This year’s shortlist offers a diverse range of titles, each of which could make 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 Power by Naomi Alderman
In The Power, suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.
About Naomi Alderman
Alderman is an English author, novelist, game designer (working as lead writer on Zombies, Run!) and protégé of Margaret Atwood.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.
As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile - like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.
Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how - just when we least expect it - we manage to find our way home.
About Kit de Waal
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.
Radio Sunrise by Anietie Isong
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.
About Anietie Isong
Anietie Isong is an award winning Nigerian/British author of poetry and short stories. Radio Sunrise is his first novel.
The Elephant and The Bee by Jess de Boer
Driven by a childhood urge to ‘Save the World’ naive Kenyan, Jess de Boer leaves her privileged home in Nairobi in exchange for an adventure that spans continents and encompasses a series of jarring and often hilarious mishaps. A series of events eventually leads her back to Africa where she discovers her true calling within the wonderful world of beekeeping!
Join this modern day explorer as she tackles the enormous challenges of aid in Africa, and environmental issues, with all the internet-derived hubris of today’s youth. This memoir is at once a surge of energy and a sobering digest with hard fought lessons and guidance for anyone who believes in their ability to stand up, shout out and make a difference.
About Jess de Boer
Jess de Boer was born to a privileged Dutch family in Nairobi, Kenya where she still strives to save the world today. On graduating from University, Jess worked in a variety of industries, from private cheffing in the Swiss Alps to maggot farming in Thailand, travelling the world and documenting her many attempts to bring about positive change. The Elephant and the Bee is her first book.
The Brilliant and the Forever by Kevin MacNeil
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.
About Kevin MacNeil
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 Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell
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...
About Tom Michell
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.