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  • Finalist

    The Edge Rules (The Rules Series Book 3)

    by Melanie Hooyenga

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This book is tightly plotted and well paced. A few of the protagonist's issues still feel unresolved by the ending, but overall, the book comes together very well.

    Prose/Style: This is a well-written book, both technically and aesthetically. Characters sound "real" and both plot arcs and language flow smoothly.

    Originality: The reformed bully trope is not new to the genre, but the places Brianna goes and the paces she is put through do lend this book an authentic feel with its own unique voice.

    Character Development: Characters are developed thoroughly in this book. Character arcs, particularly among the main cast, are paced as meticulously as the plot. The characters are all believable, both in terms of their situations and actions.

  • Semi Finalist

    Sky-bound Misfit

    by Jane Powell

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The turbulence, tragedy, and angst of adolescence are deftly explored in this rawly funny, wholly unique coming-of-age novel set in the 1980s. Chaos, comedy, despair, and delirious joy collide and overlap, resulting in a rich and moving reading experience.

    Prose/Style: The author clearly grasps the nuances of teen psychology as reflected through the authentic voices and natural dialogue. Frankie’s exuberant, often precocious voice immediately captivates. Readers will be left feeling that no other character could have told this story.

    Originality: It’s a tremendous credit to the author that, while the essential storyline about misguided adolescence is a familiar one, the novel nevertheless emerges as inspired and fully distinctive among others of the genre.

    Character Development: The author captures the essence of the 1980s through song and other cultural references, yet the novel carries an admirable quality of timelessness, largely due to the fully lovable, outlandish, and shining cast of characters.

  • Semi Finalist

    Tinsey Clover

    by Chelsea Walker Flagg

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author is a master in the art of cliff-hanger chapter endings. Every peril confronting Tinsey is so imaginative, it's impossible to guess the outcome.

    Prose/Style: Tinsey's narrative employs the classic voice of a feisty underdog, and for a plot concerning a panoply of mythical creatures (elves, trolls, dragons, and the like), the tone of this chapter book is refreshingly untwee. The action scenes are vivid and suspenseful.

    Originality: This genre of child-appropriate fantasy is a popular one, but rarely are the underlying issues explored so sensitively and entertainingly. All of the fantastical elements are delivered in a matter-of-fact manner, in such a way that children's imaginations are easily engaged. The upshot is that Tinsey learns, gradually, to embrace "the other." The book is full of laudable lessons but steers clear of preachiness.

    Character Development: Tinsey grows in both confidence and empathy. Readers in the target age group will enjoy relating to her anxiety and, in turn, her ever-improving competence. This stirring adventure is told from the perspective of a just-turned eleven-year-old who's suffering from a classic case of Little Sister Syndrome. Chipmunk-sized Tinsey Clover has a grievance and a voice, and both are compelling. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Ugly

    by Kelly Vincent

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This story has many subplots that weave together seamlessly, with the most poignant being Nic’s struggle to identify her gender and sexuality. Things come to a swift, yet satisfying, conclusion.

    Prose/Style: Vincent’s prose is straightforward and clear. Her talent shines as she develops Nic’s voice throughout the novel; Nic is unafraid and unforgettable

    Originality: Nic is not your average teenage narrator. Her cynicism and honesty make even the most basic observations feel refreshing.

    Character Development: Vincent’s characters are well-developed and in tune with their emotions. The story’s protagonist, Nicole “Nic” Summers, is surrounded by a cast of complex family members, friends, and frenemies.

    Blurb: Readers will rally behind fifteen-year-old Nic Summers as she navigates the pitfalls of adolescence in this moving and timely YA novel.

  • Semi Finalist

    CeeGee's Gift

    by Joy H. Selak

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Selak's novel is a feel-good story that will keep readers of all ages wanting to know what happens next.

    Prose/Style: The text of the novel flows together nicely; however, there are minimal grammatical mistakes that a light proofread would have caught.

    Originality: What sets Selak's novel from the rest is the superb storytelling skill. Selak creates an original novel by keeping readers enticed to know how the story unfolds and by continually provoking emotions from the reader.

    Character Development:  Selak does a very good job of creating likeable characters. Readers will find themselves falling in love with the characters of CeeGee and Mr. Tindale, in particular.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: This immersive and atmospheric fantasy is focused on one girl's rebellion against confining social constraints as manifested through a profound and magical transformation. Gill's novel evokes traditional fairy tale elements, exploring forbidden realms, guarded secrets, and undiscovered powers, while weaving in subtle feminist and ecological threads.

    Prose/Style: Gill's prose offers rich, bucolic imagery that results in highly visual and visceral storytelling.

    Originality: While this novel integrates familiar elements of YA dystopian and fantasy genres, Gill's work stands apart through its strikingly inventive concept, distinctive sense of place, and masterful use of imagery.

    Character Development: While initially terrorized by childhood tormentors, protagonist Mielitta discovers autonomy and power by forging a profound preternatural connection with the bees. Gill offers her characters dimension and dynamism, providing even villainous figures with internal complexity. The bees themselves collectively emerge as an enigmatic and sympathetic entity.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Opulent Shoals: The Black Butterfly

    by J. J. N. Whitley

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Six teenagers empowered by an encounter with a supernatural being is pulled off with rich characters in this third installment of a series. Whitley maintains a sense of tension and intrigue within the opening pages, maintaining that momentum until the conclusion.

    Prose: Whitley crafts an intricate story through vivid and detailed scenes. The novel's greatest strength, however, is in its subtle world building. The author allows the novel's atmospheric tone to carry the work, rather than overtly describing the circumstances or dictating what readers should fear.

    Originality: In a number of respects, this novel relies on familiar tropes of YA paranormal fiction. However, the author integrates fresh and thoughtful elements--notably, with the inclusion of Jesus as one of the powers, and the ensuing theological discussions embedded in the story. The close focus on individual characters and how each grapples with the life-altering circumstances, lends additional value and substance to the narrative. 

    Character Development: Characters have separate and distinct voices, and dialogue is especially fine. By providing intimate details about characters' individual personal struggles, Whitley builds multidimensional protagonists who aren't solely defined by the events at-hand.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Monty and the Monster

    by Rhonda Smiley

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The flow of this novel is flawlessly plotted and will easily engage young readers from the opening page. The author strikes a fine balance between the fun, fantastical circumstances and the exploration of "every kid" issues facing the protagonist.

    Prose/Style: Natural dialogue and interaction among the characters is consistent throughout the novel. The author clearly understands the mind of a middle school tween; Monty's voice shows authentic emotion, as he experiences moments of vulnerability and bravery, self-deprecation, and self-assuredness.

    Originality: The story of a lonely kid finding an unusual new friend is hardly unique. Yet Smiley's blend of humor and sensitivity, along with a memorable monster character, allow the work to stand out.

    Character Development: Each character is relatable and carefully developed, which makes the story (even its implausible elements) come across as believable. The dialogue between the characters is often funny, even as the story addresses serious issues. Readers will come to care about these individuals, whose inner turmoil often develops from circumstances that are beyond their control.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Smallfish Clover

    by Heather Lee Shaw

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Thirteen-year-old Pace's escapist adventures come to life in this richly crafted and fast-paced novel. Though its appeal may lean more toward adults than YA or middle-grade readers, they will thoroughly enjoy the journey through Pace's escapades on the magic carpet of Shaw's writing.

    Prose: Dexterous prose and a vividly imaginative style characterize Shaw's writing. Marvelous sensory details and sublimely surreal imagery make the reading experience an enchanting one.

    Originality: Shaw's novel is utterly original from its beginning in a bright South American market to Pace's emergence at the end from his jungle camp. The sparkling cast of characters and captivating story twists recall some of the greats of surrealistic fiction while still feeling wholly unique.

    Character Development: Pace's adventure is more the focus of this story than his development, but he makes for a fine narrator and his friends a wonderful cast of characters to carry him along on the journey. His age is difficult to decipher early in the book, as he behaves at times like a young child and others like a teen; this discrepancy initially muddies his characterization but evens out as the story takes flight.

    Blurb: Vividly imaginative and enchantingly conceived, "Smallfish Clover" is a magic carpet ride into a captivating new Wonderland. Shaw's nimble writing turns young Pace's adventure into a lucid dream.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Medicine Dream and Warrior Ghosts

    by Nona Burroughs Babcock

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This YA adventure follows 14-year-old Blackfoot Native American Johnny Bear Child as he encounters a new school, bullies, and learns about the support a good friend can provide. Babcock's book is crisply organized and strongly plotted. Its attention to detail provides insight into Native American traditions in a manner that comes across as largely authentic. The adventures are exciting but reasonably resolved.

    Prose: The author's prose is strong, clear, and concise. The novel offers both memorable moments of realistic drama alongside enigmatic spiritual elements.

    Originality: The book's backdrop of Native American belief systems is in itself unusual. The topics of bullying, friendship, and suicide are commonly explored in the YA category, but Babcock's work offers a unique viewpoint.

    Character Development: The characters are generally organic and respectfully multilayered. The believable dialogue effectively carries the story forward, with occasional clunky and overly orchestrated moments.

  • Plot: Four differently-abled middle school kids use science to give themselves super powers and solve crimes while in disguise. This is a sweet YA read with a surprise ending that will delight readers.

    Prose/Style: There is some clever imagery here, with steady and clear dialogue. Descriptions of the super powers and how the children react to them are authentic, touching, and sometimes funny.

    Originality: Disabled kids who are not just the heroes but superheroes of the story is a fresh and clever premise. Even without revealing their secret identities, the kids are accepted by their peers after saving the school budget.

    Character Development: All of the young and vibrant characters are wonderfully drawn, especially Dan, the blind boy who gains the ability to read minds. Even the pet hamster, Dancer, plays an important role in the plot twist.

  • By Wing├ęd Chair

    by Kendra Merritt

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: With a wonderfully crafted blend of swords and sorcery and characters based on Robin Hood, Merritt tops this story off with the lead character readers need nowadays; a strong, independent, powerful female mage who also happens to be in a wheelchair. Readers will be constantly turning the pages to see what happens next to this fun group of characters through the twists and turns they won’t see coming.

    Prose/Style: Told from the point of view of the main character, Merry, Merritt brings readers along on Merry’s journey, feeling each emotion along with her, as well as what she witnesses her friends go through. Their travels through multiple lands are clearly described, pulling the reader seamlessly into her world.

    Originality: Although there are several alternate versions of Robin Hood out there, Merritt’s story stands out with not only the mages and multiple realities they must work with, but the main character being Merry (based partially on Maid Marian), and her navigation through and view of the world being from her combination of being in a wheelchair and a powerful mage. This powerful combination puts this book much further ahead in originality.

    Character Development: Readers will really enjoy following along with Merry, a young woman in a wheelchair in a time where those who couldn’t walk would be bed-ridden; she never lets her legs keep her from being as powerful as she is meant to be. The characters alongside her along the way are equally lovable, yet well written as individuals, while even the antagonists are given humanizing backstories that will pull some sympathy from readers.

  • Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds

    by Peter Adam Salomon

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: This book explores a very interesting plot in which genius, but bullied, teens bring on the fated Apocalypse. In the unique premise, only two humans remain on Earth, and they experience death time and again in order to try to remember who they are and what happened to Earth.

    Prose/Style: The author uses chilling prose that is both fast-paced and riveting. It moves the reader through this complex science fiction tale. Mistakes are few and far between, though the novel would benefit from a light copyedit. 

    Originality: The work is very original, not only because of the plot points and twists listed above, but also because of the creative ending. Just when the reader thinks it’s all over, there is hope for the characters and audience alike. 

    Character Development: The six teens who try to end the world are well-drawn, but the two survivors aren’t fully fleshed out until they learn the truth about who they are and why they exist, a mysterious and terrifying truth.

  • Sydney Porter: Dog Girl

    by L.G. Reed

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The premise behind this touching middle grade story--a girl who turns into a dog in order to better connect with her PTSD-suffering father--is certainly compelling, with definite appeal to young readers. However, Reed's storyline would benefit from additional development leading up to her character's transformation.

    Prose/Style: Reed writes in a basic (at times overly so) and humorous prose style that clearly conveys the unusual circumstances. Sydney's lively, frank narrative voice will appeal most strongly to younger middle grade readers who have ever wondered what their parents would do if they disappeared.

    Originality: A child heroine seeking peace and solace for her troubled family is not a new concept, especially in middle grade and YA fiction, but the path that Sydney follows in order to arrive at a resolution (and the book's focus on a parent's PTSD) is fresh and unexpected.

    Character Development: Sydney is a strong, well-rounded character with relatable emotional struggles, while others--notably, Fred--are equally endearing. Family members are realistically flawed and provide the story of a girl-turned-dog, with gravity.

  • Hidden Scales

    by A. M. Robin

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The book flows at a nice pace, providing a satisfying, adventurous saga that will keep readers hooked. Though the ending feels slightly abrupt, the story is otherwise engaging.

    Prose/Style: The author provides beautifully written, often creative descriptions, particularly of villages in the book’s fantasy setting.

    Originality: The world building is well done. Consistent with expectations in the genre, the book’s magical realm is depicted nicely. The author aptly provides unique fantastical elements to bolster the details of the world.

    Character Development: Readers will enjoy reading about Mira, the eleven-year-old protagonist as she grapples change, hardship and high-stake adventures.

    Blurb:
    A well-written and engaging saga for a middle-grade audience.

  • Catching Moonlight

    by Emily Mah

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The plot of Mah’s novel is very well-wrought. At its most basic, it is a suspenseful chase scenario in which the angel Corban, the vampire-infected Liana, and their confederates attempt to evade the demon-possessed Melanie and her vampire cohort. But the complications the author introduces into the narrative allow her to elaborate a vividly imagined alternate reality of supernatural beings and their power struggles that intersect with and influence mortal reality.

    Prose/Style: Mah’s prose is clear and well-suited to her characters thoughts and speech as well as to the novel’s action. It is especially good at capturing the conflicted emotions of Corban, whose introspective moments are focused on his personal uncertainties and frailties.

    Originality: Depictions of a world of supernatural reality functioning behind or intersecting with mundane everyday reality are common in contemporary dark fantasy. Mah gives her treatment of this approach an original twist, blending making biblical fallen angels part of the pantheon of vampires, werewolves, demons, and other more familiar beings of supernatural fiction.

    Character Development: Mah’s well-developed characters are the solid foundation for the story she tells. Both Corban and Liana are sympathetically human in their fallibility and uncertainty about their natures. This same fallibility, expressed in the supporting characters, is what makes them susceptible to the betrayals and role reversals that add refreshingly unpredictable complications to the plot.

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