In Wyoming, school-age youth are able to participate in three book award programs, each co-sponsored by the Wyoming Library Association and the Wyoming Reading Council. For children in kindergarten through grade 3, the "Buckaroo" award introduces them to wonderful children's literature; youth in grades 4 through 6 can read and vote for their pick for the "Indian Paintbrush" award, targeted at juvenile literature. And for the teenage audience, the Soaring Eagle nomination list is a good way to expose teen readers -- and their parents -- to a variety of young adult fiction.
One way Wyoming's program is somewhat unique from other states' is that the teens actually do all the nominating and voting; adults are involved in tallying numbers and determining the final results, but not in choosing the winning books. Each spring, after having read at least three books from that year's list of fifteen, students are invited to vote for their favorite, and to nominate a book that they think should be on the following year's list. From those nominations, 15 more books are selected to be the nominees for the next year's award.
It is that time of year again; voting for the Soaring Eagle award is open, and will close on March 15. It's not too late to encourage your teen to read from the following list of nominations; and of course, adults will find several titles to entice them, as well.
*** First, there are four books that are installments in young adult series that have appeared on the list before:
Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice series, #7). This series, reviewed in this blog in November of 2010, continues to fly off the shelves of the CCPL Teen Room collection. We met Will in the first book of the series, The Ruins of Gorlan; he had just been apprenticed to be part of the Ranger corp of the kingdom of Araluen -- an apprenticeship Will is not happy about. In this installment, Will and his comrades travel to the deserts of northern Africa to ransom their friend Erak, a Skandian who is being held hostage there. Does Will, accustomed to the forests and hills of northern Europe and Britain, have the skills to survive and find his friend in the desert?
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5). If you've seen the movie about the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, you know that Riordan has taken the gods and creatures of traditional Greek mythology and transplanted them to modern-day America. Percy, one of those boys who seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, discovers that the reason behind his troubles is not his learning disability or dysfunctional family situation: it is that he is a demi-god. His mother is a mortal, but his father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea. Percy discovers that the gods and goddesses of Olympus continue to meddle in human affairs -- as they have since ancient times -- and that it is up to him and his friends to appease them and battle to save humankind.
Tentacles by Roland Smith. Not actually a series, this book is the sequel to an earlier Soaring Eagle nominee, Cryptid Hunters. In that book, we met Grace and Marty, who had been sent to live with their Uncle Wolf after their parents' plane disappeared over the Amazon jungle. They discovered that Uncle Wolf has a very unusual -- and cool -- occupation: he searches for cryptids, mysterious creatures that are rumored to exist, but have not been scientifically documented. Besides having a dangerous and exciting occupation, Wolf has an arch-enemy: Dr. Blackwood. Grace, Marty, Uncle Wolf reappear in Tentacles, this time racing to prove the existence of a giant sea-squid before Dr. Blackwood is able to capture it.
Ghost of Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. Again, this is a sequel to an earlier SE nominee, Touching Spirit Bear. In that book, a very angry young man named Cole is sent to live alone in the wilderness as punishment for beating a boy named Peter to the point of disability. While in the wilderness, Cole has experiences that force him to deal with his anger and find ways to make amends for his wrongs. Now, Cole and Peter have to return to a different type of wilderness: a tough, inner-city high school, with drugs, gangs, and violence in every hallway. Has Cole learned how to control his anger, or will he explode again?
*** Several new series appear on this year's list; expect to see further installments in subsequent years. Many of these series emphasize the continued popularity of the super-natural as subjects for young adult fiction.:
Marked by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast (House of Night, #1). For Zoey Redbird, high school life is filled with normal high school problems: a stepdad she can't relate to, a best friend who might be lying to her, and a boyfriend who is making some very poor choices. Zoey has her hands full just dealing with regular life . . .until the day she is Marked. From that point, a new set of problems fills Zoey's world: she has been selected to "turn" into a vampyre and needs to transfer to the House of Night, the high school for teenagers like her. At the House of Night, Zoey will learn about becoming a vampyre, hoping that her body doesn't reject the change and die in the process. However, for Zoey, the House of Night becomes more than a high school for vampyres; it's a place of very dark and sinister dealings that threaten both Zoey and her newfound friends. This series is currently up to its eighth installment.
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy, #1). This series takes another look at a vampire high school, but while the House of Night is known and familiar to the non-vampyres around it, St. Vladimir's Academy is hidden away deep in the forests of northwestern Montana. There, we learn, there is a hierarchy of vampires: the moiri, who are the vampire princes an princesses, and various servant classes. We enter the story as runaways Lissa, a moiri princess, and Rose, her dhampir bodyguard and best friend, have been captured and returned to St. Vladimir's. Their runaway experience was not some high school prank, however; something evil lurks at St. Vladimir's, endangering Lissa, Rose and their friendship. (For older readers -- some mature content)
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. In this debut novel, we meet Nora Grey, a star student who is focused on getting good grades and staying out of trouble, so that she can earn enough scholarships to take her to a good school. She and her friend, Vee, have always shared the same goals and priorities. . . until the day Nora is assigned a new lab partner. Patch is a bad boy, and he says things that really get under Nora's skin. Is she attracted to him? What is it about Patch that seems so other-worldly, anyway? And why is Vee spending so much time with Elliott, Patch's stoic, silent friend? The sequel, Crescendo, was released last fall; both books have been immensely popular.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Cashore has created a fantasy world in which people who are "graced" -- meaning who have special talents -- are marked by two different-colored eyes. Some graces are good talents to have: a talent for farming, or a talent for diplomacy. For Katsa, however, being graced is something like being cursed; her grace is that she cannot be defeated in battle, and because of her grace, she is feared and avoided by most of the people in her world. It doesn't help that her uncle uses her to enforce his cruel policies throughout the kingdom: Katsa is often sent on missions that involve torturing people who have defied her uncle's authority. Katsa, tired of using her grace for harm, embarks on a quest to rescue a kidnapped King, to find friendship, and to discover how to turn her grace into a gift. A companion novel, Fire, is already out; a sequel to Graceling will be released this spring.
(For older readers -- some mature content)
Football Genius by Tim Green. This story, reviewed here in September 2010, takes us behind the scenes of professional sports, through the eyes of 12-year-old Troy. Troy and his mom have always been poor, just getting by after his dad left years ago. Things start to change when his mom lands a job as a publicist with the Atlanta Falcons football team; but for Troy, they don't change quickly enough. Troy has a gift: he is able to see patterns develop in the course of a football game and then to predict, with uncanny accuracy, what will happen next. It's a kind of "football ESP", and he thinks his mom ought to introduce him to the coaching staff of the Falcons so he can show them his talent. Mom says no; but Troy's never been very good at taking "no" for an answer. Will he ruin everything his mom has worked for? Other titles by Green are Football Champ and Football Hero.
Secrets, Lies and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman (Do the Math, #1) Tess likes life to be black and white; that's why she's always loved math. In math, if you just do the calculations correctly, you'll end up with the definite answer, right? That is, until the eighth grade, when Tess discovers equations for which the answer is "does not exist". Suddenly, easy answers do not exist anywhere for Tess. Should she turn in the popular boy that she suspects is cheating? Is her best friend involved in the cheating? Worse, is her mother hiding information about a possible murder? Tess has always used math to help her figure out life; will she be able to now? The author does a great job of using math concepts as part of the story, without making the reader feel like she's in math class. The sequel, Writing on the Wall, is already out.
*** Finally, there are a few books on this year's list of nominations that are stand-alone novels.:
The Host, by Stephenie Meyer. Lots of readers pick up a Stephenie Meyer book ready to read about vampires. Instead of vampires in this written-for-adults novel, imagine alien parasites that implant themselves into human brains in order to control the human race. That's the premise for Meyer's first venture into science fiction: human beings have made a mess of Earth, and alien intelligence has decided to perfect the planet by controlling humanity. Not every human being is so easily controlled, however; there is a faction of survivalist rebels who are living off the grid, attempting to avoid implantation. One of these, Melanie Stryder, may be the toughest subject the aliens have ever tried to possess. Will she succeed in holding on to her independence? (For older readers -- some mature content)
Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins. Hopkins has won the Soaring Eagle award before for Crank, her exploration of methamphetamine addiction. In this novel, not related to the Crank (Kristina Snow) series, Hopkins takes us inside the walls of a psychiatric ward for teenagers who have attempted suicide. There we meet three teens, and through Hopkins' verse-prose, explore their thoughts and emotions. Will they all heal? Will they learn to deal with the problems that led to their first attempts, or will they try to take their own lives again? (For older readers -- some mature content)
After, by Amy Efaw. We meet Devon Davenport in this debut novel. Devon's life before is an endless round of studying and soccer practice -- anything to get into a good school and not end up like her mother. Devon's life after finds her in juvie, awaiting trial for the attempted murder of her own baby. But Devon doesn't remember having a baby -- doesn't even remember being pregnant. How could good-girl Devon have done something like this?
Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam: Cracker is a beautiful German Shepherd who has a good life with her owner, Willie, until Willie's dad gets laid off and they have to leave their house. They live in a tiny apartment now, and Willie has to find another home for Cracker. But it's the late 1960's; the Vietnam War is going on; and money is scarce. Nobody wants to take in a 100-pound German Shepherd dog. Nobody, that is, but the U. S. Army; the Army is adopting large-breed dogs, particularly German Shepherds, for the dog corps, man-dog teams that were trained to sniff out booby traps and snipers in the Vietnamese jungles. Cracker is adopted into the Army, and given to a new owner, Rick. But Rick and Cracker can't get along, even in training; will they be able to depend on each other in a life-or-death situation?
The Roar, by Emma Clayton. Now, imagine a world in which there is no animal life: all animals were exterminated after the "animal plague" caused them to go crazy and attack humans. At least, that's what the government says happened. After the extermination, a massive wall was built around the civilized world, and all human population lives behind that wall, stacked upon each other in layers of buildings. This is the dystopian future Emma Clayton has created in The Roar. We meet Mika and Ellie, 13-year-old twins who live with their parents in a fold-down apartment in the darkest, dampest part of the City. Ellie, unfortunately, has disappeared; her parents have been told she's drowned in the river. Mika refuses to believe what he's been told, and sets out through his oppressive, dismal world to find her -- and to find out just how many other things that he should not believe.