by Nicholas Jauregui
Plot: As readers dive into the main story, they will see concepts that relate to young, likely middle-grade audiences. Arty embarks on a life-changing journey and encounters mystical and dangerous events, while still staying true to the relatable experiences of adolescent life, such as dealing with change, coming of age, and fostering memorable and life-changing friendships.
Prose/Style: With a clear and engaging voice, the entire story is very professionally executed. However, the pacing could be evened out and the transitions between scenes are not always clear. Many descriptions are relatively brief in favor of moving the plot along, but vivacious nonetheless.
Originality: A mixture of humor, haunting images, magic, and dynamic friendships, the manuscript takes classic tropes and plot points and adapts them to a nostalgic setting often seen in older works. Though the plot and tropes have been seen before, this can still be a fun read for middle-grade audiences.
Character Development/Execution: The story exhibits a diverse cast of characters, and each is given a different personality so it’s easy to tell them apart and to remember their names. The dialogue representing these characters is realistic and complements the prose nicely. However, apart from Arty, it can be hard for some readers to feel attached to the other characters, including his friends. These characters could be replaced by others and the overall plot would likely remain the same, making this story more plot-driven than character-driven.
by E.W. Choate Jr.
Plot: This fast-paced adventure is easy to follow and will be appreciated by even the most reluctant readers; words of wisdom dotted throughout hold the plot together and help it come full circle. The author does not stray from carefully chosen themes of friendship and courage.
Prose/Style: Easy to read and written for a younger audience, the narrative flows well and would make a good read aloud for Intermediate readers; vivid images and descriptions bring the characters and action to life.
Originality: The use of animals as the characters is not a new idea; however, this makes it more fun to read and adds to the fantasy. The author has ended with the potential for more adventures for these friends.
Character Development/Execution: Witty and charming characters will keep readers entertained, and the conversation and interaction among them feels organic and charming.
Blurb: Funny and high-spirited characters and adventure will entertain younger readers; even the reluctant ones will find themselves laughing out loud and wanting to read more.
by Nona Burroughs Babcock
Plot: Babcock’s book offers deeply compelling material. However, while the novel has the crossover potential of wilderness novels such as Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain and coming-of-age novels focused on the lives of Indigenous people, neither angle is examined to its fullest capacity.
Prose: The prose is polished and clear. While the book is intended for young adults, many of the high-school aged characters have speech mannerisms more befitting of younger readers. The style may therefore miss the mark with its target audience.
Originality: This novel contains many unique and alluring details. While writing about Indigenous peoples living in contemporary America is long overdue for more widespread examination, Johnny Bear Child's experiences dealing with racism are at moments oversimplified in service of the general coming-of-age story.
Character/Execution: Many of the characters feel over-determined in their roles, causing their particular arcs to feel flat. Johnny Bear Child could be any new boy in town with a loyal dog and the particulars of his hardships could be easily altered to accommodate those of other racial or ethnic groups in America. While there is clear potential for his story, it rarely scratches the surface of the realities of Indigenous people in America.
by Kathleen McDonnell
Plot: The Notherland Journeys is an adventurous and fun novel for a younger audience. Reminiscent of classic portal and fantasy novels, McDonnell creates a vibrant imaginary world while also providing a solid coming-of-age story.
Prose: The prose itself is consistent and engaging. The narration builds its world using vivid imagery and successfully immerses young readers in the experience. However, stiff and unrealistic dialogue can interfere with the reading experience, while some sections would benefit from tightening.
Originality: While this work owes a clear debt to classics that came before, the author has a knack for worldbuilding and the writing shows strong appeal for the target readers.
Character/Execution: This book contains a cast of characters who weave in and out of the narrative and each impact the other's development throughout. While Mi and Peggy exhibit growth and drive the plot forward, readers may have a hard time establishing empathy for them or other characters due to the shifted focus towards worldbuilding and broader themes.
by Desiree Calderon de Fawaz
Plot: This is an intriguing story, but it verges on the overly complicated. Involving futuristic warfare, intergalactic realms, and a quest to save the universe, the author attempts to piece together these many elements in a single story. As the first in a series, the plot often fails to explain important concepts and ideas.
Prose/Style: Despite the sprawling plot, the prose is easy to read and understand, perfect for young adults and teens. The illustrations, in many different styles, are professional and intricate, adding intermittent pops of color.
Originality: The book takes tried and true concepts – a predestined savior, a mythical portal to another realm – and adds slight twists such as shapeshifting animals and a crumbling United States. It does feel familiar, but in a way that is comforting as opposed to boring.
Character Development/Execution: Brum and her siblings are sometimes lost in the plot, but their character dynamics – the arrogant eldest sibling, the free spirit, and the crybaby are well-established and relatable. Characters are inconsistent throughout – the supposedly wise mentor is often childlike and greedy.
by D. W. Saur
Plot: In Dark Days, D.W. Saur sends his protagonist Maya on a quest to unite her people against the dark forces that threaten their world. This book will appeal to readers who want to follow the adventures of a strong female protagonist.
Prose/Style: D.W. Saur has created a vivid fantasy world with dynamic rules that govern its inhabitants and shape their destinies. Despite its merits, much of the narrative and dialogue is given to exposition, which makes the tale somewhat less compelling than it might otherwise be.
Originality: Like The Hunger Games and Earth's Children, Dark Days follows the adventures of an young heroine armed with intelligence, pluck, and extraordinary talents. YA readers will recognize Maya as an exemplar of Girl Power Lit.
Character Development/Execution: Maya is a strong female protagonist in the tradition of Ayla of the Earth's Children saga. However, her character is not sufficiently well-developed or securely established enough to evoke the reader's sympathies. Following acts of violence, the heroine displays little apparent remorse or trauma.
by P.S. Meraux
Disqualified because word count over 100,000.