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  • Quarter Finalist

    Fever Dreams and the End of All Things

    by A.J. Massey

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The sequel to A.J. Massey’s Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading Creeps, this novel takes rising high school freshmen Ben, Avery and Marcus back to the dream world of Meridia where translucent elves, celadons, dragonwoofs, goblins, pirates and the Sovereign’s generals, each group with its own features and characteristics, populate the landscape. There the kids confront the Ghastly Three in an attempt to prevent them from destroying Meridia in this coming-of-age adventure/heroes’ journey tale.

    Prose/Style: More complex sentences than most YA novels make this an engrossing read for everyone from junior high schoolers to adults. The text flows smoothly with varied pacing and a vocabulary. The dialogue sounds natural, yet is grammatically correct without an overabundance of the teenage slang that would date the story.

    Originality: Massey’s attention to detail and the full rendering of the various characters and types of beings in the story are evident throughout the novel and make this world plausible. The author has also expertly woven together the narrative of events in the fantasy world of Meridia with events in the main characters’ “real” everyday lives as junior high school students in a way that allows the reader to credit both.

    Character Development/Execution: The number of different types of beings in this novel is definitely one of its attractions. Massey delineates each type in detail, and each acts and speaks consistently. The three human protagonists accomplish their mission during this, their last summer before high school and as a result face the expected and unexpected changes coming to their lives with confidence they had not imagined they would ever have.

    Blurb: A compelling, original and spectacularly well-written fantasy coming-of-age/adventure story that will entice YA and adult readers into the dream world of Meridia and the all-too-real world of junior high school.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Vampyrian Gateway

    by Richard C. Christensen

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Sixteen-year-old twins Peter and Andie Bridges are human emissaries to the supernatural figures on earth – ghosts, monsters zombies and the like – in this imaginative, quirky YA novel. Fortunately Peter and Andie have a toolbox of supernatural skills that they are still learning to use to their advantage, telepathy and magic among them, as they struggle to protect a baby from the Friends of Bram Stoker, a group that has murder on its mind. The adventure/fantasy aspects of Vampyrian Gateway notwithstanding, the real pull of this novel is in the relationship between Peter and Andie and their approach to the challenges with which they are presented.

    Prose/Style: Wonderfully fresh, inventive prose and the colorful banter between the siblings makes this a sit-down-and-don’t-get-up read. Christensen has a profound understanding of teenage language and manages to make it work for adults too.

    Originality: Christensen has created a complexly-imagined world full of the unexpected and presented it from a teenager’s point of view, with all of a young adult’s hubris, fearlessness and attitude intact, while at the same time making Peter and Andie infinitely sympathetic characters we are glad to get to know. Christensen is adept at creating an internally cohesive, fascinating world in which his protagonists can discover their own strengths and limits.

    Character Development/Execution: Amidst all the banter, put-downs, and niggly criticisms, Peter and Andie show immense respect and, yes, love for each other.

    Blurb: This imaginative, quirky YA novel exploits Christensen’s sensitivity to teenage language and realities to present a can’t-put-it-down read so entertaining that teens and adults will be clamoring for Book 2 of his Attached World series.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Freckles: The Dark Wizard

    by Jerry Harwood

    Rating: 10.00


    Plot: Simon attends Flame Rock Middle School where absolutely everyone is going to grow up to be a wizard. The question is, what kind of wizard? Simon has freckles, a feature that bodes ill for his power as a wizard and puts him at the bottom of the social ladder in middle school. But as he comes into his full wizarding powers, Simon discovers that he can conjure a dragon – powerful dark magic indeed – and that his perception of himself trumps what anyone else thinks of him. Freckles: The Dark Wizard is a well-crafted allegory about growing up during what is perhaps one of the most difficult periods of many a kid’s life.

    Prose/Style: The prose is completely appropriate for a middle school reader, with just enough challenging vocabulary to make it interesting without slowing down the action.

    Originality: Harwood is a middle school teacher and the father of six; his understanding of upper elementary school age kids, what will engage their attention, and their sense of humor is spot-on. This fantasy has all the right elements for this age group—wizards, magic, pre-teen social challenges, and adventure. A particularly refreshing element of this story is that it starts in a fantasy world, rather than taking the reader through a litany of events to get there.

    Character Development/Execution: Simon is a completely believable middle schooler (aside from his wizarding powers, of course), portrayed with sympathy but without sentimentality. Simon discovers the power that will make him master of his own life, but the challenge is to learn to control it. The sensitive descriptions of Simon’s efforts to negotiate the complexities of middle school social life, find his strengths, and figure out girls show Harwood’s deep familiarity with and commitment to this age group.

    Blurb: Jerry Harwood’s third YA novel (he also writes joke books) is a tour de force of magic, mayhem and self-discovery for protagonist Simon, who turns out to have a lot more going for him than anyone thought.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Fishing for Luck

    by Murray Richter

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Kevin and his best friends Preech and Rudy have built a raft to help Kev catch the biggest catfish in Texas, but their ambitious plans are derailed by an escaped prisoner whom Rudy helped put in jail and serious trouble at home between Kevin’s parents This is a rollicking, often light-hearted, adventure story with an underlying emphasis on the things that really matter – friendship, loyalty, and family. Upper elementary students will have a hard time putting his book down and junior high schoolers will find its fast pace and sometimes outlandish events keep them engrossed.

    Prose/Style: Murray Richter’s writing is fresh and polished and even when he is describing what his characters are thinking, he manages keeps the action going. Banter among the boys is sharp and often funny, never veering over the line to meanness, and humor frequently enhances the action.

    Originality: Richter’s characters are just weird enough to be engaging without being scary or implausible. Kev, Preech and Rudy are wonderfully inventive and resourceful. Uncle Oliver (aka The Oracle), a vet, is a mentor to the boys, devising unusual and challenging activities to keep them thinking and active.

    Character Development/Execution: This story includes some of the same characters as Richter’s 2014 YA novel Lucky Rocks and treats the events in that book as common history in this one. The life lessons that indicate growth are a direct and logical outcome of the character’s experience and therefore neither heavy-handed nor pedantic.

    Blurb: Fishing for Luck is a fast-paced, engaging YA novel full of action, humor and a few life lessons. The characters are a little weird, very resourceful and eminently likable.

  • Quarter Finalist

    David Bishop and the Legend of the Orb

    by T.C. Crawford

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Any novel that within the first ten pages has a teenage orphan boy accidentally killing a classmate, getting slimed, and waking up in a forest surrounded by eight-foot-tall wolflike creatures is bound to be a hit. This epic fantasy is indeed that. David Bishop finds himself in a land called Hurea with a 2,500-plus-year history, and discovers that his arrival has been foretold by prophecy. He is the chosen warrior who will use the powers of the Orb to save the world as the ancient war between good and evil enters its final battle.

    Prose/Style: The author writes in an easy, flowing style, with descriptions of the myriad characters in the novel – Erin, Orin, Elbert , Tyrius, Rex, Octavian, and Ryan, to name just a few – lively enough to keep the reader’s attention in the midst of this high-action tale.

    Originality: A lot of the appeal of T.C. Crawford’s debut novel, the first in a series, lies in the extremely detailed envisioning of the alternative universe of Hurea. Crawford’s description of this land is a Tolkienesque imaginative tour de force, with secret portals, elves, dwarfs, elders, demons, mystics, kings and magical powers waiting to be discovered and controlled. The cliff hanger ending is a little frustrating but it does leave the reader eager for the next installment of this fantasy series.

    Character Development/Execution: David Bishop is wonderfully portrayed as a somewhat bewildered teen thrown into a completely unexpected world. Throughout the novel, he strives to make sense of his situation and to figure out what is required of him to achieve the critically important task he has been given to save the world from the Mystic of Destruction. It is a journey of adventure and self-discovery during which Erin is a worthy ally rather than a damsel in distress.


  • Quarter Finalist


    by Ann Searle Horowitz

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Twelve-year-old twins Lucy and Ricky are competitive swimmers, and Rick’s goal is to become the youngest-ever member of the Junior Olympics swim team. But his plans are side-tracked when his new goggles turn a perfectly ordinary swim into a deep dive to the lost city of Atlantis via a portal created by a recent earthquake. The War of Generations is raging below sea level and if Rick and Lucy cannot help to win it, not only Atlantis but the world above the sea will fall to the Atlanteans. Trident is an action-packed fantasy adventure full of magic and mayhem where the world of ancient mythology is expertly interwoven with the lives of contemporary almost-teens. Rick, as it turns out is a descendent of Poseidon’s eldest son, and Neptune appears in modern garb. It is a heroes’ quest with two strong protagonists, one male and one female, who are undaunted by the tasks they face.

    Prose/Style: Horowitz is a master storyteller, giving the reader enough information to make the tale believable without padding the text with unnecessary detail. Crisp writing, middle school age appropriate sentence structure, and events tumbling one over the next at a breakneck pace make this a novel youngsters will not want to put down.

    Originality: Mythology and magic, gods and tweens, an ancient prophecy and a youthful quest intermingle convincingly in this engaging tale. A high-school All-American swimmer herself, Horowitz creates an absolutely credible milieu for her young athletes, and as the mother of multiples she is more than familiar with the unique relationship shared by even fraternal twins. She puts ancient gods and modern teens in the same universe and makes their interactions utterly convincing.

    Character Development/Execution: Rick and Lucy are absolutely true-to-life preteens and twins, arguing often but unreservedly devoted to each other. The adults seem to be predictably clueless, but the underwater gods have the ancients’ understanding of history and destiny.

  • Quarter Finalist


    by L.E. DeLano

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: L.E. DeLano’s third YA novel describes in cringing detail the trials and tribulations of high school, a challenge for all girls, but especially so for Blue Mancini, whose brother Jack was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of classmate Maya Rodriguez’s father. Now’s Jack’s in a detention center and Maya, after a year’s absence, is coming back to school. Maya has vengeance on her mind, and everyone is curious to see what will happen.

    Prose/Style: DeLano has an excellent ear for teens’ idiomatic speech and is able to convey its tone without making it sound like a parody. The vocabulary and syntax are perfectly attuned to junior high school age skills and so this is an easy read for its intended audience.

    Originality: This is a fast-paced novel focused more on feelings and the social world of teens than on physical action. While the basic premise of the plot is unlikely, DeLano creates a consistent world around that premise, making the novel a credible version of reality. She also includes a boyfriend with secrets to add some suspense.

    Character Development/Execution: Blue comes to understand how her life differs from Maya’s in that they come from very different backgrounds. Blue is a child of privilege, where good lawyers can extricate people from difficult situations, while Maya is a scholarship student at the private academy they both attend. Blue begins to question her acceptance of white privilege and Maya comes to see that not everything she sees as bigoted is intended that way.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Twelve-year-old Charlie Marley and his friend, school newspaper reporter Emma Mayfield, hop through time and space on “an adventure that would change their lives…and the history of the world.” Sent to a possibly haunted janitor’s closet to collect dirty erasers, Charlie and Emma encounter Midnight McLean, a washed-up pro baseball player turned inventor whose time machine, aka Flogtrac, is going to take him back to the 1994 World Series for a redo. Intergalactic time travel, however, is not an exact science, at least not Midnight’s version of it, and they end up at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series instead. Along the way, the time travelers are instrumental in making sure major events in sports history involving John Elway, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan, to name just a few, turned out the way they should. As readers might imagine in a science fiction/fantasy story, oddities and tricks of fate and time abound.

    Prose/Style: Middle-school-age-appropriate structure and vocabulary and fast-paced action make this a easy read for fourth to sixth graders, who will enjoy the descriptions of completely unempathetic adults. Kids will appreciate the depictions of Mrs. Cooper the Pooper Scooper, Coach Stinkysox, Mr. Tubby, and Dr. Dilbert Dinglehop.

    Originality: This book showcases a unique premise with an unexpected plot twist near the end.

    Character Development/Execution: Myriad unlikely characters inhabit this universe, but Charlie and Emma remain our consistent touchstones.

     Blurb: Andrew Luria, a real-life news and sports anchor, takes Charlie and Emma on a lively jaunt through space and time, and sports milestones, in this wonderfully-illustrated page-turner.

  • Quarter Finalist


    Plot: In her second Chloe Crandall adventure, Burrows has combined her interests in YA fiction and historical fiction to create an engaging novel that not only takes readers back to pioneer days of the Old West but also depicts the behind-the-camera facts about a TV reality show. Rising high school junior Chloe has won a spot on the American West Channel’s reality TV series Bridal Train. She and nine other young women will reenact the experience of traveling by wagon train (i.e., walking) 500 miles along the Santa Fe Trail from Independence, Missouri, to Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado. The story is full of mysteries, both those that are part of these women’s actual westward journey and those that are revealed in the historical accounting of the journey as experienced by the pioneer women of two hundred years ago.

    Prose/Style: Chloe’s narration has a wonderful snarky tone, as only the voice of a sixteen-year-old can have. Vocabulary and syntax are appropriate for junior high school, exactly the right audience for this book, though older kids and adults will enjoy it too for its meticulous research and rousing storytelling.

    Originality: Burrows has a real knack for making history come alive and seem relevant in the contemporary world.

    Character Development/Execution: Chloe is a thoroughly three-dimensional character who is resourceful, intelligent, driven by the motivations that concern most teens, and funny. The other women, especially Millie, have distinct personalities, and the true personalities of other characters such as the hunk Toby are revealed in tantalizingly slow-motion as the story progresses.

    Blurb: In her second YA Chloe Crandall adventure, Burrows has a real knack for making history come alive and seem relevant in the contemporary world.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Peter Aronson is a former journalist who started writing for kids when he noticed his own children were reading mostly fantasy dystopian novels. Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma, the first in a planned series, is also a futuristic fantasy, but the three teen protagonists aren’t going to settle for a dystopia; they’re going to try to prevent one. It’s 2030 and 13-year-old Mandalay Hawk’s first act of civil disobedience nearly gets her locked up in juvie, but then she and her dad move to New York City where Mandalay finds other like-minded kids, and they’re off as KRAAP: Kids Revolt Against Adult Power heads to D.C. to confront ineffectual leaders in person about the Big Heat, the exponential increase in temperatures that scientists had not predicted, and to present a plan of action to mitigate the damage.

    Prose/Style: The novel is well-written in language easily accessible to middle grade readers. Aronson is skilled at keeping the action interesting while still introducing enough of the science to explain the protagonists’ concerns and actions.

    Originality: Aronson has written a novel intended to evoke hope and action—to tell kids they do have agency even though the world’s problems seem overwhelming, even to adults.

    Character Development/Execution: Aronson has crafted relatable teen characters whose relationships, insecurities, school challenges, and growth are as important as the message he wishes to convey. Mandalay was a hungry foster child before her new dad adopted her, Gute is a mixed-race boy whose mother abandoned the family years ago, and Jasmin was born in Morocco; her mother brought her to America when she was two after her father died. Mandalay, under a stricture from the judge to behave or have her probation revoked, learns to channel her justified anger into effective political action.

    Blurb: Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma is a futuristic fantasy, but one in which the three teen protagonists aren’t going to figure out how to live in a dystopia; they’re going to try to prevent one.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Unfortunate Floyd

    by Arin Lee Kambitsis

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Floyd Piccolo, 14, is indeed unfortunate, and he’s anxious about starting high school, with good reason. On a trip to London he was the first person in a few hundred years to contract bubonic plague; his fast-food burgers tended to be season with bits of glass, and on his first day at his new school, the entire boys’ restroom collapsed when he flushed. Scientifically-inclined classmate Piers Pitstick posits hypotheses and conducts experiments intended to figure out – and stop --what’s going on with Floyd, all to no avail until they finally settles on the very unscientific premise that Floyd has been cursed by the Brazilian saint Babalú-Ayé, whose feast day is Floyd’s birthday, which is tomorrow….

    Prose/Style: Kambitsis has an overly active sense of humor that he transforms into an understated narrative of hilarious happenings and observations. The vocabulary and sentence structure are synced to a YA audience’s comfort level, so youngsters will enjoy the story without having to stop and parse the meaning of the text.

    Originality: This YA novel is a gem; it is a well-written, funny, highly inventive narrative with natural-sounding dialogue – all without the slightest hint of condescension or any noticeable didactic intent. Kids and adults alike will be engrossed in the story and gales of laughter will echo down middle-school hallways.

    Character Development/Execution: Floyd has an identical twin brother, Lloyd, a raft of other sibs, parents who seem to take his multitude of misfortunes in stride, a good friend and a girl whose boyfriend he would like to be —all of whom are distinct, sympathetic, likable characters one would welcome as next-door neighbors. The other characters may be a little extreme in their thinking, or a little oblivious, but all are portrayed as unique individuals, and most are harmless.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Malini in Whirlwood

    by Kamla K Kapur

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this YA novel, which India-born American author, poet, and playwright Kamla K. Kapur describes as a metaphysical fantasy, Malini receives a magical book for her thirteenth birthday. Eager to escape her boring life in the village of Himali in the foothills of the Himalayas, her bickering parents, and her possibly mad grandmother locked in the basement, Malini opens The Book of Potentiality and her adventure begins.

    Prose/Style: Kapur’s descriptions of Malini’s interior life are perceptive and convincing. The prose is accessible to middle school readers without ever being condescending, and its melodious flow will keep readers of all ages turning pages well into the night.

    Originality: Cleverly conceived and skillfully executed, Malini in Whirlwood is a YA fantasy that does not rely on the usual tropes of the genre. Here the magic exists not just for effect but to illuminate for Malini her own hopes and capabilities. In a world of shapeshifters where the laws of logic and physics do not apply, Malini, with the help of the Rainbow Serpent and other magic beings, must discover her own path to maturity. While most coming-of-age fantasies rely on exterior events to move the story forward, this novel shows that the journey is truly one that must take place within the protagonist’s mind and heart.

    Character Development/Execution: The story is first and foremost about Malini, whom we know at the beginning as a bold but thoroughly disgruntled child and at the end as a young woman of compassion and purpose.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Fae's Deception

    by M. Lynn and Melissa A. Craven

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This story is an incredible work of fantasy. The exciting plot will leave the reader guessing and eager for more. The fantasy world that Lynn and Craven have created is detailed and well thought out, with humorous and complex characters.

    Prose/Style: The writing is clear and detailed, and the authors clearly craft the settings and action here. The dialogue is witty and interesting.

    Originality: While this story does follow some elements and tropes that are familiar to fantasy readers (i.e., fae, magic, and changelings) it manages to be a breath of fresh air in the genre. It is exciting and the plot is not predictable; it is complex without growing past the YA audience.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are layered and display depth. but there is room for them to continue to mature as they become adults. The characters also provide representation and inclusion for YA readers of varied sexual orientations.

    Blurb: This story is an incredible addition to the fantasy genre. It is filled with exciting fight scenes and sweet romance, all with an undercurrent of the value of loyalty and honesty. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Dark Realm

    by Anthea Sharp

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Fantasy crashes into reality when high-school sophomore Jennet Carter delves into the amazingly immersive video game invented by her father and discovers the virtual fairyland full of weird creatures, inventive weapons and magical events in which she is gaming is actually her real life where she must fight the Dark Queen of the Faeries in order to remain alive and save humanity. Enter Tam Lin, a reticent, poor boy with massive family problems whom she must convince to see past her family’s wealth and help her. And there follows a complex, fast-action tale that the reader will not be able to put down as Jennet and Tam learn to trust, and eventually to care for, each other in the face of overwhelming danger. This is the first in Anthea Sharp’s 8-book YA Feyland series.

    Prose/Style: The vocabulary and syntax are easy to construe and don’t for a moment impede the action of the story. The dialogue is reasonably fluent and realistic, especially the interactions between Jennet and Tam. The story could be easily read by upper elementary school students.

    Originality: Sharp, a lifelong gamer herself, is expert at describing the action characteristics of a video game. Not only Jennet, but the reader too, will feel they are embedded in the game in some way more profound that just playing it. The real crux of the story is perhaps best explained by this once-alive-now-virtual (maybe) character.

    Character Development/Execution: Jennet and Tam are not full-realized, complex, human characters and that is one of the reasons this novel works so well. They could be characters in a video game as easily as they could be humans playing the game itself.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Last Golden Light

    by Bryan (B.L.) Smith

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Set in a time and place loosely based on Bronze Age Crete, The Last Golden Light is the story of cousins Samara and Idas, whose lives are governed by the gods, traditions, signs, and omens. They are destined to become dull palace administrators in a corrupt government, but 13-year-old Samara is bold, courageous, a warrior—she yearns for excitement and adventure, which come in the form of terrifying earth rumblings that people believe portend disaster and the end of the golden age. When volcanic eruption on a nearby island throws everything into chaos, food is rationed, and people start disappearing, Samara learns that she has a special destiny to be fulfilled in this time of darkness.

    Prose/Style: Smith is adept at taking his readers into the world he has created and making them feel at home there.

    Originality: Smith has written an engaging novel with a strong young woman as its focus. Samara is believable, sympathetic, and likable. While this is not exactly historical fiction, his use of ancient Crete as the setting is interesting and the world he imagines is not so far removed from what it might have been like.

    Character Development/Execution: Samara grows into her destiny very quickly and assumes a leadership role with mercifully little of the self-doubt and few of the false starts that authors so often attribute to female protagonists.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Serious Business on Albatross Lane

    by Bryan (B.L.) Smith

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This quirky, charming YA novel opens with three twelve-year-old self-styled private detectives looking for Charles the Fifth’s codpiece, which has been stolen from their local Perceval Town Museum—what could be better? Samantha, Bert, and Kennedy established the Albatross Investigative Agency over the summer and stepped in to take on the missing codpiece case because so far no one has wanted to hire them to investigate graffiti, embezzlement, nasty rumors, or anything else. The kids take statements from everyone and in the best Poirot style reveal the name of the thief, which, given the clues, many readers will also have figured out. And of course, one case leads to another.

    Prose/Style: The writing is crisp and often includes understated humor that middle schoolers will appreciate. This is prose that does its job without drawing attention to itself.

    Originality: The characters are original, engaging, and most importantly, interesting, a feature that characters in other YA novels often lack. The plot of each case is carefully constructed so that the reader learns everything needed to solve it without the clues being obvious. Serious Business on Albatross Lane is a wonderful addition to the genre that cleverly references its predecessors in both the YA and adult canon of mystery stories.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are wonderfully idiosyncratic and Smith deftly reveals a little more about each as the story progresses.

    Blurb: Wonderfully inventive, challenging mysteries and a cast of three slightly odd but eminently likable twelve-year-old’s will bring even the most reluctant middle school reader to the library to check out Serious Business on Albatross Lane.