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Young Adult Virginia Author Award

2021 Winner

Brynne Rebele-Henry

In her debut novel, award-winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry re-imagines the Orpheus myth as a love story between two teenage girls who are sent to conversion therapy after being caught together in an intimate moment. Orpheus Girl is a haunting story of dysfunctional families, trauma, first love, heartbreak, and ultimately, the fierce adolescent resilience that has the power to triumph over darkness and ignorance.

Rebele-Henry’s novel was selected as this year’s winner by a panel of teen judges. Here are some of the things they had to say about Orpheus Girl:

“[This book] tells such an important story in a heart-breakingly beautiful way. It was so special for me to read a book where I saw myself represented in the main character, and I think it is so valuable for teens to be able to do that. The storyline was dynamic and never lulled, which made me want to keep reading it and never put it down.”

“The characters were very real and the hardships very accurately expressed real life occurrences. The story and characters were enticing and had the readers cheering for them. I loved this book and would recommend it to many people.”

“[This book] should be the 2021 YAVA winner because of its delicate prose, masterful parallels between Greek myth and the real world, and its ability to create a heavy novel in a compact read…It tackles very difficult subject matter and doesn’t try to hold itself back, but its ability to wrangle its own writing style to create such a great, atmospheric, and heavy read for so little pages is a herculean feat of its own.”

“Not only does the novel have relevancy with queer representation, but it handles the heavy subject matter in a realistic manner…In addition to its representation, the book has a beautiful, lyrical writing style that flows extremely well with the story. While the novel is on the shorter side, this only serves to maintain reader interest and does not distract from the intensity of the plot; rather, the fast pace keeps readers engaged.”

In addition to this novel, Rebele-Henry is also an award-winning poet. Her accolades include the AWP 2017 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose, the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a 2017 Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner. Her work centers around topics like feminism, lesbianism, homophobic violence, and girlhood.

Check It Out

2022 Award Nominees


Four Days of You and Me

Miranda Kenneally
Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Malcolm and Me

Robin Farmer
Philly native Roberta Forest is a precocious rebel with the soul of a poet. The thirteen-year-old is young, gifted, black, and Catholic--although she's uncertain about the Catholic part after she calls Thomas Jefferson a hypocrite for enslaving people and her nun responds with a racist insult. Their ensuing fight makes Roberta question God and the important adults in her life, all of whom seem to see truth as gray when Roberta believes it's black or white. An upcoming essay contest, writing poetry, and reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X all help Roberta cope with the various difficulties she's experiencing in her life, including her parent's troubled marriage. But when she's told she's ineligible to compete in the school's essay contest, her explosive reaction to the news leads to a confrontation with her mother, who shares some family truths Roberta isn't ready for. Set against the backdrop of Watergate and the post-civil rights movement era, Malcolm and Me is a gritty yet graceful examination of the anguish teens experience when their growing awareness of themselves and the world around them unravels their sense of security--a coming-of-age tale of truth-telling, faith, family, forgiveness, and social activism.

Mermaid Moon

Susann Cokal
Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm. It is the way of the world. Come close and tell us your dreams. Sanna is a mermaid -- but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna's people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born. Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish matriarchy, and she is determined to find her mother and learn who she is. She apprentices herself to the witch to learn the magic of making and unmaking, and with a new pair of legs and a quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. There, as her fellow mermaids wait in the sea, Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness who will do anything to live forever.

Ms. Gloria Steinem

Winifred Conkling
Documenting everything from her boundary-pushing journalistic career to the foundation of Ms. magazine to being awarded the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, Winifred Conkling's Ms. Gloria Steinem: A Life is a meticulously researched YA biography that is sure to satisfy even the most voracious of aspiring glass-ceiling smashers.

Not So Pure and Simple

Lamar Giles
Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.


M.K. England
In Kyrkarta, magic--known as maz--was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that's tightly controlled--and, of course, outrageously expensive. Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever. But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they're driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague--and possibly save the world. No pressure

The Hay-Wagon

Abigail Olson
After graduating from high school, Abigail achieves her childhood dream of getting her CDL and learning to drive 18-wheelers. That's where she meets a big roadblock: due to federal age restrictions, she's too young to drive trucks across state lines. Unsure what to do next, she works as a part-time dump truck driver and part-time receptionist. That is, until she quits her job and relationship on the same day and takes the next flight to Mexico, where she lives for the next four months. Come with Abigail on a journey to self-respect and self-discovery. Told through a collection of vignettes, The Hay-Wagon is a story about respect and a young woman's journey to find it.

The King's Broad Arrow

Kathryn Goodwin Tone
Can the power and promise of the Revolution change not just America, but the world? June 1775. War has come to the colonies, and a young Sam Nevens feels like he is the only one with no desire to fight. At thirteen, all Sam wants to do his help his father at the sawmill to keep his family from starving during the long New England winter. Even when his best friend, Eamon, leaves to join a militia, Sam remains skeptical that the Revolution is worth fighting for. But the British have other plans and when Sam suddenly finds himself captured and trapped on a British prison ship far away, he must quickly learn what it is that he values the most.


Gwen Cole
Every day, Sam endures the same subway ride on her way to school, but when she meets a boy named Reid, suddenly her daily commute isnt so ordinary. Reid has the ability to teleportor, drift, as he calls itand for the first time, Sam has the opportunity to travel anywhere without a passport or plane ticket. But as their two worlds come together, Sam discovers her family had been keeping secrets from her, and meeting Reid was just the beginning of unraveling the truth. When drifters begin to disappear, Sam has no choice but to face the threat when she finds out her family is among the missing. As Reid and Sam start their search for the missing drifters, help comes from the most unexpected of places. After a significant breakthrough, Reid is taken, and Sam finds herself alone in a world she knows nothing about. With the enemy closing in, she soon realizes shes the only person who can save them all.

Teen Judge Application

We are no longer accepting applications for the 2022 YAVA Award teen judge panels. Applicants will be notified of their status in July 2021.


About YAVA

The Richmond Public Library’s annual YAVA Award highlights excellence in writing for readers at the middle and high school level by Virginia authors. The YAVA Celebration began in 2013 as “Teen ‘13”. It has grown increasingly over the years to include a year-long award process culminating in the spring with our annual celebration. Beginning in 2020, the YAVA Award winner will be selected by a panel of teen judges and announced during the annual YAVA Celebration. This is our Library's biggest teen event, providing readers an opportunity to interact with local authors, learn about current young adult literature, and engage with others in the community. We value the entire YAVA Award process as an opportunity for teens to connect, engage, and become inspired.

Past Winners


The Impossibility of Us

Katy Upperman
Katy Upperman’s book, The Impossibility of Us, is a contemporary novel with a romantic spin. Set in San Francisco during the Afghan War, The Impossibility of Us tells the story of Elise and Mati, two teens from very different backgrounds. Elisa and her mother are grieving the loss of her brother who was killed in the war in Afghanistan. When they move to a new town, Elisa meets Mati, an Afghan teen visiting with his family from overseas. The two unexpectedly fall in love but face the disapproval of Elise’s family. Can their relationship overcome the deep-rooted prejudice that confronts them? Upperman’s novel has been described as “timely, tender, romantic and impressively honest.” Readers will relate to Elisa and Mati’s struggle and the book’s themes of racism will feel very real and relevant.

It Started with Goodbye

Christina June
It Started with Goodbye is a modern day Cinderella story for today’s teens. Confined to her house for the summer after being unfairly implicated in one of her best friend’s ideas gone awry, 16-year-old Tatum launches a graphic design business and falls for a cello-playing client who lives in Ireland.


Lisa Maxwell
From “talented wordsmith” (Publishers Weekly) Lisa Maxwell comes a lush, atmospheric fantasy novel filled with twists and turns about a girl who is kidnapped and brought to an island inhabited by fairies, a roguish ship captain, and bloodthirsty beasts.


Kat Spears
When Jason Marshall's younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates—Mario, Jordie, and Chick—to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who's not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on.

Come August, Come Freedom

Gigi Amateau
In a time of post-Revolutionary fervor in Richmond, Virginia, an imposing twenty-four-year-old slave named Gabriel plotted a rebellion involving thousands of African- American freedom seekers armed with refashioned pitchforks and other implements of Gabriel’s blacksmith trade. The revolt would be thwarted by a confluence of fierce weather and human betrayal, but Gabriel retained his dignity to the end. Interwoven with original documents, this poignant, illuminating novel gives a personal face to a remarkable moment in history. This edition includes extensive research notes on the story behind the plot.