It was an exciting week last week, with both International Book Giving Day and the announcement of the winners of the 2012 Cybils Awards on Thursday 14th February. It’s always exciting to find out which books judges pick as the winners, and it was even more exciting for me as I got to help choose the winner of the Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy category. You can find out about all the winners of each category on the Cybils website.
I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Round 2 judges for the 2012 Cybils Awards. My group of judges had the tough task of choosing our favourite YA science fiction and fantasy book from the 7 shortlisted titles (you can see them all here). It was a really interesting and enjoyable experience, even though it was tough at times. For someone like myself, who won’t finish a book if I’m not enjoying it, I had to push through a couple of the finalists and force myself to finish them.
We chose Seraphina by Rachel Hartman as our winner of the Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy category. Seraphina was one of my top 3 books in the category, along with Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi and Every Day by David Levithan. I think these are three books that all high school libraries should have in their collection, and you can find out what I loved about these books below.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina works as the music assistant to the royal court composer in Lavondaville. Her world is populated by humans and by dragons able to take human form, and for now there is an uneasy peace between them. In fact, the fortieth anniversary of the treaty between human and dragonkind is rapidly approaching. But then a member of the royal family is murdered, and the crime appears to have been committed by a dragon. The peace and treaty between both worlds is threatened.Seraphina is caught desperately in the middle of the tension. Her father is human, and her mother was a dragon in human form.She is unique, and completely illegal – and if she is found out, her life is in serious danger . . .
- The world building was amazing and I really felt immersed in Seraphina’s world. The history of the relationship between dragons and humans was explained well, without getting into lots of detail.
- I connected with Seraphina right from the start and I found her voice interesting. She’s a character that teen readers would relate well to and they would be routing for her.
- The mystery and intrigue really hooked me in. Sure, at times there wasn’t a lot of action, but trying to figure out different people and their motives kept me interested in the story.
- It was an original dragon story. I didn’t feel like Rachel had borrowed ideas from other fantasy stories. Her dragons were captivating and I loved the way that they hoarded knowledge rather than gold. I think that aspect kind of connected me to the dragon characters. I also loved that the dragons could shape shift into human form and walk among us.
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Two refugee children, Mahlia and Mouse, are known as ‘war maggots': survivors who have barely managed to escape the unspeakable violence plaguing the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities. But their fragile safety is threatened when they discover a wounded half-man -a bioengineered war beast named Tool, who is hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers. When tragedy strikes, Mahlia is faced with an impossible decision: risk everything to save the boy who once saved her, or flee to her own safety.
- Paolo’s real strength in this story is his world building. He feeds you little details about why the Drowned Cities are the way they are and who the different factions are that are fighting for supremacy. The setting is definitely a character in itself and he describes the Drowned Cities in great detail. Through his descriptions you know what it looks, feels, sounds and smells like and you wonder how people can survive here.
- I loved the the characters of Tool, Mahlia and Mouse/Ghost. If Paolo can make you feel for a killing machine that’s some powerful writing. The way that Paolo chose to tell the story, switching between the three main characters, really helped to keep the story moving along and I was always wondering what was happening to the other characters.
- The story is quite dark, but this is why I enjoyed it so much. You’re delving into this world full of despair and routing for the characters to make it out into a world full of hope. A lot of the characters are sinister and have been shaped by the world they live in, and you keep reading in the hope that they will get their comeuppance.
Every Day by David Levithan
Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
And then A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
- It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever read, because usually the narrator stays in one body throughout the story and they interact with the same characters. In Every Day, A is in a different body each day, so it has to get used to being a different person (on the outside) and acting like that person. One of the most interesting things about this book is the way that you look at the character of A. Even though A doesn’t know if it is male or female, I imagined A as a male right from the start. However, I think each reader will picture A differently.
- Sometimes it can take you a while to put yourself in the main character’s shoes, but I immediately empathized with A and what it was going through. You try to understand what it would be like to wake up each day as a different person, but you can’t really grasp how difficult it would be.
- I loved the interactions between A (in its different bodies) and Rhiannon and you are hoping with all your heart that they can be together.
- David Levithan’s ending to the story is absolutely perfect, and has to be my favourite ever ending of a book.