For the last three months, my life has been consumed by the Cybils Awards, an award for the best children’s and young adult books of the year, as selected by the children’s book blogging community. I’ve been involved with the Cybils since they were founded in 2006, and I wear a number of different hats. But my favorite part of the Cybils is being a judge, reading and discussing the books with a fabulous panel of judges and selecting the best books of the year. This year I was a judge (and category chair) for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category, (formerly called Fantasy & Science Fiction) as I have been every year except one since the beginning.
I’m so excited to share with you the seven fantastic books that my fellow judges and I selected as the finalists! A hat tip to my smart, fun, and wonderful fellow judges: Leila Roy, Tanita Davis, Patrice Caldwell, Sarah Mulhern Gross, Hallie Tibbets, and Karen Jensen. Also be sure to check out the Cybils finalists in all the other categories!
Here are the 2013 Finalists for Speculative Fiction: Young Adult!
Conjured is a multiverse fantasy about a magician, a dark carnival of horrors and delights, a group of snarky, teenaged magic users, and a protagonist who is hugely powerful but also hugely vulnerable. It’s a cop story about a girl in witness protection. It’s a story about friendship and first love, about discovering one’s self, about finding a safe haven in a library, and about what it means to be human.
Our narrator is Eve, a girl who doesn’t entirely know who she is; who isn’t sure who or what, exactly, she’s being protected from; whose memory is so fragmented that she sometimes loses entire weeks of her life. By turns, it is frightening, funny, romantic, and heartwarming, and it is, from beginning to end, completely mesmerizing. As Eve unravels the mysteries that surround her, it becomes more and more clear just how layered, complex, beautifully realized, and wholly original her voice–and Durst’s vision–is. Upon finishing the book, readers will want to immediately turn back to the beginning to read it again with a completely new perspective.
— Leila Roy, Bookshelves of Doom
In late fifteenth-century Brittany, Sybella is sent from the convent of Saint Mortain to her ancestral home, where her faith will guide her in the assassination of her father, the horrible Count d’Albret. She is ready withcrossbow, garrote, even poison—but she cannot see the marque of death that allows her murder to be sanctioned by her god, and cannot decide whether or how to act. Throughout Dark Triumph, the sequel to Grave Mercy that can be read as a standalone, Sybella struggles with dissonance: mercy and justice, fate and free will, betrayal and loyalty, vengeance and forgiveness, family and freedom, faith and skepticism. And there’s no time to delay, no time to consider, because France could invade at any moment. Dark Triumph is a grim but hopeful fantasy that blends intrigue, danger, and a little romance into a real historical setting.
— Hallie Tibbets, Undusty New Books
When sixteen-year-old Micah Grey is caught eavesdropping on the grounds of the R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, a potentially terrifying incident evolves into an impromptu audition. Micah is hired as an aerialist and begins training to replace a soon-to-retire flyer. But the circus is full of secrets, including Micah’s, and nothing is as it seems.
Magical, atmospheric and spellbinding, *Pantomime *is more than just a story about a circus. With complex worldbuilding, full of culture, mythology, and magic, Lam manages to weave a story full of intrigue and emotion. Lam’s characters are fully realized and three-dimensional and the way Lam presents Micah’s struggle with gender identity and sexuality is handled deftly and without being didactic. Pantomime is a touching, complex, and fantastic story of a teen struggling to find a place in the world; a timeless theme.
— Sarah Mulhern Gross, TheReadingZone
Maggie’s mother marrying a backwards, Oldworld geek with a thick accent and a lamentable fashion sense isn’t the worst of it. It’s abruptly seeing what no one else seems to see – shadows. Newworld belongs to science – bright lights, reason, and technology is what keeps its denizens safe. But with every tremor shaking up her safe, familiar life, Maggie realizes that Newworld – and everything else – isn’t what she’s been told, and sometimes looking into the shadows lets a person see.
Panelists were nearly unanimous in their love for this fast-paced novel with obedient dogs, less obedient algebra books, quirky humor and loveable characters who are clearly a tribute to the imagination of Diana Wynne Jones. Robin McKinley’s Shadows is a classic fantasy novel which reveals a new world to a reluctant heroine, and sends her on a fantastic journey. McKinley touches on themes of civil liberty, freedom, and knowledge in this book and reminds us that we can take what we fear, and use it to arm ourselves to take on the universe.
— Tanita Davis, Finding Wonderland
In the lush city of Palmares Tres, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. In Enki, the bold new Summer King, she sees more than his amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die. Set in a world rich with organic diversity, The Summer Prince is sure to take readers on a journey through the beautiful Palmares Tres and the lives of its inhabitants. Teens, especially, will relate with the pain the book’s protagonist, June, feels, wanting to be recognized for her art in a society where being under 30 means you are no one. In addition, the complex relationship between June, her best friend, Gil, and the one they both love, Enki is sure to pull at heartstrings, making readers fall uncontrollably in love. The Summer Prince is a fantasy like no other, and from its very first sentence, it promises to amaze.
— Patrice Caldwell, Whimsically Yours
When the killing day comes, violence erupts in the town of Oleander. Many are dead at the hands of the people they love, but this is only the beginning. A year passes and the dark is once again slowly waking; a sinister something seems to seep into the heart of Oleander, turning loved one against loved one. And when the dark wakes, can anyone be safe? The Waking Dark is a slow-boil horror tale where a sleepy, small town becomes a character in its own right. A group of teens are left behind to navigate a path to safety only in the midst of the incredible violence that has overtaken their town. They struggle with the very real emotions of self discovery and alienation, the trials of faith and doubt, and the very real question of who you can trust when this sickness seems to turn the hearts of all the towns inhabitants. Wasserman takes the epidemic tale to interesting new depths by placing very real teens in the midst of a Stephen King-esque novel and amping up the volume. Teen life was never quite so terrifying.
— Karen Jensen, Teen Librarian’s Toolbox
Star Wars and Shakespeare go together like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. If the Bard were alive today, he would surely have written the epic story of a young man’s search for identity amidst a galactic battle for freedom — and the larger tragedy of his father’s descent into darkness, redemption, and death. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars turned out to be so much more than the gimmicky book we initially assumed it would be. Ian Doescher has imbued every line of this book with his passion for, and understanding of, both the Shakespeare and Star Wars canon. It goes far beyond just mimicking Shakespeare’s language: from Darth Vader’s introspective monologues to R2-D2’s Puckish asides, this is truly Star Wars the way that Shakespeare would have written it.
Although this book tells the story of Episode IV: A New Hope, (the original Star Wars movie) it draws on the other films and the larger Star Wars universe for some of the material, and even includes nods to Star Wars fandom. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is rich with literary merit – one judge is already using it in a classroom Shakespeare unit – and oozing gooey teen appeal, especially for Star Wars fans. All of the judges would love to see this performed live, or even participate in the staging of it!