When award decisions come up, I have seldom read enough of the nominees to have an opinion about the worthiness of the winner. This year, I decided to read the finalists in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category of the Children’s and Young Adult Book Bloggers’ Literary Awards (aka the Cybils), which looked like a lovely assortment to spend some time with.
With one exception, I enjoyed all of these books very much, and wouldn’t have been sorry to see any of them the winner. The swashbuckling space battle of The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra and the heart-warming squirrel epic Nuts to You were two very different tales of adventure that both left me with a smile on my face. With Greenglass House I was drawn into a new and fascinating world of smugglers, stained glass, and a mysterious inn and its inhabitants; at the end I didn’t want to leave. The Castle Behind Thorns had another large, mystery-haunted structure at its heart, in the midst of an enchanting fairy tale woven around themes of mending and forgiveness. Boys of Blur, a supernatural thriller set in the Florida sugarcane fields, was impressive for its taut storytelling, vividly described setting, and memorable characters.
Of the finalists, perhaps my favorite (though Greenglass House and The Castle Behind Thorns were not far behind) was The Swallow, a spooky yet touching story that concerned two families with some painful secrets they need to accept, and two girls whose friendship has the potential to bring healing to both of them. I’m not usually a fan of the “paranormal” genre, but this twist on the “girl who can see ghosts” tale was not about giving readers gratuitous and ultimately unsatisfying thrills, but about expanding our awareness in order to become more open toward and accepting of ourselves and others.
The one book I didn’t finish, The Luck Uglies, a series opener set in an imaginary city threatened by slavering monsters, had nothing really wrong with it; it just failed to capture my interest after 100 pages. I have to confess that it surprised me that this was the book that won the award! Different readers have different tastes, clearly, and mine are different from those of the award committee.
In general, though, I believe the committee has succeeded admirably in recognizing books that “combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.” Funny, imaginative, lyrical, suspenseful — these seven books have it all, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to readers young and old.
Review copy sources: Library/purchased