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  • Finalist

    The Eye of Odin: A Lightning Goddess Novel

    by Steven Petersen

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: With a creative plot based on Norse mythology, the storyline here is simply captivating. From the fall of Odin and Thor to Thyra's ultimate achievement, the reader will be hard-pressed to put this one down until the final conclusion.

    Prose/Style: This book was a true pleasure to read. The author is clearly gifted, with a great command of language and an astute understanding of dialogue and action. The story appears to be effortless, which is a sign of a great writer/storyteller.

    Originality: While the basic premise here is built upon Nordic legend, the author is able to make the story distinctly his own. The creativity is notable, but is also in keeping with the tone and real aura of the original myth.

    Character Development/Execution: Thyra comes alive off the page and is a likable and spirited heroine who readers will be sure to love.

    Blurb: Petersen breathes new life into Norse mythology, and the result is an enthralling story with a spunky heroine that will captivate readers.

  • Semi Finalist


    by Julie Mathison

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Thirteen-year-old Vasilisa Petrovna Nikolayeva does not believe in fairy tales. Yet. This is a remarkable novel with folktales interwoven seamlessly with the tribulations of a junior high school age girl finding a place in a not always accommodating world. In addition, it is rich in history, relating much information about early twentieth-century Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution with which American readers are not likely to be familiar. And, as appropriate in any hero’s quest, there are mysteries to solve, questions to be answered and tasks to be accomplished, all in a universe where the real and fantastical merge effortlessly.

    Prose/Style: Here is to be found finely-crafted prose of a grace and precision not often found in young adult novels. The vocabulary and syntax are perfectly suited to middle school/junior high school reader, and the names of the characters are wonderfully inventive and authentic.

    Originality: The combination of Russian folk tales, fantasy (including a few witches and an ogre), history, and a coming-of-age story is unique. Julie Mathison has written a story that has meaning on many levels and is therefore a compelling read.

    Character Development/Execution: Mathison’s depiction of the young teenagers here indicates careful observation and deep sympathy with the personal and social challenges girls face in early adolescence. Babka is portrayed as a wise and sympathetic older woman without relying on the typical trappings of a “fairy godmother.”

    Blurb: A stellar YA novel full of adventure, history, fantasy and a careful observation and deep sympathy with the personal and social challenges girls face in early adolescence.

  • Semi Finalist

    Nobody's Business

    by Linda Duddridge

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: CJ, a victim of child sex abuse at the hands of his movie star father and his father’s friend, is a tormented teenager trying to make sense of what happened to him and to figure out how to move forward in his relationship with his girlfriend Meg. But Dad’s still in his life, and his younger sister Miranda’s, because he provides the money, and no one ever talks about what happened with Dad, or Ivan, or that twelve-year-old girl, or his sister. It is, CJ believes, nobody’s business. This is a difficult novel that tackles a difficult subject and Duddridge does not pull her punches. She writes about child sexual abuse and the grooming of children to be the victims of their abusers with clarity and obvious expertise, perhaps fueled by her work in Justice and Law Enforcement. Her sympathy for CJ is palpable, yet she never detracts from his agency or his responsibility to find a way forward.

    Prose/Style: The vocabulary and syntax make this a very easy to read novel, accessible to early elementary school age children. Because of the extremely explicit content, parents and school librarians will have to decide whether it is appropriate for their kids.

    Originality: CJ has a lot to deal with—rage against his father, ambivalence toward a fragile mother who blames him instead of protecting him, confusion about his own sexuality, guilt over what he did and what was done to him. It is a rare YA novel that takes so much on in such a straightforward way.

    Character Development/Execution: The struggle to attain a healthy maturity is challenging for every teen, but CJ has a particularly difficult history to overcome. Duddridge explicates his journey with compassion and honesty.

  • Semi Finalist

    Shadow Storm

    by Jordan Brooks Hill

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this futuristic YA novel set in historic 1895 New York City, bionic Crimsonfall Reapers Genie Gearhart, her brother Hans, and Alice Walker are tasked with hunting monsters, such as the Abominations called Mistlings, undoing curses, and otherwise protecting the citizenry from everything from supernatural nuisances to life-threatening evil. Their job, however, is complicated by the requirement that Genie conform at all times to Miss Haversham’s Primer for Proper Young Ladies, 1895 edition, creating such conundrums as, how do you effect a proper introduction to a street gang?

    Prose/Style: The book is full of wonderfully detailed visual images presented in straightforward sentences that make the story easily accessible. Jordan Brooks Hill presents the parameters of her created world in well-integrated and easily assimilated passages as the story progresses, enticing the reader to come along on the adventure. We learn about Skycracks and the Scourge, Curseweavers, Clankers, Faraday cages, and Sprocket’s goo.

    Originality: An unusual premise, inventive machines (The Pneumatic Omni-Directional Ventilator, for example), and a wide array of other-worldly ghastly and ghostly beings and doings make this a wonderfully entertaining story that will appeal to adult as well as junior high and high school readers.

    Character Development/Execution: Genie and Hans are twenty-somethings just learning their jobs in this world fraught with danger. Alice Walker is a rich socialite and airship captain who is truly a delight with her not-at-all-proper take on nineteenth century New York. Many other characters, human and not, inhabit the story, each a distinct personality that Hill describes succinctly and convincingly.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Main Dish

    by Victoria Kimble

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This YA novel about teen prodigy and violinist Scarlet Williams has a strong, explicit emphasis on family and the sacrifices members must make for each other, with a Christian undercurrent. Kimble has done an excellent job of portraying Scarlet’s ambivalence toward her sister and her struggle to be a generous and supportive sister, a goal she achieves at times and at times misses, giving the story a verisimilitude in keeping with Kimble being the mother of three girls.

    Prose/Style: Kimble is careful with her language, both in her choice of words suitable to the reading level of 8- to 14-year-olds and in creating family dialogue that is respectful while at the same time expressing characters’ thoughts and feelings with precision.

    Originality: Kimble has written a life lesson for middle schoolers from a Christian point of view. A mother of three herself, she has a great ear for informal, functional family interactions and a deep empathy for the social and psychological challenges young girls must negotiate.

    Character Development/Execution: Scarlet is challenged when she must give up her summer of music performances to accommodate Sadie’s filming schedule, but that’s nothing compared to coming to terms with her sister actually winning the cooking competition and being “The Prodigy”. Scarlet’s struggle through these unexpected events as “Sadie Williams’ sister” is the focus of the novel.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Anyone whose butt can talk is bound to have some awkward moments, and ten-year-old George Smith is no exception. In this fun romp of a rumpy tale, George’s unexciting life changes radically when one day his butt asks him to change the TV channel. Unfortunately, his talking butt seems to everyone else just to be farting, with the normal odiferous accompaniment.

    Prose/Style: The sentence structure and vocabulary make this a fun read for the middle school crowd, people about the same age as George, but they are perhaps not as interested in butts as four- to six-year-olds, so this story, with its simply line illustrations, would probably work well as a book adults would read to preschool or early elementary school kids.

    Originality: The concept of the story is unusual, and it is exploited to its full range of possibilities, putting George and his talking butt in myriad ridiculous – and sometimes irritating, such as when George, out in the woods with no nearby bathroom, wipes his butt with poison ivy leaves – situations.

    Character Development/Execution: George has a little brother, younger twin sisters and parents who are way more patient with their son’s errant butt than seems normal. But everyone, including Butt, stays true to character.

    Blurb: J.L. Frankel has taken young children’s fascination with butts on a joyride that the four- to eight-year-old cohort will undoubtedly find endlessly hilarious.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Friend Like Filby

    by Mark Wakely

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: George Wells lives with his dad and younger brother Kenny, who is on the autism spectrum, as their mother died unexpectedly when George was 10. George is obsessed with 1960s version of The Time Machine and fascinated by the idea of time travel. More even than he wants to see his mother again, he wants to find a friend like Filby, the steadfast companion the time traveler in the move. The story follows George and his friends though their senior year—pranks, rites of passage, growing pains, and loss including the deaths of classmates, that characterize that year.

    Prose/Style: George’s is an authentic voice and Wakely has an ear clearly attuned to teenage speech. The story flows from page to page describing ordinary, and some not-so-ordinary events, in a low-key style that carries the reader along effortlessly.

    Originality: The straightforward way in which Wakely describes George’s life gives a sense of verisimilitude to the struggles he faces. He understands that he will eventually be responsible for his brother, who will surely need his protection, and he is trying to make sense of the past, including the death of his mother, and to construct a viable future.

    Character Development/Execution: Well-delineated individualistic characters whose interactions are described in realistic, believable detail. The reader is enveloped in their world without quite knowing how that happened.

     Blurb: A compelling, down-to-earth exploration of the challenges and fun of being a senior in high school, of being a son, a brother, and a friend.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Orpheus Rising

    by Lance Lee

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This is a charming and exquisitely written reimagining of the Orpheus myth with more than one important incongruity. In this version, the Orpheus character, John, has somehow lost his wife and he and his 10-year-old son, Sam, struggle to cope as their lives trudge on. Living on an isolated farm in Maine, the two have fallen into a dull, if somewhat idiosyncratic, daily routine that holds their lives together, until one day the postman delivers a book that changes their lives in ways they could never have foretold as the boundaries between reality and imagination, between waking and dreaming, dissolve completely.

    Prose/Style: The language of this imaginative novel is wonderfully rich, and sentences flow with uncommon grace.

    Originality: This is an adventure story full of utterly impossible events and utterly possible psychological truths interwoven so expertly that the reader is happy to suspend disbelief and go along on the journey. This reimagining of the Orpheus myth, illustrated with excellent woodcuts by Ellen Raquel LeBow, examines questions of life, death, and survivorship in the gentlest possible way.

    Character Development/Execution: At its heart, this novel is about change, about what it takes to rekindle desire and a will to live after a death that could easily envelop those who most loved the person. Told from Sam’s point of view, the story examines the changes he must endure and instigate in order to achieve the growth that will save him and his father from fading to gray in their grief.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Orphan's Bond

    by Gail Gurland

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The storyline here is distinctive and strong. There's a perfect blend of mystery peppered with sibling rivalry, wrapped up in teenage angst. This will also appeal to an adult crossover audience.

    Prose/Style: The author is a talented writer who is able to craft a fascinating story with realistic characters. The first-person narrative is effective and helps the story flow effortlessly.

    Originality: This is a highly original work with distinctive characters and a unique premise.

    Character Development/Execution: The characterization here is extremely strong, particularly for brothers Robbie and Henry individually and collectively as their relationship grows.

    Blurb: Mysterious and fun, this story will undoubtedly captivate readers and keep them hooked until the final secret is revealed.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Ghost Hunters: Bones in the Wall

    by Susan McCauley

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: McCauley puts forth a fascinating premise that will captivate readers. There's a perfect balance of the unknown and familiar throughout that educates and intrigues, while the mystery behind it all keeps the reader guessing.

    Prose/Style: This author is a talented writer and a natural storyteller. The prose is perfect for the book's intended audience but isn't watered down in any way. In the author's capable hands, the story flows effortlessly.

    Originality: This is a creative and highly original new work, with a distinctive story line and relatable characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a terrific job with characterization and growth. Alex, in particular, is a livable, breathable pre-teen that many readers will relate to despite the unfamiliar mystical world he inhabits.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Wonder Rush

    by Dan McKeon

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this dystopian YA novel, a seventeen-year-old girl has been trained from birth by the agency as an assassin, and, twenty-four identities later, Wendy Lockhart is really good at killing. Wendy is intelligent, bold, a risk-taker, and utterly ruthless. The only person she seems truly to care about is six-year-old Corey, her brother in her current foster family, who has cerebral palsy. It is when Wendy accidentally risks Corey’s life, and then assassinates a purported drunk driver that she realizes just how corrupt the agency is and decides to try to leave, driving the action of the story forward.

    Prose/Style: The rich visual detail in this debut novel speaks to Dan McKeon’s experience as a screenwriter, but the dialogue is sometimes awkward and there could be more distinction in the voices of the different characters.

    Originality: The premise of a female teenage assassin makes this an original from the start. That she kills the likes of embezzlers and pedophiles without a second thought puts her in a singular category. McKeon develops her backstory to a sufficient degree to make this all plausible, if somewhat distasteful. The “outside the lines” premise and the detail with which McKeon develops the events that have led to Wendy’s current situation make this a highly engaging read that will interest adults as well as younger readers.

    Character Development/Execution: Wendy is brutal, independent, resourceful and determined to survive her upbringing and the world into which she has been thrust. Her decision to try to leave the agency after questioning an assignment leads to her reinventing herself as the person she wants to be, rather than the one she has been programmed to become by the demented directors of the agency.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Always the New Girl

    by Kelly Vincent

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This plot delves into serious bullying and other grave social issues that can impact teens, and it accurately portrays the extraordinary importance of social media in kids’ lives.

    Prose/Style: Vincent writes convincing teenage dialogue with all of the meanness and profanity that can surface at that age. Vincent’s style is spare and to the point, giving just enough detail for to engage the reader’s interest and imagination.

    Originality: Vincent’s second YA novel, Always the New Girl, started out as a series of short stories, each of which is well thought out and fully developed. Vincent has woven them together masterfully.

    Character Development/Execution: With parents who can be described as negligent at best, Sarah is out of necessity a fiercely independent young woman trying to find her way in the world with very little adult support, but she is able to make good choices for herself and forge a future that should turn out well. Vincent depicts Sarah as an utterly believable character whom one cannot help but respect.

    Blurb: Always the New Girl is a carefully considered and executed coming-of-age story about a resourceful young woman who matures from a somewhat rebellious high school junior into a successful senior on her way to college, all with very little help from the adults in her life, but a lot of help from her friends.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Eye of the Turtle

    by Gloria Barnett

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In the first of a three-book adventure series for middle grade readers, eleven-year-old Lucy is moving away from everything she has ever known. The Caribbean is a long way from London, but she soon finds friends Jack and Solomon, who introduce her to the beach and the ocean’s wondrous creatures, including a beached turtle that has swallowed a plastic bag. As Lucy finds out, plastic poses a serious threat to the ocean environment and mitigating that danger leads her find the courage to learn new skills and brave the ocean deep, which, of course, just might be full of sea monsters.

    Prose/Style: The author moves the story along quickly in keeping with Lucy’s sharp mind and somewhat extraordinary ability to adapt to her new situation. Each character has a refreshingly distinctive, consistent voice and point of view. The reading level is suitable for the upper elementary grades, but might be a little challenging for eight-year-olds.

    Originality: Gloria Barnett (aka the WeirdFish Lady) uses Lucy’s move to the Caribbean as a vehicle for introducing readers to sea life and the human practices that threaten the ocean, which, as a scientist, are her passion. She has handled the device well and by focusing so emphatically on her cast of interesting characters turns what could have been a boring and didactic story into a compelling read.

    Character Development/Execution: Lucy is a particularly self-aware and perceptive pre-teen in some ways more mature than her somewhat impulsive mom, but it is clear this forced maturity takes a toll. Lucy, with the help of her friends more than her mom, learns the skills she needs to feel comfortable in her new home (including learning to swim and scuba dive) and, as she overcomes her fears, even finds a way to contribute to cleaning up the environment.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Strider and the Regulus

    by Tricia D. Wagner

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this coming-of-age tale, thirteen-year-old Swift, hoping to claim a few more years of childhood, is off on a sea adventure along the Welsh coast in search of lost treasure in order to escape his overly-ambitious father who wants him to begin studying. Using a map he found secreted in his most beloved book—the Star of Atlantis—as a guide, his knowledge of ancient runes, pirates and sharks, and his considerable information about Celtic mythology, Swift pursues a dream of freedom based solely on what he feels in his heart. He knows he was born to the sea and treasure chasing, not medicine.

    Prose/Style: This book hits exactly the right reading level for its most likely audience. The author is skilled at writing tight, engaging prose using syntax and vocabulary that the junior high school student will find just challenging enough to be interesting and yet accessible enough to make this novella a page-turner.

    Originality: Wagner has seamlessly woven into this adventure story a sensitive recounting of Swift’s need for autonomy in relation to a seemingly overbearing father and three accomplished older brothers. Justus agrees to teach Swift to sail the Regulus in an attempt to have the “Justus Talk” about his future, but Swift used that instruction to take off alone in the dinghy Star Strider to find the pirates’ gold. Wagner clearly has sailing expertise and her technical descriptions add credibility to the story.

    Character Development/Execution: Swift’s father, Justus, wants him to get serious and begin studying for the career in medicine he has chosen for his youngest son, but Swift, nicknamed “the Lad,” is just not ready to make that kind of commitment to a future he doesn’t know if he wants or if he is capable of handling. Justus is perceptive and has thought at length about why medicine would be a good life for Swift. How Swift and Justus reconcile their opposing views of Swift’s future forms the crux of the story.

    Blurb: A sensitive and action-filled coming-of-age story has thirteen-year-old Swift proving to his father and himself that he is capable of far more than either of them believed. The stellar prose of this novella puts it in a category of its own among YA novels.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Kid Code Mysteries

    by Lauren R. Griffin

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: These middle schoolers’ favorite teacher has been kidnapped by GRIMM and they must solve a series of mysteries (beginning with an anagram) to save Professor E.B. from being turned into a cyborg. The premise is that the reader becomes, along with the students, an S.D. (spy detective) Agent who can help solve the puzzles. The author has developed a somewhat detailed backstory, which she present in segments throughout the book, to help the reader engage with the characters and the tasks at hand.

    Prose/Style: The book is set in a font that resembles manual printing and the text is therefore not easy to read. On the other hand, colorful sketches abound, and it would not be helpful to be able to read the text setting out the puzzles quickly. Definitions and explanations are often set off from the rest of the text in illustrations, breaking up the density of material. However, there are punctuation errors and spelling errors that are distracting. All in all, this is an extremely clever and interesting project for kids, but the vocabulary would be challenging for 8- to 9-year-olds, who might need adult assistance.

    Originality: Griffin does an excellent job of breaking the material down into understandable segments and of giving not only definitions and facts that will help kids solve the mysteries, but also detailed problem-solving strategies, perhaps the most valuable element of the book. Griffin take kids through the steps of applying the appropriate strategies to the puzzles they encounter, which become more complex as the story advances.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters in the story are charmingly described both in words and with illustrations, but the tone is a bit didactic. The author has focused on diversity within the cast as well.

    Blurb: Entertaining and instructive, this book will appeal to middle schoolers and may even intrigue adults.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Shady Woods

    by J Mercer

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel grips the reader from the first page when abnormal (short for “above normal”) Grace James, a dendrite with telepathic powers, and her brother Justin start at their new school in her parents’ hometown of Shady Woods, where classmates and teachers include vampires, werewolves, sirens and miscellaneous other paranormal characters, and where her task is to learn to control and mask her special powers. Grace, who was raised in Chicago among “normals,” hates it all—the town, the people who stay here in order to keep the normals safe and oblivious, the cliquey classmates who may or may really be her new friends. One of J. Mercer’s talents is putting a typical teenager into a fantastic setting and making readers believe in it.

    Prose/Style: The novel very well-written, with interesting complex sentences, suitable for an older YA or an adult audience. Much of the background and description of time and place are embedded in the dialogue, which is distinctive to each of the main characters. The story is told from Grace’s point of view, and her thoughts provide more of the context for the tale.

    Originality: Much of the tension – and interest – in the first part of the book is related to Grace’s learning about and adapting to her new situation. In this regard, J. Mercer has created a rich environment full of unexpected observations. About halfway through, Grace learns that she is not here temporarily—she can never return home. When Shady Woods starts burning down, Grace has an external, pressing challenge to meet with the help of her friends.

    Character Development/Execution: Grace is portrayed as a strong, self-confident and sympathetic young woman from the start; it’s hard to remember that she is not actually human. She is obstinate and not easily influenced by anyone, starting with her parents, with whom she has the normal scope of disagreements. Mercer describes how Grace gradually adapts to her new circumstances with a real understanding of the psychological challenges a teen would have to cope with in those situations.