Overwhelmed Sacha Lamb "Still Processing" Award Recognition for 'When the Angels Left the Old Country'

The author's debut was a Printz honor book, along with winning the young adult category of the Stonewall Awards and the Sydney Taylor Book Awards at the 2030 Youth Media Awards.

A few days have passed since Sacha Lamb learned their debut novel When the Angels Left the Old Country was a 2023 Printz Award honor title, as well as the winner in the YA categories of the Stonewall Awards and the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. But the reality of it all is still sinking in.

“Each award by itself is a career goal and something that I have dreamt of,” they said. “And I have three of them. So, yeah, I'm still processing it. There's too much all at once.”

Which honor was most meaningful for Lamb? The Printz, which recognizes excellence in writing for young adults; the Stonewall, for a work of exceptional merit relating to the LGBTQIA+ experience; or the Sydney Taylor, for authentically portraying the Jewish experience?

“Each of them is amazing, but I have emotional connections in different ways to both the Sydney Taylor and to the Stonewall,” they said. Winning them both for the same book created an “even deeper” feeling for Lamb, especially in this time of growing hostility toward trans and queer people and rising antisemitism, they said.

“To have this very queer, very Jewish book be recognized for all of those dimensions, and to have a Printz honor on top of that, it's just overwhelming.”

Lamb describes When the Angels Left the Old Country as a “fairytale grounded in history,” specifically the great wave of Jewish immigrants to America from 1880 to the early 1920s. It is folklore and the supernatural, as an angel, a demon, and a teenage girl team up en route to America to help search for a missing Jewish girl.

Lamb credited publisher Levine Querido for shining a spotlight on this book beyond what they ever envisioned was possible.

“It has gotten a lot more attention than I was expecting,” they said. “I think that being with Levine Querido gave it a big boost because everyone there cares so much about every single title they put out. Everyone is putting 100 percent of their energy behind every one of their authors. If I were on my own, I would never have gotten to where I’ve gotten. The publicists have reached so much farther than I could ever even imagined to get it into people’s hands. It’s been really amazing.”

Lamb’s book led the way on a big day at the Youth Media Awards for books with Jewish content. In addition to their title, three books were recognized in awards other than the Sydney Taylor: Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II by Lia Levi won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for a children’s book originally published in a language other than English and not in the United States; The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum was the William C. Morris Award winner for debut work for an author writing for teens; and The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Susan Gal a was recognized with a Sibert Honor as one of the best informational books for children.

“It’s very important because there’s so much false information about Jews in the world,” Lamb said of the recognition of Jewish books. “Having these stories—especially in children’s literature, reaching people very young, and showing them Jews as people and not as a conspiracy or [the] sort of shadowy, evil story that’s out there—I think that’s very important for helping people to see from the beginning that this is just a group of people. We’re not evil wizards.”

Lamb felt a responsibility toward both the LGBTQIA+ community and the Jewish community as they wrote.

“I tried to make my characters three-dimensional; you know, they’re not perfect. Even the supernatural characters are human in the way that they make mistakes, and they grow and they change. But I definitely had in mind that I wanted to make them complicated and have them do things that are wrong without playing into negative stereotypes. [I hope] all of the characters have qualities that make them universally appealing and universally relatable.”

By having characters who were both “specific and universal,” Lamb wished that readers would connect with them regardless of their background, and marginalized kids would know they had a community where they belonged. The response they have received from readers at events and via social media suggests the book did just that.

“People saying they feel seen, people saying they connect to the characters,” Lamb said of the feedback. “The combination of queer and Jewish elements seems to be resonating with people in a way that is very meaningful to me.”

So what’s next for an author when their debut novel—and first manuscript ever completed—is a multi-award winner?

“I had some time where I wasn't even thinking about the next project, I was just sitting and waiting for creative energy to come back,” they said.

But something happened during that downtime. “I started getting word that I had won awards, so then I had this boost of energy, feeling like, ‘Oh, wow, I did something really good.’ On the other hand, it is a little intimidating. I've given myself a tough act to follow.”

They are now working on something new, no contract and “nothing set in stone,” but with a renewed sense of creativity and the knowledge that they can let go of When the Angels Left the Old Country.

“Having these awards and being on lists, it will find the people that it needs to find, and I can let this book live on its own,” Lamb said. “I'm just so overwhelmed and so happy and so thankful to everyone who's worked on it to get it to this point, and to all the librarians and committee members who read it and loved it. It's amazing.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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