at Irish broadcaster RTE, said: “Only Ever Yours is as far as I'm concerned, not just a worthy winner of the prize but one of the best speculative fiction books I've read in years. It pushes the boundaries of contemporary YA. I'll be pressing it into the hands of anyone who might read it"
The YA Book Prize 2015 was launched by The Bookseller at its Children’s Conference in September 2014 after publishers and booksellers bemoaned the lack of recognition for YA in current book awards.
The prize was open to any YA fiction title written by an author living in the UK and Irish and nine other books were shortlisted along with Only Ever Yours: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books), Salvage by Keren David (Atom/Little, Brown), Say Her Name by James Dawson (Hot Key Press), Lobsters by Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen (Chicken House), Half Bad by Sally Green (Penguin), Finding a Voice by Kim Hood (O’Brien Press), Goose by Dawn O’Porter (Hot Key Books), Trouble by Non Pratt (Walker Books) and The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion).
The prize was supported by World Book Day and the Reading Agency and the final winner was judged by a team of eight industry judges and two teen readers, backed up by a team of shadow teen readers.
Judge Kirsten Grant, the director of World Book Day, said: “The amazing range of voices, creativity and subject matter that shines through in the final shortlist really showcases the brilliant talent writing YA fiction in the UK and Ireland today. Teenage readers will definitely find treats aplenty within the covers of each of these great books.”
The judges for the prize were Cox, O'Shea, Grant, Jo-Anne Cocadiz, children's buyer at Foyles; author Philip Reeve; Rosianna Halse Rojas, vlogger and assistant to John Green; Imogen Russell Williams, a freelance journalist and children's/YA specialist, and teen judges Erin Minogue and Rodrigo Raimundo-Ramos.