Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Round 3 of Soaring Eagle Book nominees

I've been posting about the fifteen books that have been nominated for this year's Soaring Eagle book award: a Wyoming state award for quality young adult literature. Teens who read at least three of the fifteen book can vote for their favorite during the voting period, February 15 to March 15.  So far, I've posted about three dystopian novels and four fantasy novels.  This week, I'll write about the two realistic fiction novels on this year's list.  Because these novels relate real-life events, their content may not be suitable for every reader.

The Bridge from Me to You
Lisa Schroeder

Lauren has just moved to a small town to live with her aunt and uncle.  Lauren is heartbroken, struggling with loss and trying to find where she fits into her new surroundings and family.  Colby is the star receiver of the high school football team, dealing with the pressure of family, winning the game, and choosing college.   When Lauren and Colby meet coincidentally, the two have an instant connection.  They begin to get to know each other, finding relief and acceptance in the other’s company.  However, tragedy strikes, sending one of them into a downward spiral and thus, forcing them apart.    In alternating chapters of verse and prose, we get each character’s point of view as they experience the joys and pitfalls of high school, life, and young love.  Will Lauren and Colby be able to find a way back to each other?

While the content of this novel is relatively light - at least compared to other realistic fiction in YA -- the characters' ages may cause younger readers to have a hard time relating to them.

I Was Here
Gayle Forman

One day Cody receives an email from her best friend, Meg.  Although the two friends had planned on going to college together, they are forced to part ways when Cody decides to stay in their hometown, due to the financial burden of the private school and the overwhelming change of it all.  Cody assumes the email is joke, but because of the contents decides to contact Meg’s parents.  When the disturbing events chronicled in the email prove to be fact, Cody’s life and world view are irrevocably changed. Cody finds out that Meg has committed suicide; Cody is blindsided.  She vows to find out why, uncovering secrets and truths she never noticed or wanted to know about her friend and the society we live in.  Once Meg’s story begins to unravel, Cody must confront the truth about herself, her paralyzing guilt, and the truth about Meg.  Can Cody find the courage to answer the tough questions or will she lose not only Meg, but herself in the process?

Be aware that this is a novel about suicide; parents may want to read it along with their children, and discuss the issues the novel brings up.

Only two books this week, as these are the only ones that qualify as traditional realistic fiction on this year's list.  Next week -- adventure stories!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Soaring Eagle book award nominees -- part 2

Last week, I began my annual review of the titles that make up the current year's list of Wyoming Soaring Eagle book award nominees; the three titles in last week's post shared a common genre -- post-apocalyptic dystopias. As I stated, the popularity of dystopia among young adult literature fans is not a new trend.

The popularity of the fantasy genre among teen readers is not a new trend, either: indeed, over the history of young adult literature, those novels that have enjoyed both the highest sales and the longest staying power have largely been fantasy novels. However, the genre experienced a definite decline in popularity after the Harry Potter age.  That decline seems to have ended, and readers are showing a renewed interest in tales of magic and alternate worlds. This week's selection of SEBA nominees include two traditional fantasy novels, one mermaid fantasy, and one genre-blending sci-fi/dystopian fantasy.

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien, the Assassin of Erilea, has been a slave in the mine of Endovier for a year and a half, enduring brutal conditions and nearly impossible physical labor. She believes she will die in the mines. . . until the day when she is summoned to meet the crown prince of Adarlan. He offers Celaena her freedom: the catch is that she has to prove her worth by defeating several other Champions from all over the kingdom.  If she wins the competition, she will have work for four years as the personal assassin of the kind of Ardalan -- the very man who killed her people and imprisoned her.
Still, Celeana knows his offer is her only chance, so she allows him to take her to the castle to begin preparing for the competition.  Celeana realizes that she must work harder than the other Champions if she’s going to be able to make up for the time she spent starving at the mines. Furthermore, Celeana is not at the castle long before strange dreams of ancient fairies asking for her help begin to haunt her.
Soon, Champions are being violently murdered and strange symbols begin to appear around the castle.  Somehow, Celeana knows the symbols, her new friend from another country, and even the king, are all connected. Celeana must solve the mystery of the murders and learn who she can trust before she, too, is killed.  This is the first title is Maas' Throne of Glass series; the sequels are Crown of Midnight; Heir of Fire; and Queen of Shadows. Maas has also published a short story collection, The Assassin's Blade, and has started a second fantasy series.

Shadow and Bone
Leigh Bardugo
If you had secret powers, would you reveal them?  What if revealing your power meant that you had to leave your best friend behind forever?
Alisha and Mal are orphans living in Ravka, a cold, dangerous country controlled by wizards, known as Grisha, who command the various elements of earth. By law, each orphan is tested to see if they, like the Grisha, possess the Small Science. When it is their turn to be tested, Alisha, in order to stay with Mal, hides her secret powers.  Years later, when she and Mal are both serving in the King’s First Army, she uses her latent powers to save Mal from flesh-eating volcra -- huge, vulture-like birds that live in the skies above the Dark Fold.
When Alisha’s power is revealed, she is whisked away to the palace by the Darkling Prince. At the palace, Alisha begins an entirely new life, filled with trainings in the Grisha magic, court appearances, friendship, and intrigue. Alisha soon finds out that she doesn’t know who to trust. They say that Alisha is the Sun Summoner, able to destroy the creatures of the Dark Fold and bring light to her country.  If she really has such powers, shouldn’t she be able to recognize the darkness in the people around her . . . and in herself? This title is the first in Bardugo's Grisha trilogy; the sequels are Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising.  Bardugo returns to the land of the Grisha in her newest novel, Six of Crows.

Of Poseidon
Anna Banks
Emma hates to swim, hates seafood, hates anything to do with the ocean. The tragedy that strikes when she and her best friend, Chloe, vacation in Florida only reinforces her hate. While Emma clings to a surfboard, Chloe is brutally attacked, and Emma cannot help.
Galen watches the attack, because he’s been watching Emma. He sees her helplessness, but he sees something else, too – something no one else will believe, including Emma.  Galen follows her back to her hometown, wanting to convince her of her special nature. But what Galen tells Emma borders on insanity – Emma, the girl who hates the sea and all things associated with it – how could she be a long-lost mermaid princess? How could she possess the gift of the god Poseidon?
It’s up to Galen to convince Emma of her gift, and to bring her back to his world, before the entire kingdom is lost.  Of Poseidon is the first of Banks' trilogy, The Syrena Legacy:  sequels are Of Neptune, and Of Triton.

Marissa Meyer
Cinder has no memory of the accident that caused more than half of her body to be replaced by robotic parts. She lives in futuristic China and spends her days working as a mechanic, making money to help support her cruel step family. Cinder works hard but the world she lives in doesn’t trust androids, and when they see the small, outgrown robotic foot she is forced to wear, they don’t trust her, either. One day, by chance, Cinder meets the future emperor of China and begins doing repair work for him. Through her association with the castle, she discovers that there may be more to her past than her hateful step-mother has revealed.  Meanwhile, a vicious epidemic has forced the future emperor to become betrothed to the queen of Luna, an empire of people who live on the moon and have the power to control people with their minds. Cinder realizes that the emperor is in grave danger from the queen and that she must fight to escape her evil step-family, and save the emporer -- and her country. 
This is the first in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series; each successive novel is play on a different fairy tale.  The sequels to Cinder are Scarlet, Cress and Winter.  

Soaring Eagle voting happens soon:  from February 15 to March 15.  Readers who read at least three titles are allowed to vote for their favorite; if you are a fan of fantasy, I hope one of these four novels will earn your vote!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Soaring Eagle book award -- 2016 nominees

Every year, students in Wyoming nominate books to contend for the Soaring Eagle book award -- a state award that recognizes excellence in Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, based on peer nominations and peer voting.  This year's list of nominees has been on the shelves -- or, rather, off the shelves -- since school began in late August.  Interested students have been reading and talking about these titles since then, in preparation for the final voting period, which will take place from February 15 to March 15  this year.  At that time, one of the list of nominated titles will be named this year's Soaring Eagle book award winner. 

For the final reading push before the voting period, I'll be reviewing the list of fifteen nominees a few at a time.  Besides being on the list of SEBA nominees, each of these titles offers a glimpse of what is new and popular among young adult readers.  

This week's first set of titles represents dytopia, a genre that, while not necessarily new, remains incredibly popular among young adult and adult readers.  In each of these novels, some sort of cataclysmic event has altered the world as we know it, creating a society of disorder, violence and destruction.  Interestingly, we are seeing a move in YA fiction from dystopias brought about by technology, to those brought on by natural disasters . . . as evidenced by the following three nominees. 

Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago calamity happened, an explosive event that transformed the people it touched into Epics, superhumans. Each Epic has a unique set of powers, and some are more intense than others.  The Epics begin to take over, controlling their own personal kingdoms, and turning the Averages into slaves. David lives in one such kingdom, known as Newcago, run by the most powerful Epic, Steelheart.  Steelheart can control the elements, turning anything, except the living, into steel; thus, he is believed to be invincible.  People say that nothing can pierce his skin . . . but David has seen him bleed once, long ago.  David wants to get revenge on Steelheart for his own personal tragedy; however, no one fights back except the Reckoners, a small group who target and kill only the Epics. In order to enact his vengeance, David must find a way to join them so that he can restore order to the world and bring justice to those he loves.
This is the first title in Sanderson's Reckoners series; the sequels are Firefight; and Calamity (to be released in the spring of 2016).

Mike Mullin
Alex is more than due for a weekend home without his family. While they travel out of town, Alex has big plans to play all the video games he wants and to hang out with his friends. Suddenly, power is disrupted; a series of earthquake-like tremors destroys the streets in his town; and the sky turns an ominous gray color.  Alex ventures out of his home, only to learn that the Yellowstone volcano has exploded -- a caldera so large that its explosion destroys life in the entire Western half of the United Sates, and sends the rest of the world into days of complete darkness. Without any means of transportation or communication, Alex decides to venture east in search of his family. He endures hunger, nearly fatal weather conditions and horribly violent people. With Darla, a teen that he meets on his journey, to accompany him, Alex must endure a world where no one is safe and people will do anything to survive. What are Alex and Darla willing to do in order to live in this dangerous new world?
Although this is a work of fiction, the science is extremely well-researched, and based on predictions of what might happen should Yellowstone explode.  This is the first in Mullin's trilogy; the sequels are Ashen Winter and Sunrise.
Ship Breaker
Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer lives on what used to the Gulf Coast.  In a time after global flooding drowns cities along the coast and destroys the offshore oil industry, Nailer works on grounded oil tankers, scavenging for copper wire.  His requires him to crawl through the innards of the ship in order to find every bit of wire available, which will hopefully bring survival for another day.  It is a hard life, where food and shelter are never guaranteed, and survival is determined by sheer luck.  Nailer’s only solace from this harsh world is his friend Pima and her mother.  Murder is an everyday occurrence, justifiable if it brings the murderer more food and money.  Nailer and Pima struggle to hold on to their dignity while living in such a brutal world.  Everything changes when they find the wreckage of an immaculate clipper ship full of luxuries and goods.  If they can keep the wreckage a secret, a new life and unimaginable security is in store for them.  But when Nailer finds a teenage girl still aboard the ship, he faced a hard choice.  Will Nailer use the girl to buy his own survival, or will he hold on to his humanity in the face of a world that tells him not to?
Besides being nominated for a Wyoming Soaring Eagle book award, Bacigalupi's debut YA novel has been named a finalist for both the American Library Association's Printz award, and the National Book Award.  His companion novel, Drowned Cities, explores Nailer's world from another point of view.
I hope you'll enjoy one of these three YA dystopias.  I'll look at some SEBA nominees that feature a different genre next week.