I have now read all five YA nominees for the Edgar Award. Each is unique. In fact there is nothing I can think of that would remotely be called a common thread. One would be a great suggestion for students wanting a book that fits the historical fiction category. Two have definite supernatural elements. One is very emotional (to me at least), one is gritty and has a pretty unique plot twist. All five are excellent reads and deserve a nomination. Which will win? See my analysis at the end of the post.
If you follow this blog regularly, you probably saw my very positive review of Harlan Coben’s entry, Shelter. I won’t re-run it here, but will say It’s a dandy read. I remain impressed by the way the author turned the tables on his main character from his adult series and am very much looking forward to the next in the series.
Refresh your memory about the nominees here: http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html
In The Silence of Murder, Hope Long hasn’t had the best life, but she’s been able to cope. Her father was killed in a pedestrian accident when she was three, her mother, Rita, is a drunk and a pretty poor excuse for a mother. The only family member who really matters to her is her 18 year old brother Jeremy. Unfortunately, Jeremy has problems of his own. He hasn’t spoken for ten years, has been given more psychiatric diagnoses than Carter has pills and collects empty bottles. In fact three walls in his bedroom are filled with them. Jeremy, however, is no dummy. He communicates with Hope by writing elegant letters in perfect penmanship. When the story begins, Jeremy is on trial for murder, having been accused of killing the high school baseball coach with the wooden bat he carries with him most of the time. Because Jeremy is electively mute and there are no other possible suspects, Prospects for anything other than prison or a very long stay in a psychiatric facility are pretty slim. Hope knows Jeremy is innocent, but how can she prove it?
The bulk of the book involves her efforts to figure out who really did kill Coach Johnson. She’s not as alone as she first thought. Her brother’s defense attorney is a very decent man who is willing to keep an open mind when Hope starts shaking loose some facts that might alter the outcome. Her long time friend T.J. (who would like to be a lot more than a friend, but Hope is clueless about that), is willing to help her even though he’s creeped out by some of the places she needs to investigate. Enter Chase, son of the sheriff. He’s a pitcher like T.J., but has a history of getting into minor scrapes back in Boston where he lives with his mother most of the year. Even though Hope and Chase know they should have nothing to do with each other because of how ugly Chase’s dad can get, sparks fly and before you know it, Chase is into the hunt for the real killer with Hope.
There are some amazingly good red herrings in this mystery as well as some great bits of information discovered at just the right speed in order to keep the reader guessing. And guessing. And guessing. The ending is a perfect mix of really sad and really happy. This is one of those books you really don’t want to end because the story is so good and well told.
The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines, takes place in the early part of World War II in New York City and features a Jewish girl whose dad is a private detective who lost a leg during the battle of Pearl Harbor, and whose mother committed suicide with no explanation. Iris and her dad had to move to a poor section of the city and she was forced to transfer from a private school to a gritty public high school. Her family problems are exacerbated by her dad’s poorly fitting prosthesis which makes it almost impossible for him to shadow suspects. There’s little money coming in as a result. When Iris starts making friends with the tough kids at her school, she soon realizes Tom, the boy who was part of the crowd and who stole her purse on the first day of school has disappeared. The bulk of the story involves Iris trying to help her dad who was hired by Tom’s parents to locate him, intertwined with her voyage of self-discovery as she becomes more friendly with the tough crowd. The ending is less of a solution to Tom’s disappearance than a nice historical novel about how people ultimately learn to work through tragedy and get back to living.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, is a dandy mystery with a supernatural twist. Rory Deveaux, a high school girl from Louisiana, finds herself attending a private school in London while her parents are on sabbatical to teach in England. The early part of the book involves her learning to adjust to such a totally different environment while dealing with new customs, words and the expectation by a lunatic upper classwoman that she play field hockey every afternoon.
The intrigue starts to ramp up flawlessly when Ripermania takes over London. Someone is killing women in the same ways and at the same locations as Jack The Ripper did way back in 1888. Rory almost chokes to death during dinner one evening, an event that has a big impact on later developments. How she comes to be involved, first with the ongoing killings and then with the unusual and very secret group of London police officers intent upon stopping the new Ripper, make for an incredible read. It kept me up past 2 AM twice. There are two plot twists; one in the middle and another at the end which make it a stellar read.
Kill You Last, by Todd Strasser, has an unusual plot element, at least one I don’t recall seeing before. Shelby’s parents have a strained marriage and she’s not certain exactly why. Her mother is remote and seldom talks to her in any meaningful way. Shelby knows some of what affects her mom stems from the trauma experienced when she took Shelby’s infant brother out in winter weather and he got sick and died, but she’s sure something else is going on. Her dad, a professional photographer, is funny and supportive, having been the parent she could count on as she grew up, but there’s something odd about the way he looks at her teen girl friends and how he interacts with them. When three girls from different cities disappear, the only immediate connection is the fact that they all had modeling head shots done by Shelby’s dad. .
With suspicion turning to her father, Shelby decides she needs to investigate because everyone at school is looking at her strangely and her personal life is beginning to unravel. In the process, she starts discovering that almost everyone, dad, mom, Gabriel the hunky model who works with her dad, the high-strung office manager at her dad’s office and the mysterious text messenger who sends her mean and innuendo-filled messages after every new news break are not who/what they seem. Her only allies are her best friend, Roman and a college student working for a local college newspaper and Shelby has trouble trusting either of them as things unfold. This is a very well written tale, one I think both male and female young adults will enjoy. The plot element surrounding Shelby’s father and his unnatural attraction for teen girls will resonate with some YA’s and the killer isn’t easily figured out.
Who do I think will win? It’s not an easy choice. I’m eliminating Kill You Last and The Girl is Murder in my first round of cuts. That leaves Shelter, The Name of the Star and The Silence of Murder. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the three get the nod. All are terrific reads and will be enjoyed by and will intellectually challenge any teen reader. When all is said and done, however, I’m picking The Silence of Murder for the Teen Edgar. It has more emotion, sadness and beauty than the others and I came away from reading it wondering for several days afterward what might happen to each of the major characters because they had become so important to me. That, folks, makes the book a winner no matter what.
I’m hoping to read the five juvenile nominees for the April column and pick the probable winner in that lot.
Thank you, John! I’ve been meaning to read all these books, and have been so involved in writing I haven’t had time. You’ve given me a great introduction. Now I know I’ll start with … or maybe with … but definitely will read …A great, and timely, post! (Will you do the Agatha nominees, too? Please?)
Thank you, John! For years my writers group handicapped the Edgar short stories. We’re not doing that this year because I’m here in Key West and one of the stories is pretty much ungettable. I miss that activity and very much enjoyed your analysis of the YA field. When we went to the Edgars events last year, my husband bought several of the nominated YA and juvenile books and was very impressed with them.