Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rest of the Cybils shortlist

Last week I posted about four of the seven books shortlisted for the 2016 Cybils YA Specualtive Fiction award, and now I'll tell you about the other three. Illuminae was the winner, (follow the link to see all the winners), but I really think all seven books deserve attention. And it was wonderful how diverse they were in style, theme, genre, characters and authors. A great representation of the impressive things going on in YA spec fic these days.

Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier, is a fairy-tale-type fantasy about a magical kingdom under threat from its magical neighbours. I'm a big fan of Neumeier, so I was thrilled to see this one on the list. It has an engaging heroine: Keri the baker who is suddenly chosen to be the Lady of Nimmira (everyone knew she was the illegitimate daughter of the Lord, but no one expected the magic to descend on her) and has to rise to the occasion. The strength of this book is in the relationships between Keri and her Bookkeeper, Doorkeeper and Timekeeper, who have to figure out how to use their strengths to protect the kingdom, and between Keri and her older brothers, who think they could do a much better job than her but have to work with her and learn to trust her. Friendships and family bonds (and a little bit of romance) in a beautiful and original fantasy setting.

Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova, is often called a Latina Alice in Wonderland. It starts in the real world, where Alejandra is about to come into her powers as a bruja. But Alex wants to reject her magic because of its potential for harm. When she disrupts her Death Day ceremony, her family are all whisked away to the magical realm of Los Lagos, and Alejandra has to travel through its strange, dangerous landscape with a boy she doesn't trust in order to rescue them. I really liked the depiction of a multi-generational family, with all the tensions and warmth of a normal family, plus magic to complicate things. Los Lagos is beautiful, surreal and frightening, and the magic is fascinating to me, based as it is on Latin-American mythologies I'm not familiar with. It has a great first line: "The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing."

The Door at the Crossroads, by Zetta Elliot, is a time-travel novel that connects post-9/11 New York with the Civil War era and the draft riots. It's the second book describing Judah and Genna's struggles to find each other after being transported back in time and encountering slavery and the people fighting to end it. It works as excellent historical fiction, highlighting a number of unfamiliar (to me) aspects of the time period (had you ever heard of the free black community called Weeksville? Worth looking up, it's pretty cool!) while being a tense story of modern teens encountering the brutality and humiliation of slavery and the sacrifices of those trying to free them. Judah and Genna are both well-drawn, engaging characters, and the writing is vivid and sometimes heartwrenching.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cybils Awards Announced!

Ahem. Two days ago, actually. But in case you're as behind the times as I am, here's the link to all the winners. And the book we chose for YA Speculative Fiction is . . .

Illuminae, by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I reviewed it last year when I first read it, and on a reread I still found it a lot of fun. We judged that it would have a ton of appeal to teen audiences, and we were impressed by the innovative format, which made the whole reading experience a little meta.

We did have a lot of debate before deciding on Illuminae, however, because we got a stellar short list to choose amongst. So I want to highlight the rest of the books, because they all deserve notice and recognition.

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, is a dystopian Romeo and Juliet (sort-of, except they don't actually fall in love, so really not at all, but it totally has the "Two households both alike in dignity" thing going on) in the same vein as Marie Lu's Legend series. I really liked the monsters—the concept of how they're created, and the way the story questions what it means to be a monster. I liked the way music is used; I liked the way family relationships are explored. I loved both protagonists, their struggles with their own identities, and the prickly friendship they develop. The story comes to a satisfying close but definitely needs a sequel, which I will be eager to read.

Still Life With Tornado, by A.S. King. Brilliantly written book about an artist who can't do art anymore. Or about a family falling apart, or starting to heal. It kept surprising me, as King's books tend to do. It didn't seem like speculative fiction, except that it was definitely surreal. The protagonist is incredibly annoying at first, but just funny enough to put up with, until she breaks your heart. It's one of those books with lots of pieces that are interesting enough on their own, but when they finally all come together you have to gasp a little at how beautiful the final picture is. Not an easy book to describe, but a book you have to read.

When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore is gorgeous, lovely, luminescent, tender, and a little bit unsettling. Magical realism at its most magical, it's a love story between Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and Samir, who has a secret that, above all else, the four Bonner sisters cannot find out. There are glass pumpkins and cures for lovesickness and paper moons, and it's really not like any other book I've read. It has important things to say about choosing our own identity, and it says them beautifully.

I'll highlight the other three in my next post!