2017's shortlist offered a diverse range of titles, each of which could have made for a very good Big Read. Having been determined by a specially developed selection algorithm - we think this is the first time that a literary prize has been chosen by a computer.
The year's selected title was My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. With such strong competition, it was hard to know just which way the choice would go but My Name is Leon was an overwhelming success with members of the selection committee who believe this is a book that can be appreciated by all of our students and staff, new and current, alike.
Leon isn't in control of this world where adults say one thing and mean another, and try as he might he can't protect his little family from everything. When their mother falls victim to her inner demons, strangers suddenly take his brother Jake away; after all, a white baby is easy to adopt, while a half-black nine-year-old faces a less certain fate. Vowing to get Jake back by any means necessary, Leon's own journey--on his brand-new BMX bike--will carry him through the lives of a doting but ailing foster mother, Maureen; Maureen's cranky and hilarious sister, Sylvia; a social worker Leon knows only as "The Zebra"; and a colourful community of local gardeners and West Indian political activists.
Told through the perspective of nine-year-old Leon, too innocent to entirely understand what has happened to him and baby Jake, but determined to do what he can to make things right, he stubbornly, endearingly struggles his way through a system much larger than he can tackle on his own. My Name Is Leon is a vivid, gorgeous, and uplifting story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between brothers, and the truth about what, in the end, ultimately makes a family.
Mandy Theresa O'Loughlin, known professionally as Kit de Waal, is an English writer. De Waal's debut novel is My Name Is Leon, from which she used some of her advance to set up the Kit de Waal Creative Writing Fellowship to help improve working-class representation in the arts.
In The Power, suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonising pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.
Alderman is an English author, novelist, game designer (working as lead writer on Zombies, Run!) and protégé of Margaret Atwood.
Ifiok, a young journalist working for the government radio station in Lagos, aspires to always do the right thing but the odds seem to be stacked against him. The government cuts the funding to his weekly radio drama, he stumbles into an affair with a beautiful young intern causing his long-term love to leave him, and kidnappings and militancy are on the rise in the country. When Ifiok travels to his hometown to make a documentary about a band of ex-militants he is forced to confront the ugly truth about the future of his beloved country and his existence within it. Radio Sunrise is a hilarious yet sobering satirical portrait of Nigeria that fully deserves a place amongst the great works of 'post-post-colonial' African literature.
Anietie Isong is an award winning Nigerian/British author of poetry and short stories. Radio Sunrise is his first novel.
On an island like no other, the annual Brilliant & Forever festival is a much anticipated event; its participants a story away from either glory or infamy. This year, three best friends - two human, one alpaca are chosen to compete, so victory is not only about reward. The glitterati descends, the festival begins: thirteen performers, each have their own story to tell. Who will be chosen by the judges? Who will be chosen by the people?
This is a novel like no other; a whip-cracking, energetic, laugh-out-loud satire on what we value in culture, and in our lives. And yet, written with exquisite warmth and empathy, The Brilliant & Forever is also a moving exploration of integrity, friendship and belonging. It'll split your sides and break your heart.
Kevin MacNeil is a Scottish novelist, poet and playwright born and raised in the Outer Hebrides. He often collaborates with visual artists and musicians and he has recently become an honorary writer in residence at Kingston University.
The Elephant and the Bee follows the hilarious journey of our wide-eyed modern day explorer and visionary, Jess, as she tackles the enormous challenges of aid in Africa, environmental concerns and conservation issues, with all the internet-derived hubris of today's youth. When Oprah says, 'Be all you can be and live your best life'; Jess believes the former and is dedicated to the latter.
This book is for anyone who has granted themselves permission to do something spectacular with their lives and for those that haven't - this book might get you there. An insightful memoir from a twenty-something girl with big Oprah-esque dreams, this book is a hurricane of energy; at times funny, sad, ridiculous and educational, a catalogue of advice, hard fought lessons and instructions for anyone out there who believes in their ability to stand up, shout out and attempt to make a difference.
Jess de Boer was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya to a privileged Dutch family in the region. From a young age, inspired by her surroundings, Jess had a strong desire to bring about positive change in the world. On graduating from university, Jess worked in a variety of industries, from working as a private chef in the Swiss Alps to maggot farming in Thailand, travelling the world and documenting her many attempts to make a positive change.
Tom Michell is in his roaring twenties: single, free-spirited and seeking adventure. He has a plane ticket to South America, a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school, and endless summer holidays. He even has a motorbike, Che Guevara style. What he doesn't need is a pet. What he really doesn't need is a pet penguin.
Set against Argentina's turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Perónist regime, this is the heart-warming story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by Tom from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom's side, the young teacher has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school. Whether it's as the rugby team's mascot, the housekeeper's confidant, the host at Tom's parties or the most flamboyant swimming coach in world history, Juan Salvador transforms the lives of all he meets - in particular one homesick school boy. And as for Tom, he discovers in Juan Salvador a compadre like no other...
Tom Michell was born and grew up on the rural downs of southern England, where he grew to love animals, birds and plants. After living in Argentina he returned home and settled in Cornwall where he helps with the family business, tends a small plot of what he calls 'good Cornish soil' and sings with a local choir. He is an amateur artist and in his spare time he draws and paints subjects from the wildlife around his home, specializing in birds of prey. Tom is an enthusiastic proponent of understanding how humans can live in genuinely sustainable ways.