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  • Plot: Heaney demonstrates a strong grasp on storytelling for children in a tender tale that explores weighty issues of life, death, and the meaning of existence, as animal characters question how they can best fulfill their individual purposes.

    Prose: Heaney’s eloquent writing expertly blends anthropomorphic details into descriptions and dialogue, causing readers to alternately forget and distinctly remember that the leading cast of this novel is comprised of furry and feathered friends.

    Originality: Heaney’s middle grade novel is a unique contemporary story that pays tribute to classic works of children's literature through its poignant and sophisticated approach to dealing with questions about death, purpose, and grief.

    Character Development: Heaney’s characters are quirky, sympathetic, and wise. With humor and grace, the author gently advocates for building meaningful relationships with our creature companions, our human companions, and the natural world around us.

  • Top Choice

    by Sophie McAloon

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Captivating from start to finish, McAloon's novel draws the reader into an exquisitely rendered world. As the story builds toward its climax, the violence increases and the stakes grow ever higher. Readers will find this nearly impossible to put down.

    Prose: Tightly written and highly polished, McAloon's prose shows very fine craftsmanship; her characters' flirtatious dialogue casts a spell with its pitch-perfect blend of humor and intimacy. The author is at her best, however, when her descriptive prose lingers on the beautiful.

    Originality: It takes real talent to make a YA dystopian tale feel original these days, but McAloon pulls it off and sticks the landing. And, she challenges the reader with real questions about gender, power, and violence.

    Character Development: McAloon's characters quickly reveal themselves as deeply believable young adults struggling to reconcile authentic inner conflicts. Alice is relatable in her dawning awareness, and her growth unfolds with masterful precision.

    Blurb: Captivating and nearly impossible to put down, McAloon's twisted but beautiful world comes alive on the page.

  • Stranded on Thin Ice

    by Sharon CassanoLochman

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This is a well-plotted adventure with plenty of tension, which will guarantee reader interest without seeming contrived.

    Prose: CassanoLochman’s prose is slick and polished and flows naturally. The voice is age-appropriate and manages to effortlessly convey a host of emotions from elation to despair.

    Originality: What sets CassanoLochman’s book apart from the pack is its originality in terms of setting and subject matter.

    Character Development: The main protagonists are utterly likable, well developed, and engaging.

    Blurb: A great coming-of-age adventure.

  • Jake, Lucid Dreamer

    by David J. Naiman

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Naiman’s richly developed novel follows likeable protagonist Jake as he battles his real-life and dream-world  demons, and undergoes significant character growth as a result. Time travels differently in Jake’s magical-realistic, very vivid dream world, while the numerous flashbacks ground the storyline.

    Prose: Naiman convincingly writes from the perspective of a child processing his grief and trauma, with authentic dialogue and fresh, funny prose.

    Originality: This relatable novel offers familiar middle grade elements--the impact of bullying, social status, younger siblings--while integrating emotional and psychological complexity through the protagonist's imaginative dreamlife. 

    Character Development: The author crafts memorable characters that experience ample personal growth and degrees of self-realization over the course of the novel. Readers are clearly and immediately introduced to a small cast of key players who serve as guides to Jake’s waking adventures and have their own counterparts in his lucid dreamscapes.

    Blurb: Naiman’s poignant coming-of-age novel offers a sensitive and honest examination of a child's spiritual and emotional battles.

  • Prison of Lies (Leftover Girl Book 3)

    by C.C. Bolick

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This novel is expertly plotted. The story moves along at a good pace and will engage readers.

    Prose: The prose here is inconsistent—some passages are very strong, while others fail to live up to the same high standard.

    Originality: An original take on a traditional story. While some elements will be familiar to readers, the writing is fresh enough to elevate the plot—in part, because of the strong characters.

    Character Development: This novel features very well rendered characters. They are the best part of this book. Jes Delaney is a sympathetic protagonist.

  • The Book of Sam

    by Rob Shapiro

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The plot of Shapiro’s novel will be familiar to genre fans, but the author does give it many lively and adventurous twists. Although the story ends somewhat abruptly, Shapiro has clearly laid the groundwork for a follow-up adventure.

    Prose: Sam speaks to the reader in a voice that is believable, effective, and age appropriate.

    Originality: Shapiro’s fantasy world puts a colorful and inventive gloss on traditional imaginary worlds.

    Character Development: The characters in Shapiro’s novel are pleasingly quirky and well-rounded. Even the otherworldly characters they interact with have depth.

  • Hamlette

    by M Pepper Langlinais

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Langlinais artfully mirrors without overly mimicking the play-within-a-play of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a storyline that is fast-paced and engagingly plotted.

    Prose: The author's prose crackles with rhythmic writing and colorful similes, ably capturing young voices while gently mocking the weirdness of adults.

    Originality: Though the book's plot tracks the classic play Hamlet, it does so with a great deal of fluidity and flair.

    Character Development: Langlinais takes familiar YA types and invests them with refreshing resonance.

  • The Trail Rules

    by Melanie Hooyenga

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Mike’s story is solidly plotted and well paced, and it shows that a change of heart is only the beginning step in understanding who you are.

    Prose: The writing has an immediacy and works to bring readers inside of Mike’s head. And while there are some melodrama moments, they never overwhelm the narrative, instead, they keep the emotions raw and honest.

    Originality: While contemporary teen coming-of-age stories are nothing new, combining a female lead with an adventure sport helps this book stand out from the crowd.

    Character Development: The characters here ring true, especially Mike, whose evolution and growing self-awareness propel the story forward. The secondary characters experience little growth but hint at complexities in their own lives.

  • Vincent and The Dissidents

    by Christopher Locke

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: An intelligent story of rescue and revenge, this inspiring yet dark tale is plotted with precision, allowing multiple animal viewpoints to take on potent psychological force.

    Prose: Descriptions of animals tortured and suffering for human consumption or monetary gain, along with inventive introspection, enkindle empathy as well as moral awareness. The well-crafted prose elicits powerful emotions, drawing attention to a world intent on subjugating and killing animals, rather than respecting their right to live in freedom.

    Originality: Personification of animals remains a staple in children’s and young adult fiction, yet rarely does a novel reach out to readers in such a sophisticated fashion. Buried deep within each of the animal characters is a feeling, thinking creature more sympathetic than some human beings.

    Character Development: Abused animals in domestic and commercial environments are portrayed with human characteristics in a moving fashion. The characters are fully formed and believable, and readers will care about their lives and stories.

  • The Boys Who Danced with the Moon

    by Mark Paul Oleksiw

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This skillfully crafted YA mystery novel revolves around a past event that continues to haunt its protagonist. Oleksiw offers a realistic portrait of a suburban town in the 1980s and of the ties that bind individuals to the place of their origins.  

    Prose: Oleksiw works in a clear, lyrical prose that effectively conveys the unfolding events, while kneading at the more elusive aspects of the story, as filtered through time, tightly held secrets, and memory.

    Originality: Oleksiw deftly blends a coming-of-age story with elements of a mystery, resulting in an insightful and refreshing YA novel with crossover appeal to an older audience.

    Character Development: While the protagonist remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the novel, readers will come to know him through his relationships with other characters. The circumstances of the mystery will keep readers fully engaged, as will Kiran’s quest to rediscover, or perhaps reclaim, his soul.

  • Blood Crescent

    by Stevie McCoy

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: This novel is decently structured and, for the most part, moves along at a brisk pace. While there are moments where the narrative lags, the author provides enough mystery and suspense to keep readers turning pages.

    Prose: The writing is descriptive and enjoyable, though some awkward phrasing may trip readers up. While the prose is brisk and natural, the dialogue sometimes gets bogged down, which can slow the pace significantly.

    Originality: While there are echoes of the Twilight series and Harry Potter, the characters and scenario are wholly original.

    Character Development: Crystal is a likable and well-drawn character. Victor and Damien are not overly complicated, but the author does a remarkable job of balancing and explaining their motivations.

  • The Legacy of King Jasteroth Vol.1

    by S. L. Wyllie

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: Though decently plotted, this novel is relatively light on conflict, which may not sit well with fans of the genre. Still, the story moves along at a good pace and is entertaining.

    Prose: The writing is simple, direct, and clear. The dialogue reads naturally, with various characters sufficiently distinct in their speech and mannerisms.

    Originality: The novel follows standard fantasy conventions. The setting and scenario are unique and interesting.

    Character Development: Ariella and Austin are thoroughly realized, although Austin’s true motivations are sometimes difficult to discern. Emily serves as a nice foil and balance to her brother, while Jasteroth is a looming malevolence.

  • The Cloud Seeders

    by James Zerndt

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot: While the plot features enough action to initially grab readers, the storyline meanders and at times feels contrived. Additionally, some character motivations feeling vague.

    Prose: Zerndt's prose is solid and well crafted. It remains unobtrusive and allows the plot and characters to take center stage.

    Originality: Zerndt's dystopian novel doesn't follow the typical rules of the genre, giving things just enough originality to keep it fresh.

    Character Development: The characters in Zerndt's dystopian novel are a mixed bag.The main character and his younger brother are solidly developed. But Jerusha is a thinly drawn type, while the villainous president is more caricature than character.

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