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  • Back in the USSR

    by Patrick D. Joyce

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Back in the USSR is a YA thriller infused with mystery and tension. Readers will be easily sucked into Harrison’s life while on Christmas break visiting his diplomat parents based in Moscow during the Cold War.  Joyce displays masterful control over the narrative, beautifully weaving in a thread connected to the Beatles' White Album.

    Prose: Joyce capably evokes a noir atmosphere, while bringing the Moscow setting vividly to life. The prose is clear, sharp, and expertly paced.

    Originality: The story of a diplomat’s son could have taken a very familiar turn, but this novel remains fresh, poised, and multilayered from beginning to end. 

    Character/Execution: The author fills the story with interesting, complex characters. Fourteen-year-old Harrison George, the son of diplomats, is mature and independent, yet relatable. His friend Prudence is a spunky and lively girl who serves as a sidekick but a full character in her own right. Character development fluidly blends with a riveting storyline, never disappointing readers.

  • Broken Promises

    by Anita Perez Ferguson

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Throughout this touching story following 15-year-old Sparrow, readers witness her initial struggles that eventually build to a deeper confidence as her painful family history is revealed. Ferguson masterfully depicts the root causes of family problems while artfully portraying Sparrow's culture.

    Prose: Ferguson clinches the opening with a poignant and inspiring exploration of Sparrow's purpose. The prose is authentic and enlightening, gently pressing the plot forward.

    Originality: Broken Promises celebrates the beauty and diversity of Sparrow's culture, and it is infused with empathy and care for voiceless young girls like Sparrow.

    Character/Execution: Sparrow grapples with many important life changes throughout the story, and Ferguson skillfully develops her character as she matures, gifting her with strength, commitment, and dedication.


     

  • The Beauty of a Spiral

    by Beth Maddaleni

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: With a heartwarming story and charming characters, this sparkling YA novel has it all: an adorable romance, elite sports action, and authentic life events that get in the way of these perfect plans. 

    Prose: Maddaleni balances the serious nature of the content with natural and warmly engaging prose. 

    Originality: Maddaleni successfully combines a large variety of story elements into a cohesive and moving page-turner about love, loss, and understanding others.  

    Character/Execution: Madz is a compelling character dealing with unique, genuine issues in a realistic way. The choices she makes throughout the novel, although frustrating at times, remain believable and true. Notably, Maddaleni also writes convincingly and engagingly about the coach and athlete relationship.

    Blurb: A bubbly and shining story that encompasses the best of what the YA genre has to offer. Quickly paced and beautifully executed, The Beauty of a Spiral will excite and engage readers of all ages.

  • The Word Dancer

    by Maxine Rose Schur

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Schur's fantasy is masterfully plotted, depicting the tale of 12-year-old Wynnfrith in the court of King Goodliwink. The setting is glittering with intrigue and mystique, and readers will be enthralled by Wynnfrith's transformation.

    Prose: The prose shimmers, and Schur deftly fences with wordplay and imagery that perfectly match the story's tone.

    Originality: The Word Dancer is lyrical and propulsive, brimming with amusing and innovative ideas.

    Character/Execution: Though the characters somewhat adhere to archetypes, Wynnfrith glistens with relatable unrest and a deep desire to uncover her hidden strength. At times, her charisma is eclipsed by the Word Dancer—an enigmatic, fascinating character spinning across the pages.

  • Branded

    by S.G. Browne

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Sixteen-year-old Starbucks, a junior at Dunkin’ Donuts High school, is plagued by all the normal teenage problems: he’s got a crush on Kellogg’s, but she’s already dating Subway; despite his corporate sponsor (and namesake) Starbucks, he’s not allowed to drink coffee; and he’s struggling to go along with the social bullying that’s supposed to be an accepted part of his world. 

    Prose: The prose is witty and entertaining, full of sociocultural references and contemporary slang that will resonate with young adult readers.

    Originality: Browne has constructed an immersive world where kids are named after their corporate sponsor and spend the better part of their childhood promoting that sponsor’s products—and judging their peers’ sponsorships at the same time.

    Character/Execution: The author crafts believable characters, particularly the first-person narrator, Starbucks, who plays a perfect sarcastic, relatable teenager struggling to navigate his way through typical high school problems—romantic affairs, friendship hassles, and the internal anxiety that comes from existing in a world that’s based on an unrelenting pressure to fit in.

  • Finding Fae

    by El Holly

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: From the outset of the story, readers are pulled into the intriguing plot, genuine characters, and wonderful writing. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep readers on their toes and engaged at every moment of the story.

    Prose: The prose helped to successfully build the plotline of the story throughout the novel. Holly captures a youthful vernacular without it ever feeling awkward or out of place.

    Originality: Although the story does utilize conventions and archetypes within the fantasy genre, the story always feels fresh and offers something new. Holly constructs a beautiful and vivid new fantasy world for young readers to fall in love with.

    Character/Execution: The worldbuilding remains strong throughout the novel, creating a complex and interesting setting that is easy to dive into for readers of all ages. Each of the main characters is written with flaws and positive qualities that make them both believable and likeable.

     

  • Chasing the Moon

    by Melanie Hooyenga

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Chasing the Moon is a heartwarming story populated with strong, self-aware young women who share a solid bond. Their story is part adventure, part awakening, and part transformation. The plot is fun, engaging, and light.

    Prose: The author is an accomplished writer with a knack for reaching a young adult audience. The writing is concise and expressive, providing readers with an intimate perspective on the characters' thoughts, emotions, fears, and motivations.

    Originality: Hooyenga offers a cozy and engaging setup for her lead characters. While the story successfully engages the friends-to-lovers trope, the book's true focus is on the dynamics of female friendship; the authenticity of the circumstances and characters leads to a memorable reading experience. 

    Character/Execution: The author does a superb job with characterization. All three young women are self-aware, open and accepting. The author cleverly utilizes a rotating point of view as a tool to gain insight into how the girls think and what motivates them.

  • Born Torn: Kiara Noir Mother Nature Series

    by Suz Eglington

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Even though Kiara's mother has made it clear that she is not allowed to leave the reservation, Kiara dreams of a faraway journey to pursue her passion for photography. The engaging story offers compelling promises of adventure and discovery beyond the familiar, though it comes with great risk to Kiara and her mother.

    Prose: Eglington is a skillful writer, able to craft dialogue that flows naturally while establishing a solid sense of place that will transport readers into Kiara's world.

    Originality: Themes of preserving land, sovereignty, and culture abound in this engrossing story, and Eglington's fresh perspective on a popular premise will resonate with readers.

    Character/Execution: Eglington's characters are multilayered and allow readers to discover the complexities of their darker feelings, while uncovering buried secrets that give the story an almost feverish intensity.

  • Making Friends With Monsters

    by Sandra L Rostirolla

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Rostirolla’s novel takes readers into the intimate storytelling of a child processing trauma within a bigger adult theme of coping mechanisms. Evenly paced and meticulously plotted, her storyline captivates the reader's heart from the first line to the last.

    Prose: Rostirolla’s prose is clear, direct, and eloquently self-reflective. Told in the first person, Rostirolla’s voice is wonderfully authentic, vulnerable, and honest.

    Originality: Readers will find all the elements of a classic YA in Rostirolla’s work, but the emotional depth and understanding of the world revealed in the main character's narration adds a unique layer to the treatment of common themes.

    Character/Execution: The characters in Sandra L Rostirolla’s Making Friends With Monsters are memorable and convincing. Readers will find themselves relating to and rooting for the book’s protagonist, Sam, who is sensitive, observant, and empathetic. Secondary characters serve to enhance the story and bring essential layers to the broader narrative.

  • Chymist: The Coelacanth Project Book II

    by Sarah Newland

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Newland's novel is fast paced and action packed. Riding on the heels of Book 1 of the Coelacanth Project, the engaging storyline doesn't hesitate to cut to the chase. The Coelacanth gang wants to find their parents and they quickly have a plan. While readers can expect plot twists, they're also in store for a surprising amount of heart as Natalie and her friends battle grief.

    Prose: Newland's prose serves the reader well. The detailed descriptions provide a clear picture of actions and settings, and each character's dialogue is marked by a distinct voice.

    Originality: The narrative offers a fresh and refined mix of genres, including sci-fi, dystopian, and fantasy. While the novel blends familiar elements, the result is entirely fresh and new. 

    Character/Execution: Newland does an excellent job of giving numerous characters notable arcs in this novel, which makes for thoroughly captivating relationships that uplift the fine storytelling. 

  • Hidden Truths

    by Tammera Mart

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Mart integrates Native American lore as a backstory to develop a twisty and intriguing story of a teen's search for Bigfoot. In addition to encounters with the beasts, Mart meaningfully explores the complexity of family dynamics and examines how uncovered truths can help mend relationships. 

    Prose: Mart capably mixes lore, mystery, and romance with ease. Each chapter draws the reader closer to the truth and concludes on a wholly satisfying note. 

    Originality: A mix of Native American lore, Bigfoot, and mystery will surely engage inquisitive young adult readers. Readers will find themselves researching included topics to learn more.

    Character/Execution: Likable and curious characters take the reader on an adventure full of mystery and hidden truths. Relationships between the characters are relatable. The main character is astute, and readers will cheer for her to be successful in her quest.

    Blurb: Mart's multilayered Bigfoot story reminds readers of the power for truth to mend broken relationships.

     

  • The True Story of the Komodo Dragon

    by S├ębastien Bourbeau

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The plot is innovative and delightful. Giving voice to Squeak is intriguing, and his adventurous quest provides plenty of entertainment and excitement.

    Prose: Bourbeau delivers scenes that are imaginative and rich with visual detail, alongside amusing dialogue developed from an innocent and witty voice.

    Originality: The conversation between the animals in this story is both engaging and immersive, giving the book a creative edge.

    Character/Execution: Bourbeau's characters are well-developed, likable, and diverting—and Squeak's transformation to Ignatius is a memorable journey.

  • Little Mountain, Big Trouble

    by Chris Norbury

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Little Mountain, Big Trouble sheds a positive light on the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, while offering plenty of adventure and peril at the same time.  The ending will warm hearts, as will the story's relatable characters and relevant situations that are perfect for middle grade readers.

    Prose: Norbury captures tension exceptionally well, and the crisp prose sparkles with just the right intensity.

    Originality: The novel's spotlight on mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters make it stand out among others, and Norbury's obvious experience with the organization lends the story authenticity.

    Character/Execution: EJ is determined and gains confidence throughout the story, even when it seems the odds are stacked against him. He is a likable character who knows where to turn for help, and middle grade readers will easily relate to his situation.

  • Thrown to the Wind

    by Amanda M. Cetas

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Cetas has masterfully used her own ancestral background and history to create a fast paced adventure that will engage middle grade readers. Strong life lessons are sprinkled throughout the narrative, including the importance of choosing the correct path in life, giving the plot depth and substance.  

    Prose: Thrown to the Wind is well-written, with vivid imagery that brings the time period and landscape to life. Readers will experience the perilous journey alongside the main character—and understand his indecision in plotting the course of his life.

    Originality: Thrown to the Wind is elevated by its exciting events as well as the story's strong themes that capture crucial life lessons. Cetas draws from her own ancestry, blending a time period that was unyielding in social structure and fraught with religious persecution into a breakneck adventure that is both entertaining and intriguing. 

    Character/Execution: The main character exhibits strength and boldness, gaining confidence throughout the novel.  His coming-of-age journey is deeply meaningful and absorbing—young readers will want to meet him.  

  • Cloud Nine

    by Chelsea Mueller

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Cloud Nine is an excellent work that will captivate readers from the first line. This is a fast-paced, engaging story that combines an inventive concept with great writing and memorable characters. The world here is complex, well-thought out and detailed, while not being overwhelming to the reader. 

    Prose: The prose is top notch, nuanced, and impactful. The reader learns all they need to know about Ally in a succinct and clear manner. Writing for this author is a honed skill that transports the reader along with Ally into the sky and back down again.

    Originality: Though the author revisits some familiar tropes, the story thrives through its characters and the author ultimately offers a unique twist on a futuristic sci-fi story. 

    Character/Execution: The author is masterful at creating multilayered and clear characters. Ally is everything readers will want in a protagonist; the reader will fall in love with her and remain invested in her character arc.

  • The girl who broke the world

    by Renee Hayes

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: A gifted and creative storyteller, the author has crafted a highly entertaining plot that will captivate readers. The work opens with an enlightening and intriguing prologue that offers insight into the complex world the reader is about to enter and sets the stage for the action that is to come. 

    Prose: The author is a talented writer with a solid command of language, and a knack for seamless worldbuilding. 

    Originality: Hayes delivers an inventive, carefully constructed narrative with characters that uplift the storytelling. The circumstances, while they draw from some post-apocalyptic sci-fi and fantasy tropes, offer a fresh and unexpected vision. 

    Character/Execution: The author excels at characterization, particularly with Zee, who is established as both the key to protecting a future world and a relatable, emotionally substantive protagonist. 

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