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  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • Take Me With You

    by Linda Duddridge

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Take Me With You poignantly documents young adult angst, the impacts of trauma, and absorbing relationships. The story follows a group of intimate friends and their lives, most notably 16-year-old Sam, who is walking the line between his abusive home life and common teenage conflicts. Along the way, Duddridge reveals the devastation of early childhood trauma played out interpersonally, and the effects of substance abuse on meaningful relationships. The novel draws readers in and keeps them invested in the outcome of the main characters, and readers who prefer realistic problems with happy endings will embrace this book. 

    Prose: Duddridge’s prose is remarkably clear and concise, and readers will devour the passages where she bares Sam’s heart and portrays his internal struggles. Dialogue flows naturally between the protagonists, with a contemporary and authentic feel, and the main characters have strong, distinct voices that will resonate with readers.

    Originality: Although Duddridge depends heavily on certain conventions common to young adult fiction, the novel offers an unusually intense psychological reflection that expertly connects readers with the emotional battles of the main protagonist.

    Character Development/Execution: Duddridge is accomplished with character development, and Sam shines as a tortured, lost protagonist desperately trying to right his wrongs. Kennedy is equal parts inspirational and frustrating in her passive acceptance of heartbreaking circumstances, but even these interactions come across as genuine for the intended audience. The author weaves the main players together in a nearly effortless dance that smooths the novel’s storyline.

     Blurb: A moving coming-of-age story bursting with insight and authenticity.

     

     

     

  • Tracker220

    by Jamie Krakover

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Fast-paced and with lots of adventure, Krakover submerges the reader into a tech world that could credibly take place in the future. This intriguing storyline is well executed; however, the interactions between the characters feel rushed. More development in these areas would allow this book to reach a broader audience and to leave a deeper impression on readers.

    Prose: Well-written, the novel features a solid flow of dialogue, detail, and action throughout. Told in first-person, the reader learns plenty about the smart, quick-thinking main character and her circumstances. 

    Originality: The author introduces a number of familiar sci-fi themes and tropes, but does so with panache and authenticity. 

    Character/Execution: The main character is cunning and always thinking ahead. Her interactions with the other characters would benefit from additional development, particularly in order to develop the romantic angle of the story.

     

     

  • Bright Eyes: A Kunoichi Tale

    by David Kudler

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: The author has built an impressive imaginative world, yet strikes a balance by including elements of Japanese culture so it feels realistic. While readers will benefit from having read the first book in the series, Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale, the story is clear and compelling enough to stand alone.

    Prose: This well-written novel immerses the reader in the Japanese culture through vocabulary and tradition. The plot is easy to follow, with a balance between detail and conversation to convey the story. The use of the Japanese vocabulary throughout helps establish a grounded setting, and the glossary will prove helpful to the reader.

    Originality: The author crafts a highly unique and captivating world in the pages of Bright Eyes.

    Character Development/Execution: The main character experiences much growth from the first book in the series to the second. There are many characters to tackle, and several of them share a similar backstory; this commonality can result in some confusion. Nevertheless, both protagonists and villains are finely developed.

  • Ghost Hunters: Spirit Fire

    by Susan McCauley

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Effective worldbuilding drives this paranormal narrative for middle grade readers, the third of a series. Strong themes of friendship and grief trump the repetitiveness of the plot throughout the story. 

    Prose: Clear, exciting, and evocative, McCauley executes a well-written ghost story with an atmospheric setting.

    Originality: While reminiscent of classic middle grade mystery adventures, McCauley provides a fresh and fun supernatural element. 

    Character/Execution: The main character is likable and comes across as a gifted hero who is mentored by his cranky teacher. He takes his gift seriously and strives to help others, all while grappling with his own personal struggles. Some encounters with spirits are cut short, leaving readers craving more.

  • The Aquamarine Surfboard

    by Kellye Abernathy

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Abernathy has written a strange and delightful adventure that combines magic with the discomforts and joys and challenges of coming of age. Exploring friendship, love, death, magic, and supporting those who are most in need, The Aquamarine Surfboard is a welcome read for both younger and older crowds alike.

    Prose: Abernathy is excellent at describing magical scenes and windswept beach settings, which are aplenty in this novel. Sometimes the verbiage can be a bit awkward, leading but the majority of the novel is beautifully phrased and well-written.

    Originality: The Aquamarine Surfboard is extraordinarily unique in its storytelling. Although it does incorporate some tropes, such as the orphaned child searching for meaning, they work well within the context of the novel.

    Character Development/Execution: Abernathy excels at bringing to life sympathetic, dynamic characters. She is highly capable of displaying the awkwardness and fun of teenaged relationships, the love between a grandmother and her grandchild, and the terror of an evil villain. Her characters all feel very different even from first meeting them, and carry with them a distinctness that makes them easy to differentiate.

  • People of the Sun

    by Ben Gartner

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: This thought-provoking installment in the Eye of Ra series is filled with adventure, action, and fun. The plot is intense and questions scientific ideas that will invite readers to think. The author tackles the nuances of time travel with ease, and the well-researched plot moves at a fast pace.

    Prose: The story flows well and strikes a balance between well-described history, science, and action without relying on exposition. The enthusiastic tone throughout keeps the action moving forward while the descriptions of Mexico allow the various locales to come alive.

    Originality: While time travel adventures are a familiar staple in YA literature, this series effectively blends science and history, creating a memorable reading experience.

    Character Development/Execution: The curious and intrepid protagonists effortlessly lead the reader through the action of the plot. 

  • The Unraveling of Luna Forester

    by Marisa Noelle

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The Unraveling of Luna Forester is an intense and inventive story with paranormal elements and psychological depth. Readers will easily engage with the well-staged narrative and welcome its plot twists.

    Prose: Writing in clipped sentences, the author immediately creates tension and intrigue. The conversations among the many characters are natural and drive both character development and propel the storytelling. 

    Originality: Noelle integrates familiar fairytale and fantasy elements while also maintaining a high level of originality and unpredictability. 

    Character/Execution: The author does a fine job of developing her characters and their relationships while maintaining the degree of mystery surrounding the protagonist in the aftermath of overwhelming loss.

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