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  • Finalist

    Sleeping Around

    by Morgan Vega

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Vega's debut novel, Sleeping Around, is a masterpiece of early college angst, complicated friendships, young love, and overcoming trauma. The author expertly weaves together multiple themes, carefully framing difficult subjects—homosexuality, religious trauma, foster care, insecurity—into an accessible, charming novel. This book will appeal to those looking to reminisce about early college life; to musicians; and is an important piece of representation for those who have gone through foster care. Overall, Sleeping Around is a fabulously written slice-of-life story about a girl finding herself.

    Prose: Vega's ability to write multiple different personalities, including those who are young, old, queer, religious, etc., while avoiding turning them into caricatures and simultaneously presenting them from the perspective of the author, is striking. The prose is interesting, immersive, and precise. 

    Originality: Sleeping Around has taken multiple unique themes and melded them together in a  mosaic. Not only does the book feature the struggles of growing up within the foster system, but it also has multiple sub-themes throughout, such as a very accurate depiction of pursuing a music degree. Vega has also made sure to mix up the prose of the novel so that the content never grows dull for the reader, featuring phone calls, texts, and other storytelling mechanics. Every detail of the book feels unique.

    Character Development/Execution: College is often the place where people's minds are expanded, as they meet classmates and faculty from all walks of life. In the novel, Vega has perfectly captured this aspect, showcasing a wide variety of personalities, all of which interact with the main protagonist, Corey. Vega has also written a highly sympathetic main character—Corey is lovable, but also flawed. Readers will empathize with her throughout the novel.

  • Semi Finalist

    DEEPWOOD

    by Elise Chidley

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Deepwood is a captivating story that hooks readers from the start. The plot hums with twists and turns, and though Chidley writes to a young adult audience, this expert novel would entertain all ages.

    Prose: Chidley is clearly a gifted writer with strong storytelling skills. Deepwood's characters come alive on the page, through vividly painted emotions and powerful resolve.

    Originality: Deepwood will stun readers with expressive worldbuilding and breathtaking action—Chidley perfectly balances flawless characters with an alluring storyline.   

    Character Development/Execution: Chidley's characterization is top-notch, particularly with Willow and Ivo, but even secondary characters are distinctive and memorable.

    Blurb: A dazzling adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

  • Semi Finalist

    The Blackest Blue

    by Luna Wright

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Wright evokes an intriguing idea with the concept of being punished for curiosity, and the mysteries that unfold throughout the story are compelling.  The societal structure of the colony is skillfully crafted, albeit confusing at times given its immense scope, and the story's metaphysical connection is both creative and complex. 

    Prose: Wright's use of figurative language throughout is absorbing and offers an interesting dissonance with the dystopian premise.  The story's opening flashback is written flawlessly, immediately grabbing attention, and will consume readers' thoughts as they wonder what Sy truly experienced at such a young age.

    Originality: The Blackest Blue reflects the expected uneasiness of a dystopian world and pairs it with Sy's unconventional quest for the truth, a combination that will appeal to genre fans.

    Character Development/Execution: Sy's character reveals the adolescent intensity of questioning authority and forming independence, through her doubt of the goddess Rem's omnipotence and her desire to solve the secrets that shroud the colony. Readers will be captivated by Sy as she wades through the process of critical thinking and matures into self-sufficiency.

     

  • Semi Finalist

    Elena the Brave

    by Julie Mathison

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Mathison returns to Old Rus, the exceptionally well-constructed fantasy world introduced in VASILISA, one that blends the mythical and the historical to winning effect. 

    Prose: Mathison uplifts the story with elegant phrasing, original vocabulary, and lively descriptions of both the mundane and magical. Readers will feel fully immersed in the tale from the first page to the last.

    Originality: The author's captivating worldbuilding, clear knowledge of folklore, and convincing historical setting, allows Elena the Brave to stand out.

    Character Development/Execution: The titular protagonist proves to be complex, spirited, and charmingly impulsive. Readers will value her growth throughout the novel, while a vibrant cast of central and side characters--human, dragon, or otherwise--further enhances the story. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Flying Fillies: The Sky's the Limit

    by Christy Hui

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Hui delivers an inspiring plot embedded in a rich historical context, and readers will find the storyline easy to follow as well as refreshing in its unique pairing of two women—one on the cusp of adolescence and one an adult—who mirror each other’s struggles in many ways. The novel gracefully pairs authentic history with sweeping excitement, while the pace beats a steady rhythm until the last page.

    Prose: This prose is spot on for the novel’s era, and Hui rolls out true-to-life dialogue naturally, without grandstanding. Scenes are set carefully, with close attention paid to their accuracy, giving the story an appealing framework from the start.

    Originality: Hui’s emphasis on female heroes who are both courageous and relatable will resonate with readers—and the pairing of two almost opposite perspectives in many ways lends her protagonists depth and nuance that is lacking in similar novels.

    Character Development/Execution: The Flying Fillies triumphs with compelling and animated characters. Dawn’s Aunt Georgia is brimming with moxie and seemingly blasts through danger with no fear, in stark contrast to her niece who is tentatively lapsing into adolescence and fairly unsure of her own capabilities. Dawn’s love of horses is a fitting parallel to Georgia’s love of flying, and the two will easily entertain readers of all ages.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dolley Madison and the War of 1812: America's First Lady

    by Libby Carty McNamee

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: This is an entrancing work that captivates readers from the first sentence. Though billed as a young-adult novel, this fascinating historical account will appeal to fans of all ages, as it follows Dolley Madison's heroic attempts to unify America at the start of her husband's presidency.

    Prose: McNamee is clearly a gifted writer with a flair for storytelling. The prose is clear, concise, and engaging, bringing the time period to vivid life, and readers will be swept into the retelling.

    Originality: Despite the well-known premise of the novel, McNamee manages to make the story her own, and her attention to detail portrays historical events accurately without sacrificing artistry in the recounting. 

    Character Development/Execution: McNamee expertly develops her characters, most notably with Dolley—a lively protagonist who both enchants and inspires. 

    Blurb: A fascinating story that brings history to life, Dolley Madison and the War of 1812 is a treat for readers of all ages.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dragonrider Academy: Season 1: Episodes 1-7

    by A.J. Flowers

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Flowers evokes an intriguing world, and the foundational concept of dragonriders and their mates quickly builds into an electrifying plot with surprising turns. Tension courses through the storyline as loyalties are tested and main protagonists Killian and Vivienne fight to save their world—and each other.

    Prose: The writing is impressive, forged on a stunning fantasy world that emanates myth and imagining. The story never lags, and Flowers's prose drives the plot while weaving danger and romance into an epic tale.  

    Originality: Flowers balances elements of fantasy with the normalcy of daily life in a smooth and natural way. The story revolves around a classic quest plot, but it expands to include deeper themes as it progresses.

    Character Development/Execution: Flowers has crafted a vivid world, rich with a variety of characters who are each assigned different dimensions and depth. Despite the intricate magic and multilayered fantasy components, the characters are believable and relatable. 

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot/Idea: Readers will be intrigued to discover the secrets and mysteries of Caleb and Luna, and the story evokes a sense of deeper meaning behind the concepts of Light and Dark Nephilim. Although the novel's premise is compelling, and the idea of an exchange program between light and darkness fascinating, readers may wish for more specifics on why the story focuses on freeing the trapped and entombed Alexander the Great.

    Prose: This is a thought-provoking read, distinguished by structured worldbuilding and natural, unforced dialogue.  The prose is commercial, easy to follow, and effectively advances the plot.

    Originality: LightFall—elevated by its references to diverse ancient cultures—is an exceptional novel, although it would benefit from further details on the story's noteworthy names, historical figures, and places.

    Character Development/Execution: Caleb, a Dark Nephilim whose mother was human and grandfather was Alexander the Great, is a mysterious and powerful being, but some details of his backstory could be fleshed out to render him more understandable. Luna—who feels unloved and undesirable—is a relatable protagonist who will resonate with young adult readers. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Hop-About

    by Colin Krainin

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Krainin has a flair for storytelling, and his nostalgic writing will spark reminiscences for every reader. He effortlessly weaves the adventures of Mr. Rabbit and Benny with the other animal protagonists in a way that mirrors human trials, transporting readers on a contemplative quest that is brimming with double meaning.

    Prose: Krainin is gifted at mimicking wistful language styles from earlier time periods, creating a whimsical sensation throughout the story. The lyrically beautiful prose moves the novel along brilliantly, adding thoughtful introspections in the most fitting of places.

    Originality: Hop-About is evocative of classical anthropomorphism and awash with lessons of morality set against animal fables. Krainin successfully elicits a full range of emotions for readers, most notably his dark and haunted ode to the lost innocence of childhood.

    Character Development/Execution: Krainin has studied heirloom tales to good effect, manifesting in a dreamlike portrayal of wistful belonging and a desperate yearning for home that will resonate with readers of all ages. Each character, including the foreboding antagonist, is intimately developed and will tug at readers’ heartstrings.

    Blurb: A euphoric imagining, rich with symbolism and metaphor. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    LIFECAST

    by Marc Opsal

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This futuristic dystopian novel offers stellar worldbuilding and a chilling set of believable circumstances and an admirable social critique that resists becoming heavy-handed. Opsal integrates a number of classic motifs and tropes but does so with style and authenticity.

    Prose: The story is well-crafted with meticulous attention paid to intricate details and vivid imagery placed throughout. 

    Originality: The dystopian plot invites readers to think differently about consumer culture; the storytelling is both immersive and frightening in its familiarity. 

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are believable and relatable to the contemporary reader.  

  • Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa

    by Simon Hargreaves

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Hargreaves’s suspenseful, inventive plot sets budding fantasy artist Max on a crash course with danger when his drawings begin to come to life. While trying to stay busy on a family camping trip, Max discovers his ability grants him hidden powers—powers that eventually will threaten everyone he loves. Menacing adventure abounds as Max tries to right the wrongs his art has set into motion. The finale is satisfyingly tense and moving, uniting Max and his family through heartache and pain.

    Prose: Hargreaves’s lyrical prose elevates the narrative, with smooth-flowing, natural dialogue and haunting descriptions that will transfix readers. Also substantial are the author’s introspective revelations, formed through reflective interior monologue and subtle sentences that allow readers an inside view of the troubled protagonist.

    Originality: The dark plot builds unexpectedly, set against a backdrop of self-discovery and proving one’s worth, and accelerates to a pace that will shock readers. Protagonist Max elicits the perfect balance of sympathy and dismay—and Hargreaves’ willingness to venture into both triumph and tragedy makes this novel distinct.

    Character Development/Execution: Max’s motivations are firmly grounded throughout the novel and provide a solid baseline for the story’s intensity to circle around. His father is a character who readers will quickly dislike, although the plot allows them ample space to come to terms with each other. 

    Blurb: A haunting, gripping story of one boy's desperate attempt to prove his worth and save his loved ones from certain disaster.

  • Lost in Hanks Hollow (Hanks Hollow Series)

    by Rachelle Kampen

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: This ambitious story offers readers arcs of family relationships, friendship, romance, and suspense; readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting for Kampen to reveal the novel's mysteries. The transformation of characters to wolf and back to human again could be made longer and more realistic as a core element in this book.

    Prose: Kampen's luscious writing is inviting and interesting as readers journey through the mysteries in Hanks Hollow.

    Originality: For readers just starting with the third in the series, some clarity might be needed about the roles of human/werewolf hybrid characters—and more background on the immersive worldbuilding and structure of the magic system would elevate the story.

    Character Development/Execution: Rosie, a half-witch, half-wolf character, is well fleshed out and interesting. Secondary characters offer unique perspectives, notably Sam and Lucas's points of view, but the cast's werewolf aspect is not explored as equally as are their human sides. 

  • Plot/Idea: Written with an eye to acceptance and championing rights for those with disabilities, Hoffman's The Translucent Boy and the Girl Who Dreamed She Could Fly is fun, bizarre, and wholesome.

    Prose: Hoffman is skilled at describing complex magical scenes, and making them make sense, which is a difficult task. Sometimes the dialogue can feel a little forced, especially between flirting teenagers, but overall the writing is enjoyable.

    Originality: This book is packed to the brim with interesting worldbuilding elements, references to ancient myths, and homages to past young adult books that have paved the way in earlier decades. It all comes together to make a highly unique experience for the reader, both heartfelt and exhilarating.

    Character Development/Execution: Although the characters can at times come across as derivative, they are easily differentiated by their stark and unique personalities.

     

  • Finding Fae

    by El Holly

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The description of the fae realm here is a prime example of original and creative worldbuilding. The story is replete with interesting twists and unexpected developments as Eevee mourns her boyfriend of ten months and learns more about her adoption and origins. 

    Prose: Throughout the book, the power of words—both to help readers search for their identity as well as to communicate with others—resonates.

    Originality: Readers with ADHD may or may not identify with Eevee, as this part of her storyline is not as emphasized or evident. 

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are vividly described and immediately draw the reader into their issues. Seventeen-year-old Eevee deals with two complex elements in her identity: ADHD and also adoption. Although the story progresses around the character’s adoption, there is less discussion around her ADHD. 

  • Quillan Creek and the Little War

    by Ian Hunter

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Quillan Creek and the Little War is strange, fantastical, and riveting. Hunter weaves together multiple unique stories with their own secrets, loss, and points in history. His characters leap off the pages, with their bonds growing over the course of the book. Hunter's novel is a coming-of-age story that will keep readers interested and wondering what will happen next.

    Prose: Hunter is successful at describing complex, technical scenes, such as the loading and shooting of a musket. He also can paint scenery exceptionally well. Occasionally he focuses on details to the point that readers may skim a paragraph or two.

    Originality: The worlds Hunter has crafted, and how they fit together, are highly unique and imaginative. He has combined different perspectives, magic, ages, and backgrounds to create a highly interesting and original experience for the reader.

    Character Development/Execution: Hunter is talented at writing the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a wide range of characters. The interactions between them are authentic, and their development is clear throughout the novel.

  • The Doktor's Daughter

    by Nancy McDonald

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: McDonald’s novel is a richly developed historical fiction piece that follows a young Jewish girl in Nazi Germany. The story’s sense of place is strongly created in subtle and discreet ways that propel the plot forward seamlessly, and McDonald is an engrossing storyteller.

    Prose: McDonald delivers a fine-tuned narrative with crisp prose that fits the intended audience perfectly. Even the more challenging and tense scenes are skillfully portrayed, and readers are afforded plenty of space to make the story their own.

    Originality: The most original aspect of this novel is McDonald’s impeccable storytelling. The premise will not surprise readers, but the writing style conveys a fresh take on the historical moment.

    Character Development/Execution: Amelie will be an intriguing protagonist for young adult readers, especially given her staunch loyalty to uncovering the secrets behind her father’s death. Supporting characters take a backseat to her heroics – a potential drawback that could lessen the story’s impact.

    Blurb: A well-crafted foray into Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young Jewish girl trying to solve the mystery of her father's death.

     

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