I read 91 books this year as a panelist for Round 1 YA speculative fiction. Out of those 91, I finished 68 and left 23 unfinished. Of those 68 I finished, 21 were books I had read prior to the start of Cybils season. This means I read 47 books in their entirety (and about 25-50 pages of an additional 23 books) in about three months, which works out to a whole book every two days. That’s quite a lot of reading!
I love our shortlist for YA speculative fiction this year, and I think it’s nearly as perfect as it can get. That said, there were some great reads that I loved but didn’t make the cut. I wish we could have put 15 books on the shortlist! Alas, I will comfort myself by blogging about them and telling you why they are fantastic. I hope you’ll give them a shot and recommend them to the teens in your life.
The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
I loved this story of survival in a worldwide power blackout featuring a teenage girl with epilepsy set on the islands of Hawaii. Leilani is half Native Hawaiian, half white, about to begin a medical study for an epilepsy treatment when the blackout hits. She and her father must try to make it back to the Big Island from Oahu and reunite with the rest of their family amidst the chaos and danger. The first portion of the novel is pure survival, with a few hints at the source of the global catastrophe. Later on, it becomes clear what’s causing the blackout, and it’s completely unique and very much science fiction. The writing during this portion is particularly lovely and I read it several times over because I loved it so much. There’s also a great portrayal of a positive father/daughter relationship that I don’t see much of in YA fiction.
Not only is this a fast-paced survival story with a really fresh SF twist, it also features a protagonist of color with deep ties to the environment of Hawaii and her Native Hawaiian culture. Being half-white, half-Native, Leilani often feels caught between two worlds, never belonging completely in either. This crisis allows her to explore that tension and eventually determine that she does have a home and a purpose in Hawaii as she’s always wanted. It’s obvious Aslan has a great love for Hawaii as a place and for its people and their culture (he is not Native but lived there for some time). There’s a solid end to this with room for a sequel, which I very much look forward to reading.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Intense romance, an often-cruel heroine, a unique re-telling of a beloved fairy tale, and lovely writing all combine to make this debut a complete winner. It’s lush and creative and I loved every minute of it. I wrote about it more in February of last year.
Dissonance by Erica O’Rourke
This is a world-building lover’s dream with lots of details about parallel/alternate worlds and how Walkers like protagonist Del travel between them. It’s also partly a thriller featuring a conspiracy and plenty of flawed characters with secret motivations. It’s not a particularly fast read, but it’s creative and deep. More here.
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Well, you all know this is a book of my heart. It’s terrific high fantasy with a spirited heroine who is determined to claim a life of her own. You can read more about my love for it here.
Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy
This is not normally a book I’d pick up my own, but I’m glad I did for the Cybils. It tells of a near future that seems so plausible it’s scary (a showdown between the federal government and a state government over a federal ID law that blooms into full-scale civil war). National guardsman Travis is caught in the middle after his gun discharges at a protest. Travis has a great voice; I feel like he exists in so many of today’s small-town, semi-rural high schools, and voices like his aren’t heard enough in YA fiction. The audio production is one of the best I’ve ever listened to. More here.