Professor's novel wins major YA fiction award

'The Kingdom of Little Wounds' named Printz honor book

Share this story

A novel by Virginia Commonwealth University professor Susann Cokal, Ph.D., has received a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award – one of the most prestigious honors for excellence in literature aimed at young adults.

Cokal's 2013 novel, "The Kingdom of Little Wounds," published by Candlewick Press, is a dark and complex tale of palace intrigue in a fictional 16th century Scandinavian kingdom where the royal family is plagued by a mysterious illness, and where political machinations cast doubt on who will rule.

The novel – which is recommended for older teens and adults – received four starred reviews and was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2013. In its review, The New York Times praised it for its "lewd and raucous territory for a young adult novel, almost de Sadean in its rich, sumptuous details."

"I was stunned when I got the phone call," Cokal said. "It was 9 a.m. on Sunday, and I thought some overzealous telemarketer was calling. Then when she told me I'd won this fabulous honor, all I could say was, 'Wow. Wow.' And, of course, [I] suspect[ed]  it was a prank … but then when I added 'That's wonderful! I'm so excited!' I heard a roomful of people clapping for me. Kind of dreamy."

"The Kingdom" marked Cokal's first foray into young adult fiction. She is the author of  two previous novels for adults, "Mirablis" (2002) and "Breath and Bones" (2006). Cokal is an associate professor in the Department of English, part of VCU's College of Humanities and Sciences.

"Since its debut last fall, Susann Cokal's novel 'The Kingdom of Little Wounds' has already garnered a number of impressive prizes and appears on virtually every important list in its category," said Katherine Bassard, Ph.D., chair of VCU's English department. "Such attention is well-deserved and promises more recognition on the way."

The Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on literary merit. The awards committee also names up to four honor books, such as "The Kingdom," which also represent the best writing in young adult literature. The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.

"The Printz Committee chose 'The Kingdom of Little Wounds' as an honor book because of its distinctive voices, grim portrayal of court life and complex literary writing," said Jennifer Lawson, chair of the 2014 Printz Committee. "This is a dark tale, which doesn’t hold back in its descriptions of archaic medical procedures, abuses of power and the vulnerable standing of women at court, including princesses and queens."

Cokal said she will continue writing young adult fiction. She is in the research stage of a book called "One Drop" that will be set in Richmond in the 1890s. And she is finishing up a ghost story set in the 1920s in a house she recently sold on Monument Avenue.

"My first night there, I slept on the floor and heard it creaking around me, and I started thinking of twin sisters, one of them dead and haunting," she said.

To read a Q&A with Cokal about "The Kingdom of Little Wounds," go to:


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.