Each year, the Cybils honor the best children's and YA books of the year selected by book bloggers. I'm one of the crazy people who helped launch the award ten years ago, and have been involved in some capacity every year. We just announced our finalists for 2015: the seven or fewer books in each category that best reflect our criteria of literary merit and kid appeal. If you're looking for great children's and YA books, these are some of the best, in a wide variety of categories from Easy Reader to Young Adult, and even Book Apps.
I'm especially proud of the list for my category, YA Speculative Fiction. For the last three months, six other judges and I have been reading like crazy and debating the books. It was SO HARD to narrow it down to only seven, but I think we picked seven great books, and I like to think most readers will find something to like on this list.
There were so many great books on the nomination list, and although these are the seven that the judges agree best meet our criteria, every judge has favorite books that didn't make the final list. Here are some of mine. These are great books that are well worth a read or a recommendation to a teen:
by Hannah Moskowitz
This is a unique book with lots of teen appeal. In the fairy city of Ferrum, (or is it a gnome city?) the fairies and the gnomes have a stable society that works, most of the time, even if the gnomes do have to live underground and the fairies do occasionally get eaten. When a third species, the tightropers, comes to Ferrum to liberate the fairies, four fairy teens learn the true meaning of love as they do what they have to to survive the war. This is an amazing book that reveals itself gradually, in layers. As you read, you start to realize that the story is not quite as straightforward as it seems to be. Great diversity of sexuality: same sex, opposite sex, and inter-species relationships are all normal and non-issues. This is a fairly dark book, with violence, rape, and prostitution, so it's probably best for mature teens.
by Trent Reedy
In this second book of the Divided We Fall trilogy, Idaho has seceded from the United States over a dispute about the Federal ID card act. Danny and his friends are caught in the middle. The Idaho National Guard, including Danny, are now the Idaho army and fighting a devastating war against the occupying Federal government troops. The civilians are forced to make a choice between the United States and the newly declared nation of Idaho, setting neighbor against neighbor.
Burning Nation is a fast-paced YA novel which gives a stark but often surprisingly nuanced look at the deep divides in the U.S. today as well as the consequences of war. The characters, especially the protagonist Danny, are sympathetic and full of heart, even as they are also flawed, human characters. If you haven't read the first book, Divided We Fall, I recommend starting there. It was on my last year's "Ones That Got Away" post!. This is a dark, very violent book, so teens who don't like graphic violence may want to give it a pass.
Although perhaps this eerily prescient book seems a little like nonfiction now, remember that it was written before an armed militia group occupied a federal building.
by David Levithan
This is a companion book to 2012 Cybils Finalist every day. In every day, the protagonist A wakes up every day in a different body, never knowing what to expect. The new body could be any gender, any race, any type of person. A tries to avoid getting attached to people, since A will be gone the next day. All that changes when A meets Rhiannon. This companion book, another day, looks at the same story from Rhiannon's perspective. another day does much more than look at the same story from a different perspective, though. It covers fresh ground, questioning what it really means to love someone, and looking at how tightly body image is tied to how we perceive people and how we relate to them. It's fine to say that you should love someone for who they are inside, but what if you love the person inside but just aren't attracted to the body they wear, for whatever reason?
by Gwenda Bond
A fun and exciting book about a teenage Lois Lane on her first investigative case for the Daily Planet's student newspaper. Read my review here.
by Alma Alexander
Jazz Marsh is a Random Were. Whereas other Were families have a fixed creature that they transform into, Random Weres transform into the last warm-blooded creature they see before their first Turn, which happens during their teenage years. Jazz's first Turn comes unexpectedly, and in a most unusual way. As if that isn't enough, Jazz also is dealing with the pain of discovering a secret diary which reveals what happened to her older sister, Celia.
Calling this a shapeshifting or werewolf book doesn't do it justice: it's a rich and deep book that touches on many things: gender, racism, bullying, and the immigrant experience, all wrapped up in an immersive story that, in part, takes the form of a mystery, as Jazz peels back the layers to discover what happened to her sister. Diary entries and blog posts alternate with Jazz's story. The worldbuilding is amazing. It's set in a kind of alternate United States where shapeshifters are real (and regulated). The shapeshifter culture, hierarchy, and biology are very well developed and intriguing. The way the Weres are treated by the rest of society is heartbreakingly evocative of our current climate of racism and Islamaphobia.
A beautifully written book that should have wide teen appeal. Book 2, Wolf, is also available and I look forward to reading it.
by Kelley Armstrong
Tess is an teenage orphan newly on her own after the orphanage where she grew up burns down. She sets out in search of clues to her past, with only a phone number (out of service) and an address as clues. The address leads her to a mysterious abandoned house in rural Quebec, where she meets a young squatter named Jackson. Together, the two of them try to unravel the secrets of the abandoned house, and how it relates to Tess's family history.
The Unquiet Past is a fast-paced, fun paranormal mystery with some really spooky parts. It also touches on racism and the horrific history of how mental illness has been treated. Jackson is Métis, and he encounters both overt racism and microaggressions. I hadn't heard of the Métis people before reading this book, so I did some research. The Métis people are descendants of European fisherman and fur traders and First Nations women in Canada; they have a distinct culture and are recognized by the Canadian Government as an Aboriginal nation.
The Unquiet Past is an easy read, which should appeal to both reluctant readers and stronger readers looking for a fun, escapist fantasy.