The first time I made Edgar predictions for the young adult and juvenile categories, I hit them both. Last year, I missed them both. How will I do this year? You won’t have to wait long. The winners will be announced next week. I think getting the Juvenile winner will be easier this year. Two books are pretty much neck and neck in my estimation. In the young adult category, the competition is much tighter. The folks who made this years final selections picked five dandy books. Herewith are brief descriptions of each, the covers and my predictions.
In the Juvenile category, we have:
Strike Three, You’re Dead by Josh Berk (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR) A good read for teen sports enthusiasts, but quite honestly, I wasn’t able to stick with this one.
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial) Here’s the full review I did in February for the Central Maine Library blog.
The last thing Moxie Fleece expects when she hurries to answer the front door is someone who is about to turn her life upside down, but that’s exactly what happens. The evil red head sneering at her leaves a sinister message: “Tell your mommy or grammy or whoever that Sully Cupcakes is looking for him.” Moxie soon discovers that the ‘him’ is her grandfather who is living in a nursing home and sliding ever deeper into Alzheimer’s Disease.
Thus begins Moxie’s unwilling quest to determine who Sully and the evil red head are and what it is they think her grandfather has hidden. Moxie knows he worked for the Boston mob as a semi-legitimate employee, mostly doing carpentry and maintenance work on buildings they owned. Nobody in the family talks about that part of his life, but Moxie knows it was a big part of why her father booked it when she was very young.
It takes her a while to put 2 and 2 together, but she realizes it must have been the art from the Isabella Gardner Museum heist that Sully wants back. Problem is, catching Gramps on a lucid day isn’t easy and when she does, he’s still cagy about his involvement. Fortunately, her best friend Ollie, a geeky geocaching fanatic is willing to help.
The way the two are able to figure out where the loot is hidden and how they retrieve it is done in a way that readers will feel like they’re part of the gang. One really neat hook is Ollie’s geocaching hero GI Goh. This has been nominated for an Edgar Award and after reading it, I can see why. It mixes suspense, friendship, the way kids feel when a divorced parent is in a serious relationship with someone they don’t quite like, the pain of watching a grandparent slide into complete memory loss and a bit of Boston history extremely well.
Teens and tweens who like a challenging mystery, a bit of New England history and plenty of well-crafted action will like this book.
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence (Penguin Young Readers Group – Putnam Juvenile) Second in a middle grade series with a 12 year old protagonist who has autistic tendencies in the 1860s American west, this one can confuse librarians and teachers a bit in terms of it fitting in the juvenile slot. There are elements like a brothel and ‘soiled doves’ that may be deal breakers for some of them. Counterpointing these is the way P.K. Pinkerton thinks and works. Young readers who like tight plotting will really enjoy how he notices clues, documents them carefully and solves crimes. There’s decent humor as well and that’s a bonus. The author works very hard to keep the social and cultural aspects of the story true to the times and readers who don’t get that aspect may feel the story has racist or bigoted overtones. That would do the book and the author a huge disservice. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but I think it might help readers enjoy this one more.
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney-Hyperion). Loads of younger readers devoured Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, wherein, he set a high standard for dark humor. He hasn’t lost a step in this book. Imagine Ghost Busters with teen angst and far more dangerous creatures that must be destroyed. The alternative is they’ll destroy you and the protagonists have no real say in whether they’ll play or not. Bumbling heroes who are really anything but, a world gone psycho that’s waiting for kids to step up and save it because the adults are too freaked out to do much aside from whimper. This one is immersive, crazy and fun to read.
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR). Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt can shoot better than anyone in Placid, Wisconsin. She can handle accounts and serve customers in her family’s general store. What she can’t do is accept that the unrecognizable body wearing her older sister’s blue-green gown is Agatha. Thus begins what’s a sometimes sad, occasionally scary and thoroughly engrossing story of a girl on the cusp of growing up who is riddled with guilt because she thinks her rash decision to tell on her older sister was the reason she ran off with some pigeon chasers, people following the monster flocks of passenger pigeons so they can kill and harvest them for meat and plumage. She refuses to believe the body parts retrieved by the local sheriff can be her beloved sister, even though the dress fragments match the one her sister was wearing when she vanished.
There are several things that make this an engrossing read. Georgie’s struggle to be a normal girl while striking out with her sister’s sort of boyfriend Billy, her having to deal with rotten pigeons and pigeon poop, her getting stuck with Billy’s mule, her coolness when she has to shoot at bad guys and mostly, her out and out pluckiness. It’s easy to see why this has already become a Newberry Honor Book.
So, who wins? I was leaning strongly toward Moxie until I read One Came Home. They’re very close in my mind, but I’m going with the latter for three reasons. First, it has momentum thanks to the Newberry nod, It has a more complex protagonist who can elicit pretty strong responses from readers and it has a tinge of sadness that makes the ending that much more satisfying. That said, if Moxie wins, I’ll be just as happy.
The five young adult nominees are all gritty as hell and that made then really good reads for me.
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry (Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking Juvenile) Here’s what I said when I reviewed this for the library blog.
Judith lives in an earlier time. Four years ago, she disappeared around the same time as her best friend. The other girl’s naked body was found on the riverbank, Judith came home two years later, half her tongue cut off to prevent her from talking. In the two years since, she’s lived with her mother who is locked in icy grief over the death of her husband, and her younger brother Darrel. Her mother secretly blames Judith for her loss. Unable to speak, and shunned by nearly everyone in the village, Her silent love for Lucas, her childhood friend, keeps her going.
It was Lucas’ father, gone mad after his wife ran off with another man, who abducted Judith and maimed her. Everyone believes he died when his house went up in flames. The villagers have been on alert for years, waiting for homesteaders to return and take everything they’ve built and raised. When they do, it’s Lucas who gathers them to defend the townspeople. Judith, realizing they’re outnumbered, returns to the hidden house where she was held captive and makes a pact with her very insane kidnapper who’s still alive, but her act saves the day. Unfortunately, it sets in motion further pain and suffering for most of the main characters in the story, particularly her and Lucas. When Maria, the girl who was betrothed to Lucas until the boy she truly loved was injured, befriends her, Judith starts coming out of her shell and begins, slowly and ever so painfully, to talk again.
What happens between that point and the end of the story is both brutal and beautiful as well as making for riveting reading. I had a great deal of difficulty putting this down very late at night and resumed reading it at 5:30 the next morning. Part love story, part Joan of Arc allegory, part mystery, I can see why it was nominated for a young adult Edgar Award. Even with pain, killing during the fighting and an amputation, it’s still a worthy read for both teens and mature tweens who like an involved and excellently crafted story.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR). Jeremy Johnson Johnson hears voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next.
But Jacob can’t protect Jeremy from everything. When coltish, copper-haired Ginger Boultinghouse takes a bite of a cake so delicious it’s rumored to be bewitched, she falls in love with the first person she sees: Jeremy. In any other place, this would be a turn for the better for Jeremy, but not in Never Better, where the Finder of Occasions—whose identity and evil intentions nobody knows—is watching and waiting, waiting and watching. . . And as anyone familiar with the Brothers Grimm know, not all fairy tales have happy endings. This is an excellent book, but is so involved, particularly at the beginning, that many readers won’t stick with it long enough to enjoy a truly twisted, but extremely well-crafted trip into insanity.
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon & Schuster – Simon Pulse). Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing. So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime – a crime that ends in murder – Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him. But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about?
Welcome to a book where the main character will probably annoy the hell out of you until she gets under your skin and you realize you’re mad at her because you care about her and are totally frustrated by her seeming stupidity when it comes to her abusive, slimeball boyfriend. This is the most psychological of the five, very dark, filled with anger and blindness (at least on Nikki’s part) and seemingly stuck in place for a fair portion of the book. When Nikki finally starts to get a clue, you’ll probably feel like screaming, “What took you so long?”
How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller (Penguin Young Readers Group – Razorbill). Imagine Blade Runner meeting Harry Potter and then getting locked up with characters from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and you’d have the flavor of this one. Flick’s been living on the street and surviving by becoming an accomplished pickpocket. He’s pretty much numbed out after years of being beaten by his ultra-successful father, who looks perfect to the rest of the world, but is a monster at home after he’s consumed a certain amount of scotch. After Flick left, Dad turned on his younger brother and hit him one too many times, killing him. It was covered up, but Flick knows it was murder and would do anything to get a chance for revenge. In the mean time, he’s fallen in love with an exotic street girl named Joi who’s taken it upon herself to rescue as many homeless kids as possible. Even though Flick loves her, he forces himself to leave because his need for revenge is stronger than his feelings for her.
When he’s approached by Lucien Mandel who wants to recruit him for the ultra elite and secret Mandel Academy, Flick starts to blow him off, but Lucien makes him an offer he can’t refuse. If he agrees and makes it to graduation, He’ll get a file full of proof his father killed his brother.
The Academy will remind many of the training Katniss and her competitors went through in preparation for the Hunger Games, but it runs full semesters, there’s a top student known as a Dux and the lowest in each class, while supposedly are allowed to go home after they fail out, end up with a far grimmer fate. As Flick gets to know the other students and begins to realize how completely corrupt the whole process is, Lucien ups the ante and all of a sudden Flick is in direct competition for the top spot with the love of his life, Joi, but he can hard;y recognize the cold, hardened and ruthless girl who has no problem taking down and terrorizing even the most ruthless students.
How this all plays out is not only full-out screech, but replete with a bunch of twists that kept me up well into the wee hours so I could finish it.
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). Here’s my full review done in February for the library blog.
If the first paragraph of the opening letter doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will. “Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It’s jam, not blood, though I don’t think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn’t your wife’s jam the police found on your shoe. . . . I know what it’s like. Mine wasn’t a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him exactly three months ago.”
Thus begins Zoe’s confession in installments to a death row inmate in Texas who stabbed his wife to death after she had an affair with his brother. She writes to him while hiding in the out-building behind her home in England very late at night. Zoe’s filled with guilt and sadness over the death of Max, her sort of boyfriend and has to confess to someone. She’s decided that Mr. S. Harris, sentenced to die on May first for his crime, is as safe as it will get.
The story, all in letter form with narrative between the salutations and closings, tells her story, not just of the relationship that led up to that awful night, but the situation with her family and friends. At home, there’s real tension. Her parents are lawyers. Dad has lost his job, her mother stays home to care for Zoe and her two younger sisters. The youngest is deaf and there are unspoken issues about why that happened which ramp up the tension as the letters progress. In addition, there’s increasing friction when her grandfather, a minister, has a stroke and because of a fallout years ago, her parents fight over how to involve Zoe and her siblings in grandfather’s life now that he’s really ill. Add in the emotional rollercoaster Zoe finds herself on when she discovers that Aaron, the mysterious guy who banters with her and calls her Bird Girl, is Max’s brother and you have a story that sinks its claws into you with a vengeance.
The letter concept works extremely well, dribbling out details in a smooth, but stingy manner. By the time Zoe tells what happened the night Max died, Mr. S. Harris has been executed, so her confession is safe, but her life is a mess, full of grief, guilt and awareness that happily ever after left town on an earlier bus. Sad and beautiful are the two words that best describe this book and the longer I think about it, the stronger the sadness gets. It’s a YA Edgar nominee for good reason and is a book more mature young adult readers will really like.
As I noted at the beginning, I’m impressed with all five entries. I’ve gone back and forth several times, changing my mind. I’m tossing out Criminal and Far, Far Away, not because they aren’t terrific books, but because the other three stuck in my head a lot more. I’m going with Ketchup Clouds for some of the same reasons that made me choose what I did for my juvenile pick. It’s a book that made me feel a lot more than the others and has that essence of sadness when there aren’t any winners, only survivors.
On a completely unrelated note, I’m trying a new creative exercise every morning on my Facebook page. Each day I profile a new BOTD (Band of The Day). My aim is to make them almost sound real, be funny, create a believable background for them and suggest a couple of their current songs that readers might enjoy. It’s a fun challenge that has already attracted a following. Here’s the link. Hope you enjoy some of them.