Friday, April 25, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 63 - The Whitney Awards Edition

Over the past seven weeks I have read and reviewed 25 of the 40 Whitney Award finalists for 2013. Next year, I'll have to start earlier so I can try to get to more of them!

The winners will be announced at the gala tomorrow in Salt Lake City, but I thought I'd put my two cents out there on who I think will/should take top honors.


In Youth Speculative Fiction, the five finalists are:
Insomnia by J.R. Johannson
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Blackout by Robison Wells

While all five featured inventive, creative sci-fi or fantasy settings, I have to go with Steelheart.  Sanderson's experience shows here as he deftly combines the page-turning action with character development, leading to a well-balanced story.  But Slayers: Friends and Traitors is the second in a series that has a loyal fan base, and Robison Wells, who is going through a rough time lately, has strong ties to the Whitney Awards, so I wouldn't be surprised to see either of those selections in the top spot.


In Youth General Fiction, the five finalists are:
Chasing June by Shannen Crane Camp
Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

All of the authors in this category excelled in creating vivid, realistic characters and relationships.  This is the hardest one for me to pick a favorite because I was thoroughly drawn in by all five.  I think I have to give the edge to Julie Berry's All the Truth That's in Me for her innovative and poetic narrative, though the stellar character development in Going Vintage and the sparkling sarcastic humor of The Distance Between Us make them both standouts, too.


In the Middle Grade category, the five finalists are:
The Inventor's Secret by Chad Morris
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman
Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George
The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Following in the footsteps of its prequel, The Runaway King is an excellent continuation of the story of Jaron and his fight to save his kingdom.  I wouldn't be upset at all if Jennifer Nielsen did a repeat in this category, but newcomers Liesl Shurtliff, with her sympathetic retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and Peggy Eddleman, with her age-appropriate post-apocalyptic future, are definitely worth a look, too.


Unfortunately, I wasn't able to read all of the books in any of the adult categories (General, Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, and Speculative), so I freely admit that my opinions here aren't fully informed.

These are the ones I did get to:
Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster (General)
The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor (General)
Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears (Historical)
Esther the Queen by H.B. Moore (Historical)
Safe Passage by Carla Kelly (Historical)
Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson (Romance)
Rocky Road by Josi S. Kilpack (Mystery/Suspense)
Deep Cover by Traci Hunter Abramson (Mystery/Suspense)
The Witnesses by Stephanie Black (Speculative)
Echo in Time by C.J. Hill (Speculative)

First, I'd like to point out that while I only got to read one of them, Heather B. Moore has four(!) books up for a Whitney Award this year in four different categories!  The one I did read, Esther the Queen, is at the top of my list for the adult categories, so I hope her prodigious output in 2013 is rewarded.

Right up there with Esther, I found Mile 21 truly affecting.  Dunster painted a portrait of a young widow's grief that rang true, and while many LDS authors seem to struggle with incorporating LDS beliefs in a non-intrusive way, she wove them seamlessly into the narrative while not ignoring the theological questions and cultural complications of the situation.

I also really enjoyed Belonging to Heaven and thought it was well done, though it suffered just a bit from the weight of its own ambition.  Sears tried to cover such a wide swath of history and characters that, as skillful as she was, I think the story would have been better served in a two-part series.

Because I didn't even come close to reading all of the books in the Adult categories (only 10 out of 25), I'm supremely unqualified to predict the winner of
Best Novel of the Year
but I'd be pleased if Esther the Queen or Mile 21 took the honor.


I happened to read six of the seven novels eligible for
Best Novel by a New Author 
in 2013 (the only one I missed was I, Spy by Jordan McCollum).  So, I'm going to give that one to either Liesl Shurtliff for Rump or Peggy Eddleman for Sky Jumpers (with the caveat that I, Spy may have been so incredibly amazing that I might have picked it if I'd had the chance to read it).

And finally, since I read all 15 of the novels in the Youth categories, I'm going to say
Best Youth Novel of the Year
will go to either Steelheart or All the Truth That's In Me.

I'll make sure to post a link to the winners when they're announced so we can all laugh at how far off my predictions were!

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