I only discovered the Whitney Awards last year, but I'm thrilled to have a tool for finding interesting new LDS authors across different genres. For whatever reason, my local libraries didn't have as many of the finalists this year as they did last year, so I limited my reading to the Middle Grade and YA categories - and even then didn't get to all the books in any group except Middle Grade! So here are my predictions in those three categories:
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Sky Jumpers: The Forbidden Flats by Peggy Eddleman
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little
As with last year, I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of all of the Middle Grade finalists, including two that were sequels to previous year's finalists. The one that stood out from the pack, though, is The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The delightful, tongue-in-cheek tone, the play on Victorian cliches, and the girl-power message set it apart. The final installment of Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy, The Shadow Throne, is a very close second for me.
Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe
Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez
Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan
On the Fence by Kasie West
First of all, I missed out on reading Amy Finnegan's Not in the Script. Of the other four finalists, Chris Crowe's Death Coming up the Hill, grounded in gritty history of the Vietnam War and all the tumult of 1968, is the most unique. The others were solid engaging stories - the exotic setting of Forbidden and the psychological depth of Kiss Kill Vanish in particular - but Death Coming up the Hill has had the most staying power in my brain despite its brevity.
Cured by Bethany Wiggins
Dangerous by Shannon Hale
Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
Remake by Ilima Todd
The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Again, I wasn't able to read one of the finalists in this category: The Glass Magician. The books I did read all excelled in world-building, in creating believable societies that differed from ours in important ways, but held enough familiarity to draw readers in. Illusions of Fate wins this category for me. The characters, the relationships, the depth of the historical, political, social and cultural world-creation without bogging down the story or making the narrative serve the message bring it to the top of the heap.
While I only read 13 of the 15 books eligible for Best Youth Novel my vote would go to Death Coming up the Hill. The haunting, affecting story of a teen struggling to make sense of a "world...gone nuts" packs a powerful emotional punch. The unique structure - being told in haikus - serves to highlight and focus the raw emotion, while still allowing room for character and relationship development.
The winners will be announced tonight at the Whitney Awards Gala in Provo, and when they've posted the results I'll link to them. Writing can be a thankless job, and well-deserved recognition slow in coming, so best of luck to all these authors!